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On the latest episode of IGN Unfiltered, IGN's interview show, Richard “Lord British” Garriott talked about his book, haunted houses, the Ultima games, going into space, and Elon Musk. The first part of the video interview available on the IGN website deals more with Garriott's exploits as a public person, while this clip on YouTube has some interesting details about just how arduous of a process it was to initially greenlight Ultima Online.
And here's a text excerpt from the Ultima discussion:
On the latest episode of our interview show IGN Unfiltered, Garriott shared the story behind the creation of Ultima Online. He and his team wanted to make a multiplayer Ultima game—which they referred to internally as "Multima"—for quite some time, but waited until the market was ready for such a product.
When the internet started to take off, Garriott and Starr Long decided now was the time to finally pitch their "Multima" idea to EA. As part of the publisher's proposal process, Garriott said the project's lifetime sales estimate needed to justify the costs required to make the game, "but the way to determine that is with comparables," of which there were none at the time. The closest comparison they could find had 15,000 sales. So, taking into consideration the appeal of the Ultima brand, they doubled that to 30 thousand, which still wasn't nearly enough to green light the project.
Six months later, when internet had grown even more popular, he tried pitching the game again to EA, but the project was once again shot down. However, that didn't stop Garriott, as he returned a year later to pitch Ultima Online a third time, but was yet again turned down. He then approached former EA president Larry Probst and said, "we're spending five or ten million making the next Ultima, five or ten million making the next Wing Commander.... You're just wrong on this. You need to give me $250,000 to prove this [idea]."
Probst gave him the money and they used it to make a playable demo. In order to get the product out to the public, they created one of EA's first websites, where people could pay $5 to beta test the game. Within a short period of time, "Fifty thousand people signed up to pay us $5 to get that CD," Garriott said.
"That day was the day the world changed around Origin and EA, and especially for Ultima Online," he added. "It went from being the bastard stepchild that no one wanted in the company, period—it was only happening because Richard Garriott was a jerk enough to stand up and stomp his feet and hold his breath until they let him do it—and now suddenly it became the most important thing happening in EA worldwide." He went on to note that when Ultima Online eventually shipped, it "became the fastest-selling PC game in Origin and EA history for that moment in time."