Summary: The creator of the Ultima RPG series talks about getting a lifetime achievement award, Tabula Rasa and more.
FiringSquad: First, this week you are receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award during the Game Developers Choice Awards at GDC. How does it feel to receive such an honor from your fellow peers in the industry?
Richard Garriott: It’s very nice of course! It’s funny that for my whole career, I have been one of the oldest people in the biz. It’s fun to look back and think of the ride I’ve had growing up with an industry.
FiringSquad: The PC game industry has changed so much since your first Ultima game. Overall what has been the most surprising thing you have encountered since you began creating games?
Richard Garriott: The pace of progress! It is so very hard to keep pace with the changes in capability of the platforms. Just when you figure out how to make a game at one level, the next level is upon you! Keeps the biz fresh and challenging, but it can be scary too!
FiringSquad: Even though you haven't been involved in the Ultima franchise for several years now your name and your "Lord British" persona will likely be linked with that franchise for a long time. Did you ever think that the RPG series would have evolved into one of the most well know game series ever made?
Richard Garriott: No. For the first few Ultimas, I did not expect there to be a sequel, or perhaps even an ongoing industry. After a while, I figured that I could keep doing this for a few years. It was only late in the series that I realized the power Ultima had and Ultima Online really proved that well.
FiringSquad: Electronic Arts has tried and failed twice to launch a sequel to Ultima Online. Does this illustrate how hard it is to follow up on the success of the original MMORPG?
Richard Garriott: Oh yes! Even NCsoft’s Lineage II, which is doing great, has not slowed down the original Lineage at all. Most MMO sequels have proven to be tricky!
FiringSquad: Most massively multiplayer games do not reveal their subscription numbers but Blizzard recently revealed that World of Warcraft has over 6 million subscribers worldwide. What do these numbers mean for the MMORPG genre in general and how does World of Warcraft's success affect how you develop your MMO games?
Richard Garriott: Wow’s success brings millions of new players into online games, so we think it is GREAT for everyone in the MMP biz. Players normally churn out of an online game after about nine months, and so many other games are already seeing subscriber increases due to this effect. We have always said, “The only bad competition is a bad game.” If players have a poor MMP experience, they may not try another. Right now the number of games out there is so limited, we all benefit each other.
SIDEBAR: Garriott's Lord British persona in Ultima Online was "killed" several years ago via an assasination by a player who found an exploit in the game.
Richard Garriott: Oh yes. TR is very unique among MMPs. Most MMPs are still in the UO/EQ mold where “farming for XP” and “the level grind” are your purpose in life. TR is much more of a story-based game in a changing battlefield environment. Not the static ho-hum worlds we’ve seen to date!
FiringSquad: We have seen first person shooter sci-fi games going the MMORPG route with PlanetSide. What will Tabula Rasa have that will bring in players that nornally would play free-to-play online FPS like Battlefield 2 and Counter-Strike?
Richard Garriott: TR is not an FPS. It is an MMP. But in addition to many usual MMP features, we have many features usually associated with FPSs. But TR is not a personal skill based FPS, it is an RPG that is fast-paced and changing like an FPS.
FiringSquad: More and more attention is being given to companies that use MMORPGs to buy and sell virtual items. How do you feel about this trend and on the view of most MMO game developers that these practices should not be handled by third parties?
Richard Garriott: Interesting question. Virtual assets that take a long time to acquire by definition have dollar value. Some companies are jumping into the secondary market and NCsoft is certainly interested to observe and see how those projects fare. In the long run, I think the selling of items will be supported by games and companies, by necessity of the fact that they have real value. But until banking-level actuarial accounting gets into the games, it may be rough going for gamers or companies.
FiringSquad: It looks like all next generation consoles in development will have at least some kind of online multiplayer feature. Do you see yourself creating games for these consoles at this time?
Richard Garriott: Not I. I believe the best online experiences, or at least the ones I enjoy creating will work best on a PC. Console online will do well with FPSs and such, but deeper longer term game play works best at a desk with a chair, not on the couch in the living room. Plus PCs will always offer capabilities not found in consoles.
FiringSquad: What are the biggest challeges the video and PC game industry will have to face in the next few years?
Richard Garriott: Keeping costs down and schedules short… okay shorter.
Firing Squad: Finally is there anything else you want to say about your own current and future plans and on the game industry in general?
Richard Garriott: Just thanks to everyone who has followed along the many years of Ultima, and I hope to be bringing them great new worlds starting with Tabula Rasa soon!
We’d like congratulate Richard Garriott on receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at GDC this week and thank him for taking time out of his schedule to answer our questions. We’ll be on the lookout for Tabula Rasa as well of course!
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