Social game start-ups overpriced, creating "junk" - Garriott

Market will thin out with handful of big players quickly; developers "in over their heads," says online vet

Ultima creator and Portalarium boss Richard Garriott has told that he believes a lot of start-up game makers in the social sector are not worth the price they are being valued at - and the products they create are very poor quality.

He expects the social games market to become a level playing field with only a handful of relevant companies within the next 24 months, and that the idea that online has permanently opened up viral distribution for all is misguided.

"There are a few companies that are making real money in a big way so they deserve their high valuation by all means," said Garriott, who's Portalarium service is due to reveal its new game in the next two weeks.

"And they've not only led the charge but they are evolving quickly and they're doing a brilliant job of it. I have respect and admiration for my already titanic competitors that are ahead of me."

"That being said, there's tonnes of small start-ups who we are seeing take lots of investment and lots of activity and large acquisition costs - who are creating, literally, junk. Stuff that people aren't playing that much and if you play it it's not much fun.

"But it does show you there are investors desperate to find a foothold in this market," he continued. "There are lots of individual developers who have now finally seen the light and realised they want a piece of the action too. I install and play as many of those game as I can see and find just to see if there's somebody we want to work with, or acquire, or see as competition. It's fascinating to watch how everybody is still in over their heads.

"I do think it's going to be short-lived, the door will close quickly. People that think we have the permanent door open of free distribution on the internet and therefore viral is going to be the great permanent equaliser - it's just not true. Because you're still going to be competing for mindshare and access to where people go to find this information. Advertising and distribution muscle is still going to win that day."

In its first 12 months Portalarium has released two casino games while concentrating the majority of its efforts on back-end tools it hopes can level out and bring together multiple social experiences.

The next game from Garriott will be more akin to the Ultima Online titles that he's well known for, and will use services and tools the company plans to give away for free in the hope of standardising the games experience in social online gaming.

"There are people that are trying to sell their game development tools of various kinds and there are lots of high quality tools and engines available. But a lot of people are demanding that either money changes hands, or if you use those tools you must publish or use a particular service. That limits adoption and turns that standard into a competitor group that is out to resist other standards," he said.

For the consumer, Portalarium's tools will do away with the hassle of porting friends lists from one service or platform to another, and allow them to message and interact with other players no matter which title they are playing

"We believe a rising tide lifts all ships so we're giving this away when people utilise them - if they want to use them just for their own experiences, that's fine, they can wall it off - but we think it's a better advantage for all of us if we let all of your friends know what you are doing across all of the games you're playing, anywhere."

The full interview, where Garriott discusses the thinking behind building new game worlds for social play, his next 'Lord British-style' game and why the consolidation of online will be much quicker than it was with single-player and MMO gaming, can be read here.

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Latest comments (14)

Radu Ciu Product Manager, Alliance Computers7 years ago
Amen on that.
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Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D7 years ago
Isn't it just your typical gold rush, where most will end up not making very much at all, if at all?

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Chris Swain7 years ago
Very true Fran, this seems like another "gold rush" just like the .com bubble.
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Show all comments (14)
"there's tonnes of small start-ups ... who are creating, literally, junk" says the guy who just released another totally exiting casino game Facebook.
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Mike Wuetherick Lead Designer, Super Mega Awesome Games7 years ago
'while focusing the majority of their effort on the back-end tools and systems' - considering that probably 90-95% of the work involved in producing social games is back-end services & whatnot, I think that going as simple as possible for the front-end 'game' at least for starters, is probably a good idea.

Having implemented a few facebook games for my last employer, I can say that we definitely underestimated (and put too little effort into) the back-end systems initially. If you can spend the initial effort getting your back-end systems up and polished sooner than later, it will definitely pay off on the long run.
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Graham Simpson Tea boy, Collins Stewart7 years ago
As with all gold rushes (or bubbles) those there first eventually cash in and then sell their assets at inflated prices to the sheep who get burnt.
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Tobias Burandt7 years ago
With the current route the game industry takes, social games exploding and the economy of triple A titles in question, I don't know if I really want to become a games developer anymore. Lord British gives me hope though. He speaks about what I was thinking ever since the popularity rose of these games.
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Jim Myrick CEO-Producer, NetToons, Inc.7 years ago
Start-up valuations aside this is a brave new world for developers, we just downloaded 500k of our F2P game in less than 30 days with no real marketing or publicity expense. Today Zynga has 500 million in the bank and EA loses that much in 4 months. Seems the world is rapidly changing and who knows how it will end up. This level of creative disruption often leads to openings for the new guys.
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Denis Dyack President, Silicon Knights7 years ago
The think the social games market is a transitional state to the cloud market. The future will all be about recurring revenue and IP preservation.
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Andreas Firnigl senior designer, Cohort Studios Ltd7 years ago
...that, and hover cars!
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Krasimir Koichev Producer, Riftforge7 years ago
Now, here's a headline that I like. Not that Garriott has made any blockbusters in recent history.
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Jinho Choi Lead Character Artist, EA Canada7 years ago
Garriott should be very familiar with creating junks.
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Jinho + 1 :)
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Yiannis Koumoutzelis Founder & Creative Director, Neriad Games7 years ago
+1 What Denis said.
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