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Interview: Garriott And The 'Three Grand Eras' Of Games
Interview: Garriott And The 'Three Grand Eras' Of Games
June 15, 2011 | By Tom Curtis




Since founding social game company Portalarium just over a year ago, industry veteran and Ultima creator Richard Garriott has turned his focus from MMO titles to social and casual games, and believes that these sorts or titles have ushered in a "new era" of video games.

Garriott recently spoke with Gamasutra about the lasting impact of social and casual games on the industry, as well as his just-announced keynote for GDC Europe 2011.

The impending keynote will outline what Garriott calls the three "grand eras" of gaming, and how these eras helped chart the overall trajectory of the industry.

Here, Garriott explains his definition for the three eras of video game development, and points out the ways in which the industry has been slow to react to the changes introduced by popular social and casual games.

Three Eras Of Gaming

Referring to his keynote, titled, "The Three Eras of Gaming and Why This One is a Game Changer," Garriott explained how three distinct development trends have influenced the industry over time.

"To me, there have been three grand eras of games thus far, and we're just into the third one now," he said, pointing out that game development has altered significantly at a couple key points in the industry's history.

"The first [era] I'll describe as 'solo-player' games," Garriot explained, "with the obvious attribute that you play solo, but with the important other attribute that in that first era -- which I'll call the '80s and '90s -- you would buy your games at retail. You drive to the store, pay 50 bucks, take it home, install it on your computer, and then play it."

Garriott defines the second era of gaming as that of the "massively multiplayer game," which introduced the concept of playing with an community of users, but still held on to some of the limitations of a traditional boxed product.

"That era still required that you go to the store, you pay 50 dollars, you return home, and then before you play it you subscribe to it for an additional 15 or so dollars per month," he said. "These massively multiplayer games are also generally more complicated; they take longer to get into."

He believes we have entered into the third era of gaming with the rise of social, casual, and mobile games, as these sorts of titles offer several advantages over traditional single player and MMO titles.

Garriott said with casual or social games, players can more easily access titles they might be interested in. "You remove the barrier of driving to the store, and you also remove the barrier of a significant up-front investment," he explained, noting that these games are most often available via download either for free or for a very low price.

"Another key aspect is that these games are either self-explanatory or they have such good tutorials or introductions that you never think about installation issues or instruction manuals," Garriott said. By comparison, he explained that most traditional MMOs require a significant time investment from players to learn the mechanics.

Garriott said that these sorts of changes help attract a broader audience, and that today's most popular social and casual games attract people of "all walks of life, men and women of all ages."

Resistance To Change

While Garriott argues that the changes introduced with social and mobile games have potential to change the face of the industry, he also notes that developers and game companies have been reluctant to acknowledge the significance of these titles. "What's interesting for me to watch is that as I go from trade show to trade show, I see who gets this coming wave and who doesn't," he said.

Garriott recalled that the current state of social games reminds him of initial reactions to his classic Ultima Online, which was among the first titles to break into the MMO space. "People, even in our own company, were heavily critical of the game, right up until just before its release when the wave of pre-orders came in at a rate that was hard to ignore," he said. Today, Garriott sees a similar trend with the reaction toward social and casual games.

"An upheaval like this allows new companies to come in. For example, Zynga didn't exist prior to this third era. It's not because there weren't big companies that could have been doing what Zynga is now doing, it's that the bigger companies have tended to ignore it, frankly to their own loss," he said.

"It's the big companies, developers, and even players not understanding what is happening in these new eras that allows these opportunities for these new companies to become major players," he continued.

Later in the interview, Garriott turned his attention toward the future of home consoles, explaining how the mobile space could become one of the biggest threats to the viability of these platforms.

"I worry that the console industry is in trouble, because I feel that mobile devices are now at the level of quality and sophistication to replace them," he said. "For example, a lot of developers, publishers, and console makers don't really think of the iPhone as their competitor."

Social Games, Hardcore Appeal

Despite the undeniable growth of social games on Facebook and mobile devices over the last several years, Garriot said that even some of the most seasoned game players still don't quite realize what these sorts of games have to offer.

"People go, 'Oh, these Ville-games and such aren't my cup of tea, I'm not interested,' I don't doubt that, I mean, to the player that's the truth, but I think the hardcore gaming community to this day does not understand what is happening over there," he said. "The depth of play that these new players are already beginning to demand is changing very rapidly."

"Now that we're selling to everyone, there will always be broader kind of products that can become popular," Garriott continued. "We're essentially going to have the chick-flick that doesn't appeal to the guys, and we'll have the action flick that appeals to the guys but not the girls, just like we see in books and movies. It's great that we potentially have a way to get everyone playing."

If these social games can reach such broad audiences, Garriott says, they will allow developers and publishers to target an entirely new audience. "People are looking at these simple Ville-ish games and underestimating what 10 times more people being active gamers means to us in the development and publishing community," he said.

Garriott noted that he plans to explain further his position on the state of social and casual games in his upcoming keynote at GDC Europe. The show is owned and operated by UBM TechWeb, as is this website.

"I hope that people will understand that this new era should not and cannot be ignored, but even more importantly, that this new era can include the games that [developers and users] want to make and play," Garriott concluded.


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