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Portalarium's Richard Garriott

On his new Lord British-style game, standardising social gaming, and the problem with start-ups

GamesIndustry.biz You've said that you want to expand Portalarium to include learning, science and other technology areas - is that still part of the plan?
Richard Garriott

Yes it is. If you look at the open social movement, and if you look at Facebook versus Hi5 or any other of these have-been or future social media networks, only Facebook is using a unique standard. Everyone else is adopting this open social standard that Google really helped to spearhead. Not only do we think that's a good idea, but we're expanding it to what we call 'open play' and 'open good', that can add to that.

We don't want to control it but we do want to make sure that we at least help provide guidance to standards or help encourage standards, so social gaming goes beyond just covering name and friends lists. Worlds and quests and wealth and other things that are game related should also have a similar standardised context so that if we're playing completely separate games it's still possible to message each other something that's relevant. That complete package of social play and social good is important for our company and the industry.

GamesIndustry.biz So what's the timeline for the evolution to get to that level where the different elements are up and running, interlinked with multiple games and experiences?
Richard Garriott

We've built the infrastructure to offer as much as we could to begin with. By no means will it all be done at the same time as out bigger games that are starting to come out, but at least the framework will be in place. The more games that use these standards, the more you'll see the power of them and see the need for them to justify flushing it all out.

It will take a few years before the full power is visible but you can already see in our first two casino games that players are sharing information, cool things are popping up on each other's screens in windows - do you want to ignore them, do you want to message them back, do you want to go play with them?

GamesIndustry.biz The standards, the tools that you're creating for Portalarium, is that something you're going to sell to other companies?
Richard Garriott

We're actually going to give it away. 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.

Fundamentally, if you think of your friends lists, I have two on LinkedIn and Facebook. Facebook is now my dominant one because that's where my customers are. Migrating one friends list to another is a hassle. They're my friends, they're not Facebook's friends. So another thing our tools will do is they will make sure your friends are your friends.

As you migrate you don't fundamentally care that they're on Facebook, you fundamentally care that they're your friends. 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.

GamesIndustry.biz There's been an attraction to social gaming because it seems to be lower budgets, lower team sizes, it's quicker to get product to market. But that's extending now to take longer, cost more... will social hit a peak or like console development would you expect budgets and team sizes to spiral continuously?
Richard Garriott

The popular new games have now taken many person years and are already pushing millions to develop. It will always grow, but it's still a fraction of an MMO because an MMO demands the package, the subscription, the feature complete game, debugged and properly marketed on day one. The advantage of free-to-play is you can put up an unfinished game.

What if there were two versions of Ultima that shipped but once you'd played them for 100 hours they were identical? Game one you package for $50 and charge $10 a month. But game two you ship for free, and only after you pass a level or change maps we begin to charge you money. In today's market the free-to-play one would spread quicker, even amongst its traditional audience. You're reach a much bigger group of people.

If you dissect it further, Ultima Online included farming, running shops, fighting monsters, pets - and what kind of games are popular on social networks right now? They're all dissections of what I've already done throughout the Ultima series. One of the things I'm really excited about is that these games are already popular with an audience ten times bigger than the MMO audience, that now covers all ages, all genders and all walks of life. I already know how to do those games.

As soon as we have a game where you can have an avatar with a house and a room to display the cool things you've collected we can ship it. And then tomorrow you can fight monsters, and a month after than you can have some weapons and armour, and a month after that you can build swords... That will still allow us to come out with a full in-depth Lord British experience, but begin the journey as light as makes a confident, interactive game.

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Matt Martin avatar

Matt Martin


Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.