Lord British Lays Out Future Vision (December 10, 2011)

ChrisReid

Super Soaker Collector / Administrator


Origin founder Richard Garriot de Cayeux has conducted a new interview with IndustryGamers. As usual, he has a lot of strong opinions about the evolution of the game industry, and he's got some high praise for Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts too. The article also explains Garriott's thoughts behind the emerging market for social/smartphone games and where the industry will go from here. In particular, his current philosophy is that the latest generation of mobile games represent a "third era" (with classic PC games filling the first era and MMO/online games being the second) of games, and smartphones will soon replace consoles as the dominant platform. You can check out the full article here. Thanks to Theo and Guilherme Mesquita.


Garriott's career spans the game industry from the Apple II days in 1979 to the present, where he is working at his newest company Portalarium on the next generation of gaming. Garriott created his first company, Origin Systems, along with his brother Robert, their father Owen and programmer Chuck Bueche. Origin Systems produced many notable games, industry luminaries (such as Warren Spector), and several important companies were created by Origin Systems alumni (including id Software and Digital Anvil). Origin Systems was acquired by Electronic Arts in 1992, and Garriott left to found Destination Games in 2000. Destination Games was acquired by Korean gaming company NCSoft less than a year later. Garriott left in 2008 and founded Portalarium, where today he's busy creating a new game to once again advance the state of the art.
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RGC: That's right. As we've grown, we constantly try to find people to promote into leadership positions and form new teams - however, it rarely works. Much more commonly someone arrives on the scene or emerges as a super-talented individual. To make a top movie, you have to be super talented, to make a top game you have to be super talented, to write the best book ever written you have to be super talented. You can pick up skills on the job and you can refine your skills, clearly, but the very special talent that is required to truly be a top developer of any creative property type is not something that you can start life as B talent and a few years later emerge as an A talent. At least not commonly, it's sort of a lifestyle attitude that begins with people at a very young age. You can see they've got a top talent even before they have all the skills all they need. Those are very rare. For example, in the history of Origin, we really had 2, in 20 years, Richard Garriott, myself, who could develop Ultimas, we had Chris Roberts who could develop Wing Commanders, and those were the two triple-A hitmakers in our company. We had a couple of B+ guys, Warren Spector and Tony Zurovec [designer of Crusader: No Remorse] were sort of our B+ guys, and Warren went on to become an A player, but I don't even know what Tony's doing any more. But the same thing is true for almost any company, you go back over time with, people who are triple A talent, who have pretty good odds of making a hit, and then there's everybody else.

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Original update published on December 10, 2011
 
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Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Warren Spector, a B+? I don't think that's a fair assessment. I always got the impression Warren Spector is a different kind of talent. He's not a star, like Richard Garriott or Chris Roberts, but he's a fantastic team-builder, and his teams have created many amazing games. He is most definitely an A talent.
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
I somehow overlooked that. Still, I think even at Origin, Spector was very much an A talent. There is *something* about his games - even if they were commercial failures, Savage Empires and Martian Dreams were amongst the most fantastic role-playing games ever developed. And those are just two of the titles he worked on...
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
Garriott is (mostly) right in that he means he and Roberts were the only 'above the title' designers at Origin when they were at Origin. That's not to say Spector, Zurovec, etc. didn't build magnifient games, but they were never sold because they were Spector, Zurovec, etc. games. "A Chris Roberts production" or "a Richard Garriott game" on the box was something that sold games at the time.

If he means anything else, though, he's entirely wrong. Obviously Origin employed hundreds and hundreds of 'A' players (including probably more big names than Garriott remembers--John Romero, DW Bradley, Sid Meier, Andy Hollis, J. Allen Brack...)

(The whole A/B employee thing is kind of a craze right now because everyone in the industry read the Steve Jobs biography and is pretending they can think like he did. But I'm pretty sure he's just melding that terminology with his OWN kind-of-lame philosophy here which was always about growing 'rock star' developers. From the start Origin (and EA for that matter) were about trying to make STAR game designers. Roberts and Garriott were just the only two that stuck.)
 

DaveO

Rear Admiral
If 'Lord British' can't make his new mobile games short, quick and addicting like Angry Birds I expect that his chances of success would be as much as the odds of his next trip to space.
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
I think he already has tickets booked on whatever Virgin's stupid suborbital space deal is?

I don't think there are any seats available for tourists on Soyuzes for the foreseeable future, though.
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Garriott is (mostly) right in that he means he and Roberts were the only 'above the title' designers at Origin when they were at Origin. That's not to say Spector, Zurovec, etc. didn't build magnifient games, but they were never sold because they were Spector, Zurovec, etc. games. "A Chris Roberts production" or "a Richard Garriott game" on the box was something that sold games at the time.
I do think the rock star thing is actually a pretty good idea - looking at this from a dev's perspective, the network of dependencies in game development is so complex, that having a "rock star" aura around the project lead would really help to get things done. Time and again, making a game is about internal politics.

However, ironically, this concept really backfired terribly on the two guys who most benefitted from it (and Richard Garriott especially). Because each of them worked mainly on the titles from one series, they never really became rock stars on their own, they were always linked to that series. So, their names didn't really sell other games (although nobody found this out until much later, with Starlancer, Freelancer and Tabula Rasa), but not having them on the box was believed to be detrimental to sales of the games in those two series.

It would have been interesting to see how things could have developed had they tried to do the rock star concept properly - instead of locking their rock stars into permanent association with one series, have them develop a wider range of different titles. To some degree, Chris Roberts seemed to try to do this (though I don't think there were any more completed non-WC games from him after Strike Commander?), but Richard Garriott seemed very much stuck in Ultima. In some ways, he still is - even (especially?) after Tabula Rasa, it's hard to imagine him succeeding with anything other than an Ultima game....
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
Honestly, from looking at the memos and e-mails donated by Garriott at UT, it was the 'B' producers who kept the famous projects sane. I get the distinct impression that the actual project management was done by Warren Spector, Dallas Snell and the like. Roberts and Garriott went in with real vision, but also wanted the impossible and didn't separate that from reality... I think teaming the two things up was what made the games great.

(Funny related story: back in the early days of Electronic Arts, they arranged for a 'tour' for their rock star developers... who traveled around the country finding that no one knew who they were and that software stores didn't know what to do with them. They ended up getting stuck working the registers at the various stores!)

I agree about Garriott's star status, though, and at least half his massive reputation today is for a game that wasn't his (Ultima Online.) Roberts was something of a star before Wing Commander, with his hits in the UK and then Times of Lore. If anything he resented being stuck with Wing Commander in a way that Garriott never did with Ultima... and his break with Origin had a lot to do with the fact that they wanted him to keep doing Wing Commander instead of moving on to his own projects.

(Grriott did have a bigger creative role in initiating lots of projects, I guess--but they were things like Cybermage and Bioforge.)
 
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