This week we had an in depth session with Portalarium’s Richard Garriott. Richard is leading the charge into what he calls the third phase of gaming that has come over the decades. We got an in depth look at his history as well as some insight into the next decade of gaming. More importantly we got to hear a little about what Portalarium has planned for Ultimate Collector and Ultimate RPG/New Britannia (working title). A true veteran in the industry Richard is best known for Ultima throughout the ages. Here is what he had to say about the games he is creating and the marketplace for online gaming in the future.
First off we laughed about the mobile and social game markets. Richard said that two or three years ago when all of the hardcore MMOs were being made and all of the hardcore games were coming out no one believed in the mobile or social game platforms. The early offerings at that time were not something hardcore players would pick up. It reminded him of the early days with Ultima Online when they were building the game and no one believed in the idea of a mainstream online game experience. He explained that what social gaming has done really is broaden the game audience tenfold with the addition of casual and new gamers coming into the market who would never dream of playing the hardcore games. Like anything else though this audience is hitting the learning curve and are starting to look for more depth in the games they seek out.
I asked about the recent financing that Portalarium received and Richard explained that it really comes down to finding the right partners. The investors had the same understanding of the market and also saw that the development team was on the right path. This is what Richard described as the third era of gaming. This third era really is about bringing in depth to the social and mobile markets. In the beginning console games and single player RPGs made up the first era for players. These games were a big hit and still are today. The second era was moving those types of games online. Whether in the MMO market or into the online space with tools like Xbox Live at this point gamers were now playing together. The third era comes in on the mobile and social spaces which have dominated our digital landscape over the last few years. But there are definitely some challenges.
“The big one,” said Richard “is that without the $50 fee of buying a console or PC game, you cannot make people wait to be invested in your game. People will buy a game on the App store and decide in minutes whether they like it or not. If you are spending only a few dollars on a game, then the time to capture your audience is much shorter. So right away you have to convince the players that it is a good solid game.”
Garriott explained the similarity to modern action movies where they are bringing action to the screen before you are even seeing the opening credits. The same is now being done to capture new players to the smaller games on the mobile and social platforms. So getting players early is critical.
This brought up another three point plan for Portalarium itself. The first was to launch the series of casino style games on the App market and on Facebook to test the stability of the system. These games have been established, now the company is preparing for Ultimate Collector which will follow some of the format for current social games. The game contains your own avatar, housing, trade system, shops, and brings collecting to life for the player. Your goal is to travel and find objects with different attributes to collect for your homestead. Everything has different values and impacts on your own area. Obviously you can trade and shop for objects as well. Richard talked about his passion for collecting automatons and how much he has learned about them over time simply from collecting them. He wanted to bring that same experience to people so they can learn something about the objects they are collecting. The game sets the stage for Ultimate RPG (also tentatively titled “New Britannia”) by having all of the groundwork in a game except for combat and magic. Richard hopes that by trying Ultimate Collector more hardcore players will see that Portalarium is on the right track for creating the third stage of the plan with Ultimate RPG.
When talking about some of the challenges with these types of games Richard wants to make sure that Ultimate RPG has a very deep soul. As an old school developer and someone who gave us Ultima 4 and Ultima 7 to dearly remember, he said it is critical to have depth in the game for players, especially in an RPG. Also, he said that while having a great team of designers is one thing, it is also very important to have that constant conversation with the community. To know that players have a voice and listen to what they say.
So while we did not get into the full scoop of Ultimate RPG (I was hoping too), but what we did learn is Richard’s clear philosophy for the game. He wants to make sure hardcore players know they are not abandoned. It is one of the guiding principles of the design for the game. It is being made with the hardcore players at the very heart and soul of the title. Also, it is very important for the team to meet their goals on the game and create that RPG experience which made Richard’s Ultimas so memorable.
Richard said that you will find your way into the game through a portal, hence Portalarium, similar to the idea in Ultima 4. The game will have personal ethics, social events, and be founded on a very strong story system. You will have plenty of challenges as a player in this game. He really wants to create a new body of fiction. He really wants the great story of the game to transcend the setting. With the story at its core for the RPG it will have a new setting and a new fictional wrapper for players to delve deeply into.
The best part of the interview was that Richard said the game has sandbox interaction at its core. He said it is styled after Ultima Online and Ultima 7 in that regard. That news should really get everyone excited! Even though the game is set for social and mobile networks Richard was very clear that it is not MMO Light. He said that too many of the free to play games right now don’t have the story or substance behind them for the long term investment by players. He does not want a game that forces you to play for hours to earn your rewards.
I ended the interview by asking Richard where he thought games were going over the next few years and he said that free to play is the typical conventional answer. However he said if you look back at the beginning you started with solo player RPGs. You moved into MMOs and companies who embraced the MMO model early on have become hugely successful, like Blizzard. So as World of Warcraft took us into the tens of millions of players, now mobile and social games like Angry Birds and Farmville are taking us into the hundreds of millions-of-players zone. These games have truly broken ground into entire new player bases. When will a true MMO break that same ground?
Richard listed out the core things that these new games need to have to succeed. They are definitely an impulse buy. The game needs to capture players within minutes of time to keep them interested. With the addition of Free-to-Play the game needs to convince a player that it is worth spending money on. Also the game needs to be distributed digitally to keep costs down. Richard ended the interview by stating very matter-of-factly that the MMO audience is still his target audience. He holds a special place for hardcore gamers and that is who he wants to get playing his New Britannia. He feels very strongly about these social and mobile games having more depth and hopes to deliver that to the core MMO players out there so that they have a game they’re proud to play and call their own. It was great chatting with Richard and I think his insight and experience will take some of the new aspects of games we are seeing into a much deeper experience for all of us.