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DICE Feature: 'Garriott Vs. Garriott: From Origin To NCSoft'


February 9, 2006
 

Introduction

The joint address by current NCSoft senior executives and former Origin co-founders Richard and Robert Garriott to the attendees of the 2006 DICE Summit in Las Vegas began with a short parody film, which set the stage for both the struggle of light and dark which the brothers engage in, and the great humor they approach that struggle with.

“Obviously, Richard and I have had an interesting twenty-five years working together as partners and brothers.” Robert said.

Beginnings

According to the duo, Richard got into games earlier than his brother, starting to program games on a teletype machine. The display was simply the paper that streamed out of the teletype at forty characters per second. The games had simulated graphics, with asterisks for walls, spaces for corridors, a dollar sign for treasure, and letters representing items, such as an A for a giant ant.

While Richard was breaking into the game business, Robert was being, what his brother calls “painfully overeducated.”


Origin and NCSoft's Richard and Robert Garriott

“What I mean by that is, while I was playing games in high school he was getting a couple bachelors degrees from Rice, a master degree from Stanford, and then he went out to the Sloan Business School at MIT and got yet another masters degree. And he spent his summers working for a venture capital firm studying entertainment software. Which is kind of what we ended up doing.”

At about that time, in 1977, the Apple II came out. Richard began to make games for the new platform, and his first self-published title sold well. They moved on to what Robert likes to call “The Easy Money Stage.” In that golden era between 1979 and 1983, companies would just build products in their garage, like Richard literally did.

“The companies were run by developers themselves, and there wasn’t really professional management at the time.” Robert said.

“But it really was easy money,” Richard said, “People weren’t working hard, and they were making lots of return on their minimal investment. One company made so much the first year that they shut down the entire company for the month of December, and took everybody to Hawaii for a vacation. Subsequently, they went out of business the next year. Which was a common story back then, for an easy money company.”


Richard Garriott's 1979 title Akalabeth

With the financial success of Richard’s first game, he was encouraged to make another. “Most zip-loc bag games were coin-op knock offs,” Richard said. “Very few people were doing big, fancy role-playing games.”

Richard wanted his game to be released, not in a bag, but a box. He wanted documentation to be fictional, describing the world he had created. And even cloth maps. “It’s funny,” Robert said, “I was in business school at the time, and Richard would have these problems with publishers not paying royalties.”

After a series of bad publishers, Richard and Robert decided to start a business, Origin. At the start, the brothers considered making hardware and joysticks as well as software.

On Origin's Genesis

“Our magnum opus hardware was being built in our offices. We had the upstairs studios, and the downstairs three-car garage as our shipping office,” Richard recalls. “In the shipping office, we built this giant machine. It started off with plywood and two-by-fours. It was a four-foot by two-foot box that you’d sit in. Covered with steel re-enforced rings. And we were going to create a full-motion simulator.”

“Back in 1983, we built it to the point where it actually worked. The problem was, the motorized part was beyond our technical skills at time, and we quickly learned how incredibly dangerous it was. Once you have two-thousand pounds of metal and wood spinning at high-speed, anyone getting near it could have died."

Robert concluded by adding, “Every time someone would come out of it, they’d be fairly sick, and so that’s where it got the name, the Nauseator."

The MMO (R)evolution

The talk continued to outline the history of Origin, and how Richard and Robert’s relationship has allowed them to work together strongly over the years. The Garriott brothers concluded by saying that they found online games, which they helped pioneer with the seminal Ultima Online, to be a second “once in a lifetime opportunity.”


Seminal Garriott-developed MMO Ultima Online

Richard further asserted that “World of Warcraft is the best thing to ever happen to us.” He doesn’t think of good games as competition, and views bad games as a danger to the industry, suggesting that further consolidation will occur in the MMO industry, with only around five major companies capable of competing in the massively expensive mainstream MMO market. Richard Garriott's long-delayed Tabula Rasa will obviously be a title to watch in this arena.

Overall, the talk was an enormously enjoyable history of these influential brothers' journey through the video game world. Richard Garriott will be inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame at the 9th annual award show, which takes place on February 9th at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

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