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Opinion: Koster Defends AGC Lecture

Former Sony Online Entertainment CCO Raph Koster has penned an in-depth Letter To The Editor to Gamasutra to contest <a href="http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/letter_display.php?letter_id=1245">recent Gamasutra-posted comments</a> from David Lannan over <

Simon Carless, Blogger

September 13, 2006

4 Min Read

Former Sony Online Entertainment CCO Raph Koster has penned an in-depth Letter To The Editor to Gamasutra to contest recent Gamasutra-posted comments from David Lannan over Koster's recent speech at the Austin Game Conference. Koster's full reply to Lannan is as follows: "I have to wonder if David Lannan actually read the speech I gave (or rather, Mark Wallace's paraphrasing of it). The whole point of the speech was to look at the market from the generic gamer's point of view, yet he castigates me for looking at the industry through the lens of World of Warcraft. "For instance, he says popular games that are most economically viable dont meet generic gaming audience." I am unsure where this comes from, but I assume it's a mangling of my assertions that even hit games do not reach the true mass market audience. Surely we can agree on that; even TV shows in danger of cancellation get higher eyeballs than all but our highest-selling games. We're a long way from truly mass market. "I find it hilarious Koster keeps quoting WOW. Does he realise that WOW is an online market only? And that if he looked at the online market segments WOW and its MMO cousins only represent 10 or so percent of online game play! (See the ESA reports for data). This is where his whole argument is based, yet he doesnt even realise that the market DOESNT see that as the top selling title, and the market IS already more generic and less 'gamer niched' than he describes." To start with, the conference where the talk was delivered was one focusing online games, particularly MMOs, so it's unsurprising that there would be a large number of examples from that realm -- that's who the audience was, MMO developers. That said, WoW was offered as an example of the way we have myopic perceptions of what success is. I had a slide, for example, which showed that even within the persistent online games space, WoW is not #1, but rather #4 in the Western market. (I suggest visiting my site to see the slides.) "The generic audience isn't someone who plays WOW, they play Maddens, they like car racing games, they like Soccer, and it shows in the charts - Maddens and Pro Evo Soccer, for instance, are the top sellers of the last two years." Exactly, except that I was asserting that even Madden and Pro Evo Soccer are still going mostly to core gamer audiences. There's a far larger and more casual market beyond those titles. "Its about time Koster caught up with the market dynamics - free console games are simply a figment of his imagination (quite obviously, he doesnt know the limitations of XNA - read the FAQ at Microsoft, I'd suggest)." I don't recall even referencing XNA? Nor did I discuss free console games. "The business models that Koster refers to are purely web-based. I guess he doesnt realise that only 5 percent of console gamers are online. And that IS NOT currently growing. It has been static for over a year now. The reason for this is pretty obvious, because console gaming is more 'light' entertainment than something everyone does every night like hardcore gamers do. So rather than think like a hardcore gamer, think like a generic gamer - the generic gamer only want 20 mins of Sprint Cars, or 40 mins of Madden - not 4 hours of WOW." The true generic gamer wants 5 minutes of Solitaire. That aside, David is actually arguing my point here. The reason why I cite web-based as the rising dominant model is because the entire industry is gradually shifting over to forms of digital distribution. Yes, including consoles. Every major publisher has digital distribution initiatives going. "In terms of Web gaming though, the audience is so broad and complex, there is no meteor or dinosaurs to talk about. Because you have such a wide audience, niche markets are common. This is why card games make up 50 percent of online gaming. This online environment is in continual flux." My assertion is that Web gaming is becoming the paradigm -- that's the more accurate summary of the talk. Therefore the thing that I am observing (NOT "advocating") is the fact that mainstream retail-driven publishers will have to reach a much broader accomodation with the web-driven way of doing things. That is the meteor that I am referring to; what's more, I think this not only already happened, but we're also seeing lots of those accomodations being made. Hence the final predictions, which match up pretty closely with exactly what David said: more niches, very wide audience, lots of noise in the market. I'd urge those interested in this topic not to rely solely on individual (admittedly sensationalistic) quotes pulled from a talk that ran over an hour and included a fair amount of stats on the market."

About the Author(s)

Simon Carless


Simon Carless is the founder of the GameDiscoverCo agency and creator of the popular GameDiscoverCo game discoverability newsletter. He consults with a number of PC/console publishers and developers, and was previously most known for his role helping to shape the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Conference for many years.

He is also an investor and advisor to UK indie game publisher No More Robots (Descenders, Hypnospace Outlaw), a previous publisher and editor-in-chief at both Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine, and sits on the board of the Video Game History Foundation.

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