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Interview: Richard Garriott's space epiphany, NCsoft departure and Portalarium


It's a sad day, my friends. With Richard Garriott starting Portalarium, we may retire the spaceman Garriott photoshop (above). With Garriott back on terra firma and with a new company, it's probably time to bury the image that represents the last couple years of his life, in which Garriott went to space, saw his name on failed MMO Tabula Rasa and encountered professional issues that saw him departing NCsoft and suing it for $27 million. Here are some excerpts from our discussion of Garriott's past and future at DICE.

Joystiq: Before we talk about the future, let's talk about the past a little bit: how was space?

Richard Garriott: Life changing, phenomenal. It is a series of life-changing epiphanies. ... My first thought was when I saw the Earth from space was not, "Oh wow, how high and beautiful it is above this beautiful Earth." It was: "Wow, we are not that high up. I sure hope they made this orbit perfectly circular or we're going to be reentering again real soon." That was my honest first thought when I saw the Earth from space. But it is perfectly circular.

During this whole space situation the NCsoft thing happened. What's the current status of the $27 million lawsuit?

Active, so, therefore I can't talk about it. There's a court date somewhere in the summer. Maybe things will resolve before then, maybe they won't.

Are there any unresolved issues with NCsoft beyond the lawsuit?

No, not at all. In fact, there's even areas where I'm quite supportive of NCsoft, both their products and a number of people there. Not my lawsuit, but there are other lawsuits where I fundamentally take their side on. I really have no bad blood with NCsoft globally, at all. I think they still do great products and have some really great people. I just have issue with one particular aspect of how my employment was dealt with. I thought it was an error and that's the basis of the lawsuit.

You were almost framed as the absentee landlord. What's your take on that?

I don't think that's relevant to the case, you know what I mean. But since it's an ongoing circumstance, it's hard to comment on.

Tell us about your new company in your own words.

Portalarium has been described as fundamentally going to play in the area of social media networks, but what I think is important to describe about us is why we believe that's the right place to play and why we believe we can do something important in that area.

You don't think it's over saturated?

Not at all. Although, by the way, it is maturing very quickly. I look at PC games or early gaming and it took 10 to 20 years to mature. Online gaming, which has been the biggest for the last 10 years, took five to 10 years to mature. This one is going to just take a few years. I believe I'm now in the middle of what I'd call my third "once in a lifetime opportunity." First one was being at the emergence of games and getting to ride the growth of the industry. The second one came with Ultima Online. It took us years to convince anyone to let us do Ultima Online ... for the last 10 years, non online gaming has been financially insignificant compared to online gaming. I believe the next wave, which we are well into, is the rise of social media gaming and if you look at the money flow already. The money flow is already significantly swinging in that direction.

Do you plan on pursuing games that we already see on Facebook? Farmville, Mafia Wars. Stat-management titles.

Yes and no. The good news about games on those platforms is that they are so small to develop it's easy to target the people you think should be knocked off ...

Are you looking more for a deeper "core" experience?

Here's the areas where I believe what we are doing is significant and the right next step. Looking at the business, anyone who doesn't realize that just like online games that this is the next wave, and anyone who is left behind, just like they were left behind making solo player games. If you do not chose to make this move, the market will move without you and you'll be left behind. I think for everyone in this building, 99 percent of who are not pursuing this, I believe this is life and death to take this seriously or they'll be left behind.

More specifically, despite how fast the money flow is shifting and the rise of this new player base and even the big shift of the old player base in this direction, the quality of the offerings are still significantly below what I believe should be normal state of the art on a wide variety of levels. Not only is everything graphically not what you and I are familiar with retail boxed games. The user interface for these games is obtuse difficult, even on simple experiences it is not good. Even the social experience, which is their whole calling card, I look at the tools and the methods they are connecting people online and they aren't well evolved.

How do you plan on making money? The free-mium model?

Yes, the short version. Our games will be free to begin, then you're encouraged to pull money out over time, which I think is the essential element for rapid adoption of the scales that are involved in these types of games. But, more importantly, we are going to offer a level of play experience that is comparable to packaged goods game experience in the areas of graphical quality. Although some people are pursuing it, all the current big players are based on Java and Flash. ... for a player, they offer horrible disadvantages. They were never developed as gaming engines.

Portalarium, where does it come from?

You'll notice that a lot of us have history that goes back to Origin. Origin we eventually sold to Electronic Arts. Our next company we called Destination Games, which we sold to NCsoft. So we wanted to pick something that was still in the idea of "the journey." So, if you remember Origin's tag line was "We create worlds." So, we liked Portalarium because what we really believe we're doing is creating this port, where you'll be able to get to these portals to all these different experiences. But all the data is still shared amongst them, they're not independent. So that's where Portalarium came from, because we're making these connected portals between our worlds.

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