Eurogamer: To what extent does Metaplace Inc. control what Metaplace users are able to put out there? Are there content checks?
Raph Koster: We don't control it other than what we are obliged to by law - criminal content, basically. We do filter content that is displayed to users based on their age, and have age ratings on worlds. But we really do treat worlds as yours, not ours. We also police our public areas, such as Metaplace Central and cross-world chat, more strictly, of course. They are PG-13 environments.
Eurogamer: You've mentioned wanting Metaplace to become part of the standard fabric of the web, but isn't the whole point of the standard website format to abstract away all the time-consuming things we need to do to access content in the real world? (Reading books, having face-to-face conversations with horrible people, etc.) Isn't trying to simulate those processes somewhat counter-productive?
Raph Koster: I think the biggest thing that the web was originally invented for was access to information, certainly, but I don't think it was intended to replace face-to-face conversations! So I think that may be a bit of an overstatement. I wouldn't say that Metaplace, or any virtual world, really, is trying to just simulate tedious real-world things.
I think the great power of virtual worlds lies in the fact that you can do things there that you can't do in real worlds. And, often, can't do on web pages either. There have certainly been plenty of misguided "VR interfaces'" - my favourite is the virtual filing cabinet in that movie Disclosure - but I don't think that this means that is all that virtual spaces can be, not by a long shot.
Eurogamer: Don't services like Second Life already offer a fairly democratised MMO space?
Raph Koster: In some ways, but not in others. Content creation is still fairly difficult in Second Life, for example, though they have done a great job of making it easier over time. And of course, Second Life today is more of a singular destination, a single large world. Someone truly running their own world is something that has been quite hard for a typical user.
Eurogamer: Second Life was hailed as the future of online marketing for a while. Do you think its time has come and gone?
Raph Koster: I think they are a robust platform and service that continues to grow. Perhaps its hype has come and gone, but it remains.
Eurogamer: What about PlayStation Home? Do you think it has much of a future?
Raph Koster: It seems to have established itself well, and given that, I think Sony is likely to continue investing in it.
Eurogamer: Moving on to the more mainstream MMO sphere, what do you make of World of Warcraft's astonishing success? Can you see any elements in it that were influenced by Ultima Online, or Star Wars Galaxies?
Raph Koster: WOW is an incredibly polished, fun game, backed by a company with a huge and dedicated following, and it had a luxuriously long and extremely expensive development cycle. It's not a recipe easily replicated by anyone else. There are certainly lots of things you can point at in WOW that appear to be influenced by both Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, but you would have to ask the folks at Blizzard whether I am right about the lines of influence!
The camera WOW ended up with seems influenced by Galaxies' - so does everyone's now, actually - and the way player-versus-player works seems to be a combination of the realm system from Dark Age of Camelot and criminal flags from UO or TEFs [Temporary Enemy Flags] from Galaxies. Pretty much all the MMOs that have crafting as a big component draw that from UO. Dancing is more prominent in WOW, I think, than one would have expected pre-Galaxies, too!