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Richard Garriott's Next Journey
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Richard Garriott's Next Journey

April 5, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

I think there's a lot of reluctance based on the fact that a lot of game developers still make the games they would want to play, and in general, games like FarmVille are not going to fill that particular need.

RG: I agree. And by the way, I don't play FarmVille, personally. However, for example, I can tell you that in this last year, almost 100 percent of my gaming as an avid gamer has been on my iPhone. But I've tried every portable platform that's existed, and none of them were terribly good, but finally we have a platform where lighter mobile games are compelling even to a hardcore gamer.

The way we find this market, the key thing about the casual and social gaming market to me, my definition of it says this: "What's important to these users is not the game fundamentally; it's really their friends." So, the first thing you have to realize is their friendships and networking with their friends is the dominant activity.

So, to find them, you have to go into that community. And then when you decide that you have presented them something entertaining, your friend has to be able to say, "Hey, I found something that's fun. Check it out," they have to be able to send you a link.

They have to be able to download and check it out yourself with no cost, never going to the retail store, never sitting with a long download, never with an instruction manual, never with a tutorial. You have to sit down and play it.

Well, in my mind, every online game that we've already made to date would be a better game if I could pick it up for free, I could download it immediately, I could launch it without any installs, etcetera, etcetera. So, the things the new market is demanding is actually a benefit to every game we've already made in history.

And as you make these games, a lot of those people will come along the ride. A lot of them will be immersed with gaming and want to play more. Some of them will stay light; some will increase their journey. But either way, it's going to be radically market-expanding, and the quality of the offerings is also going to go up very quickly.

One of the things that the portable area is going to be able to do, is that the majority of offerings that you see today on these social media networks are all developed on things that were great common denominators like Flash and Java. And the reason why those were great initial foundations is because it's ubiquitous. You can run it on IE or through Firefox or Safari or on your iPhone eventually. It's easy to transport thing you write there.

And the engine is already designed for you, and there's books written on it and etcetera. And so it makes sense that that would be the first place that people would build games. But the results of those games don't provide you with the same what I'll call graphical power that you do out of a more customized engine, and I would also argue that the user interface, what I'll call the tactile feel that you get when you play a lot of these earlier games, aren't yet up to years of iteration of gaming that we've already done in more hardcore games.

And so I actually think it's actually going to be fairly straightforward for those of us in the traditional gaming market to bring sensibilities of user interface, of graphic quality, of engine performance as long as when we arrive on the scene, we also respect well those fundamentals -- I've already mentioned what I believe that market is -- and then we offer a palette of everything from very simple games like poker and farming or whatever else, as well as a full suite of... to my mind, it could be any MMO you pick, as long as it doesn't violate those premises.

In terms of the UI and kind of backend concerns in the existing social network games, what do you think are the main areas that need to be improved upon, and in what way?

RG: Well, I would think this early generation of social games that exist, the thing they've done brilliantly is that they respect and enhance the social ties of groups of friends within a social network. So, they're doing a very good job of every time I log into one of those games, you can see the kind of next level of crafting that people are learning to how to help bond people to each other, and I'm trying to make sure we learn those laws very quickly, too.

The place that I so far see so little progress on has been the recognition that, if you have the option of two games that are otherwise identical, and one of them is in fact physically just difficult to use -- hard to install, unreliable to install, graphically inferior, obtuse user interface, inelegant or less beautiful than the other -- of course you're going to pick the one that's more beautiful and easier to use.

And I see so far less progress in that area than in what's clearly the core of social games, which is the social part. That part is learning is going very quickly. But strangely, and I think the reason why, by the way, is the people that are making these games are this new breed that gets that, but aren't members of this group [traditional game developers] yet, so to speak, and very few people in this building have chosen to back them up.

It's interesting to me looking at some of these earlier offerings and seeing that the graphical quality isn't quite there -- and that in many cases, it doesn't matter. I don't believe that it won't matter, but I believe it hasn't really mattered yet in many cases.

RG: Well, no. And by the way, that was true... about Ultima Online. So, Ultima Online, we made by using... We were on Ultima 9 at the time, but we used Ultima 6 graphics literally to build Ultima Online. And so the traditional press, all the press in this building, panned it. They went, "Here is a game. It looks three years old. Who gives a flip about playing with other people. It's irrelevant."

And guess what? It wasn't irrelevant. It was the harbinger of things to come. And the same thing's happening right now in social media.

Do you think that story has any kind of place in this arena?

RG: I do. I was asked to play the anti-story role during that debate [at DICE]. And so hopefully I represented the anti-story side pretty well. But fundamentally, I'm a story guy. But I was correctly articulating what I thought the challenges to doing good story were, which is that it's almost never done well and it's rare that the marketplace has rewarded good story. So, I think those are true.

That being said, I actually think what takes games out of being an irrelevant way to spend some time and puts it into literature and meaningful life experience is to put good story in it. And so for me personally, I think it's a really big deal, and I think it absolutely can be done on online interactive environments just like we barely are able to do it now in solo player gaming experiences, but it's definitely a big challenge.

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