The original title screen from Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar.
The Ultima series was, like many games of its time, a single-player game, although gamers found ways to play it while communicating online using the first BBSes. Just as the Internet became popular, Garriott launched Ultima Online – the first successful massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Being a pioneer in the MMO game space wasn’t all roses, as many UO players – including myself – found out. Graphical hiccups, game crashes, and excessive player homicides happened often. “The early days of Ultima Online were very much like the Wild West.. there was very little policing going on,” Garriott remarked.
UO was the venue where today’s practice of “gold farming” probably started. Gold farmers play against the online game professional to obtain massive amounts of virtual currency and sell it for real money. Garriott told us that he and his company are, “emphatically against the online sale of virtual assets, including gold.”
Many of the virtual items games could take hours, even days to obtain. This scarcity creates value, which Garriott says must be addressed in the long run. While he agrees with NCSoft’s stance about virtual trading of gold and items, he told us his personal belief on the matter.
“I have a somewhat differing perspective from my company,” Garriott told us. “I’m a big believer that inevitably if you have something of value because it’s hard to get and something that has to be worked at for weeks get, it by definition has monetary value. In the long run for games, it is inevitable and important that game designs begin to embrace that design.”
Many online games now are fairly typical fantasy games where players must continuously kill monsters and obtain gold. “I think there is still plenty of room to do fun ‘kill orcs’ games, I don’t think their saturated,” Garriott stated. While many of the games are polished, with beautiful graphics and storylines, he believes the game play is becoming too repetitive and slow. Integrated voice-chat, like that found in his upcoming Tabula Rasa game, will allow for more exciting and faster game play.
A demonstration of Richard Garriott’s upcoming NCsoft game, Tabula Rasa, at E3.
“How you play most online games right now,” he explained, “is that you click on a foe and now they are your identified target and you look away from the screen and you look at your user interface and you go fireball, fireball, fireball, sword swing, sword swing, healing potion. And you’re really playing your UI.”
Some modern online games are facing growing pains. Millions of players can sometimes choke up bandwidth, but Garriott says bandwidth isn’t the real problem: “Even though we chow on lots of bandwidth… the cost of bandwidth has come down so low. Now the biggest expense to us is electricity. On one server set we pay more money on electricity than on bandwidth. Bandwidth is really no longer the dominant factor to push value to our customers.”
We ended our interview with what it would take for NCSoft to beat World of Warcraft. Blizzard now says it have more than 6.5 million WoW subscribers. Garriott graciously praised Blizzard, saying, “It is a really good game and deserves the success they are having.” He also said that companies report subscribers differently and added, “I have some doubts as to that number.”
Garriott says the success of WoW has a crossover effect on NCSoft. Players that leave WoW can stream into NCSoft’s family of online games. “I have no fear of Warcraft, I applaud their success and I think they are nothing, but good for NCSoft,” says Garriott.
Audio Download: Interview with Richard Garriott
MP3 VBR (44 mins 22 secs) – 29.8 MB
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