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Raph Koster Talks Player Cynicism, Retention And Thinking Long-term In New Blog Post

Joseph Bradford Updated: Posted:
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In the latest blogpost on the Playable Worlds blog, Raph Koster expounded on a few themes of game design, such as dealing with player retention, creating a relationship with players long term as well as touching on the subject of the cynicism seen from fans of the MMO genre. The blog post, like all the ones previously, touch on various aspects of game design and the philosophy Playable Worlds is spearheading with their upcoming MMO.

Raph begins the post talking about fun and retention. Retention, egagement - Koster touches on those buzzwords business and PR people use when talking about their MMOs, while players themselves are looking for the fun. Finding the fun in a game is different for every player, and what some might find fun might not be for the next person.

"The reason why businesspeople need to use other words is because “fun” isn’t particularly measurable. For one thing, it’s really different for different people. Some people find fun in raising cute pets, and others in turning them into giblets and loot. Some enjoy building, and others tearing down."

To that end, Koster talks about the importance of supporting multiple avenues of being able to play a game and being able to stave off the inevitable boredom we all feel when doing something over and over again for too long. As a result, ensuring there are more ways to play a game means there are fewer chances to lose a player when they get bored eventually. Koster goes into how many studios tackle this problem, by adding "content," which when you look below the surface is, what Koster calls a "sneaky word." 

Content can typically just mean beefing the stats on an enemy, or even a skil you use. The appearance of making you stronger without really adding anything at all. 

"But the ruleset isn’t really any different. As designers, we make sure to build in more rewards and pats on the head for you as you keep running variations on a theme. And it’s engaging, sure. You are retained until you figure out that you’re actually on a treadmill of repetitive activities. So we keep finding new skins to put on the same bones, so that it feels fresh."

Koster talks about how this philosophy is core to how they want to build their game, by giving players multiple avenues and ways to play to ensure that when they get bored with one, there is more to do still in game versus leaving to play something else.

However, Koster acknowledged the elephant in the room with all this: currently we don't really know more than just the few things drip fed through these posts about Playable's MMO. Koster, though, addressed this head on. He also addressed the growing cynicism among players in the genre after years of repeated disappoinment, stating that his team needs to earn the trust of the players out there.

"One of the saddest things about the way the game industry has gone is the level of distrust and cynicism that has grown among players. And I certainly won’t pretend that the years of accumulated disappointment can be wiped away with a few blog posts from a new studio with no game to show yet. You have heard plenty of lofty promises before." 

Koster says that with this in mind, and the need to not just create a game, but build a world and community with their players, his team will work hard every day to build that trust. Koster compares running an online world as a "long-term emotional relationship with the player." And through that relationship players can stick with the game and each other, through  a "mutual commitment, a feeling of trust," and "the investment that comes from having built something together."

You can check out the full post on the Playable Worlds blog. You can also check out Raph's thoughts on player driven economies, how social play works and more on the game's page.


Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore