Gaming industry veteran on how the Store Wars will end

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The gaming industry suffered a schism earlier this year as multiple PC storefronts triggered the Store Wars, an escalating battle for exclusive games. Gamers were divided over the benefits of this, and the debate over it continues as more games come out as “exclusive” to a store. TNW got the chance to speak to Raph Koster, a legend in the industry, about the state of gaming.

Koster’s previous credits include Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. Koster recently revealed he’s working on a new MMO that’ll capitalize on modern technology to create more immersive worlds. “We haven’t seen the fruition of true alternate worlds that you can escape to,” he told TNW. While in the course of asking him questions about this new venture — and him being appropriately tight-lipped considering the game is early in development — I decided to pick his brain a bit about the current climate in gaming.

The primary paradigm shift happening in gaming these days is the increase in platform exclusivity, along with the rise of subscription-based gaming services. In order for both of those things to succeed, companies have to get gamers on board with the new system. I was curious to hear what Koster, whose MMOs were played consistently by thousands for many years, thought about what gaming services could do to make that happen.

“Given what they’re trying to do, they need to think in terms of ongoing progression systems — something that allows users to invest in whatever the service is. We saw achievements serve this purpose. One that MMOs have done, but we don’t tend to see as much in regular services is the idea of investing into something inside the system. Players love to leave a mark.”

When I asked Koster what he thought about the way the industry has changed in the last few years, he said this: “I tend to think of the game market as swinging on a pendulum between incumbent platforms and new platforms — periods that drive different kinds of innovation,” said Koster, who says eventually smaller developers flee the incumbents to new platforms. “The new platforms generally have something that makes the bad at the dominant kind of game, but good at a new type of game.” As an example, he mentioned mobile gaming, which allowed a new species of developer to release their games to the public.

But in the last few years, Koster mentions he hasn’t seen that platform shift. “VR and AR seem like they might have been it. VR didn’t lend itself to smaller development studios. We’re in a period of increasing maturity.”

I questioned if he thought the Store Wars, with their emphasis on exclusivity, would last. He said:

Openness tends to win out. Even when storefronts push exclusivity, I suspect that developers are going to find that it makes the most sense to remain on as many storefronts as possible, which has always been the case. Over the long haul, speaking with a dev hat, you want to be in a situation where you’re 100 percent beholden to one of these. You want to end up in a situation where you’re in control of the relationship that matters — and that’s between you, the creative, and the person digging your work.

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