Richard Garriott on the Evolution of Video Games

Gamasutra is offering up a summary of the keynote speech given by veteran game developer Richard Garriott earlier today at GDC Europe. According to Garriott, games have enjoyed "three grand eras" of development over the past few decades - single player, massively multiplayer, and social/mobile:
"One thing that I really lucked into was creating storylines with what I will call 'social relevance'," he said, pointing to the moral choices inherent in the Ultima games.

The "save the kingdom" story of the original games in the series is no longer enough, though it still has traction in the industry, he said. "The first Ultimas were very simple stories... And if you look at most games today they still are. Personally, I don't know about you, after I told that story a few times I was done with it."

"That story has no value in the future. It's the antithesis of what I try to do and what we as a development community need to do," said Garriott.

"I have found that it's much more challenging and much more successful for a long period of time, if you can a find a storyline to embed into a game that speaks to current contemporary social issues, but cast in a storyline that is appropriate to the style or fiction of the world that you have created."


When he launched the Ultima Online project, EA's "faith in the team and faith in the project was so low," he said, that "projected sales were 30k lifetime."

"Sales and marketing were not in favor of us working with the game," he said. "It wasn't until we put up a prototype and put up a web page... 50,000 people signed up to be beta testers in the first couple of weeks. When it finally did ship it was the fastest selling PC game in origin and EA history at the time. Within about two years had outsold all of the other previous Ultimas combined."

Even so, he said, "Despite the success, lots of people were not convinced that this was a good future for gaming in general."

This is because the game had dated graphics and a lack of story -- putting it behind the current state of the art of single player games. "When a new era starts with graphics that are five or 10 years behind the state of the art, very quickly that changes."

MMOs quickly caught up. In fact, new era games -- while behind the times at first -- "catch up and supersede the era... Which is a very important message when you talk about the third era" of social and mobile games.
30,000 units throughout Ultima Online's lifetime? It's hard to believe that anyone at EA could have been that ignorant about such an ambitious title, even if it was treading into uncharted territory at the time.