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Last year, veteran developer Richard Garriott -- aka Lord British -- founded his latest developer, Portalarium, to create social games. Like many long-term PC developers, he's come to see the social space as the natural evolution of the platform, and has chosen to embrace it. Recently, the company secured $3.6 million in funding.
In this extensive interview, Garriott speaks about his plans to bring an "Ultima Online-like experience" to social gamers, and how he sees a need for this to be platform-agnostic and accessible as well as deep and meaningful -- and how he thinks social gaming audiences have been trained up by Zynga to be ready for deeper, richer experiences.
"Even the kinds of games that you might think I would make, I don't generally play, because they're often just too much of a hassle to get into them," says Garriott, of the current crop of MMOs.
Instead, he says, he spends his gaming time with the iPhone, and believes that the true evolution of games will be one that allows mainstream gamers to touch the depth of design that he and his compatriots are capable of.
What's the state of Portalarium now?
Richard Garriott: So we started the company just over a year ago. It's what I'll call my "usual suspects", it's you know... Got my friend David [Swofford] who you just saw, who's our PR/marketing guy, Fred Schmidt who's kind of our business side, and Dallas Snell is running product development.
And a bunch of the developers, all of us who have worked together at Origin and NCsoft -- or Destination Games, which became NCsoft -- Origin, EA, Destination Games, NCsoft, now Portalarium.
You know, our first year has been largely building infrastructure and technology. Our belief about social media games is that not only do we believe we can create great games, but delivered through free-to-play, pay as you go, and, you know, click on an email link to start playing, which we think is the kind of critical aspect of the new delivery.
But also we believe that... one of the key aspects of what is not being done well now that we believe can and should be done much better -- and hopefully we'll lead the charge in this area -- is that if you look at most of the companies making casual or social games right now they... even if you're playing the same companies' games, you're largely siloed from each other.
Now if you're playing one Ville-like game and I'm playing a different Ville-like game, we don't know about each other's activities during those games until after I log out and look at my posts on my wall and I go, "Oh, at the same that I was playing, my friend was playing this other game; kind of wish I knew that."
And so we've created an infrastructure -- a standardized messaging system between all games -- so that while you're playing a game, I can get notifications of what you've done that I can either ignore, tell you congratulations or whatever else, or click on a link that lets me change games and jump right in and play right alongside you. So we believe that we're trying to deepen the connections between you and your friends across all the games that you play.
Portalarium's Port Casino Poker
And so that's what we've been building so far. We've shipped two very light games -- just a couple of casino games that we used to test that backbone. We're just about to release our first truly original game, which is still a very light game in a sense of social media type game, but not a farming game, not a café operation game, not a pet management game, but a truly original game; it's still quite light by what people might expect from Lord British standards.
That game is called Ultimate Collector. And then we're going to roll into what I call the next, you know, big Lord British virtual world game (Lord British’s New Britannia).
Can you tell us a little more about these?
RG: Ultimate Collector, set in a contemporary world/theme, will be out sometime this summer and is a unique social media style game which will have some of the same conventions (asynchronous play, sharing accomplishments and information with your friends, etc.) that are part of successful social media games today.
I will soon begin development of my new Lord British-style RPG for social media and mobile platforms in the very near future. Lord British's New Britannia, which was mentioned in our SXSW Accelerator presentation in March, is a working title for that product.
It sounds like you're doing this outside the confines of Facebook a bit?
RG: Well, we're what I call platform agnostic. So far we deliver on Facebook, Hi5, we will do independent web, but it's not out yet. We have the iPad version already in test about to release, iPhone version's underway. So we're going to deliver on all of these kinds of platforms.