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Interview: Richard Garriott Is From Mars
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Interview: Richard Garriott Is From Mars

February 8, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

Everyone knows about Richard Garriott, how he started programming games for the Apple II, how Ultima became the first honest-to-goodness franchise in the game industry, how Origin "created worlds," including Wing Commander and spin-offs like Ultima Underworld.

Everyone knows how Garriott convinced Electronic Arts to fund Ultima Online, which would be the first great Massively Multiplayer Online game, how he later left EA, and became a vital part of Korean online pioneer NCsoft's plan to capture the American market, and how his second MMO, Tabula Rasa, launched at the end of last year.

Everyone knows about Garriott's larger-than-life pursuits: his dream of going into space, how he went to the South Pole, the wreck of the Titanic, how he boxes regularly and participates in community events, lives in a remarkable castle in Austin, and is building an even grander sequel to Britannia Manor.

That's because most interviews with Richard Garriott ask all the same questions. "Usually they are quite traditional," is how he puts it. The man is no stranger to interviews -- in fact, the same day that Gamasutra conducted its in-depth chat, he was being shadowed by an editor from Focus, Germany's equivalent of Newsweek, who wanted to see a day in the life of the game developing Texan.

"The questions you've asked today are not the usual drift," Garriott told Gamasutra. And below, he explains why game developers aren't artists, but could be, why he only speed-reads games, and how the PC in your pocket just might be the next great platform...

Are you tired of talking about MMOs?

Richard Garriott: No, because I'm actually still excited about the MMO space. As you've probably heard me say before, the MMO genre -- even though it's ten years old, the most anybody's ever made is two, because the retool cycle is so long. I think the industry is still in it's infancy. I'm still quite excited about it. So no, I'm not tired of talking about it yet.

Are games art?

RG: Are games art? They can, and I think, should be. How much "art" there is in a game is up to the developer.

There's a lot of games which I'll describe as just pulp, but absolutely: I think there's lots of great art in games. A lot of my favorite games, actually, are the ones we think of as the most artistic. Games like Myst, or American McGee's Alice, Abe's Oddysee...

So are game developers actually artists, or are they just code monkeys trying to bat about aesthetics?

RG: Well, to make a game now requires such a large staff that you have all walks of life involved in there. I was just listening to NPR radio in the car on the way home from the airport last night, and they had a carpenter who had just gone off strike and was getting back to work on Broadway.

I would not consider that carpenter -- he was probably not what you would call an artist, he was probably literally a carpenter. And the same thing's true in making games.

We have people you might consider the carpenters of the game building -- who would not care, or [even] be too concerned if they were described as artists. On the other hand, I think a lot of the designers and a lot of the artists probably do aspire to be creating things that would be considered great art.

Many people in the industry feel strongly, like you do, that games are art - but does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?

RG: Well, no. If you think about the purpose of most people in this business, I think most of them are in the business as a business. They're here to make money. They're here to find something that becomes popular, and therefore sells well.

However, I think if you look at the measure of what it takes to become popular, I think there's a variety of factors that make games become popular.

I think it takes a combination of things. For example, addictive game mechanics. The kind of "pull the lever on the slot machine and occasionally get a return," which I would not call art, as much as a science.

But another thing that can create popularity in a game is to be attractive -- which could just be nice aesthetics. But another one would be to be compelling. I think what makes this compelling at a more human level is when you can touch people at an emotional or psychological level -- which I would consider art.


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