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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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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.
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