Koster: "The web is kicking the console industry's ass"

Raph Koster, designer and president of Areae, believes that the web, and Flash games in particular, are spearheading videogame growth as they reach audience figures that dwarf the number of home console users.

Raph Koster, president of Areae and designer of Ultima Online and Star Wars: Galaxies, believes that the web, and Flash games in particular, are spearheading growth and innovation in the videogame industry.

Speaking during a private lunch at GDC last week, Koster said that because Flash is available on so many different devices, it's managing to reach more consumers than the last two generations of home consoles combined.

"I actually think Flash is the next-gen console in a lot of ways," said Koster. "It's pointing the way to the future more-so than the current generations of hardware, precisely because it is well on its way to becoming completely ubiquitous."

"There are more Flash installs available in people's homes and even on mobile devices than all of the sold consoles of the last two generations put together. It is everywhere," he added.

Although admitting that technically Flash can't compare to current home consoles, the format is continuing to evolve, said Koster, rapidly following the path of traditional videogaming.

"They are recapitulating everything we've done very, very quickly," he said.

"That's an upheaval because right now retail PC [gaming] is in dire straits. There are some exceptions but overall you look at audience reach, quantity of games made and creativity of games, and the web is kicking the console industry's ass."

The major strength of Flash, according to Koster, is that it isn't restricted by the device a game is being played on — and he's found it disappointing when so-called next-gen technology can't handle a simple Flash title.

"Flash doesn't know what kind of device it's going to land on. If you have a phone capable enough you can play fl0w on it," said Koster.

"It was actually very disappointing to me that I wasn't able to play fl0w through the Wii's web browser. And I had to buy fl0w because I couldn't play it through the PS3's browser because the version of Flash was too old," he added.

Koster also pointed to Apple's iPhone as a device designed to accept that content experienced on it is not necessarily designed for it, and that an increasing number of games are not going to be designed within the restrictions of a specific hardware format.

"Part of why the iPhone works is that you're browsing the web and the web is assuming you've got a mouse, and yet on the iPhone it works beautifully with fingers. Somehow it translates.

"It's interesting because we're going to be seeing a lot of games that are not going to know what devices they are landing on, as we get more and more devices that are connected."

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