IGN AU caught up with Richard Garriott for a two-page Q&A about his new Portalarium venture and his plans to bring Ultima Online-inspired video games to social networking services.
IGN AU: So how about this Ultima Online-esque project you mentioned a while ago. How would that fit into Portalarium's repertoire? Could it ever appeal to, say, Farmville players? Maybe it's just me, but I consider a classic "Lord British" experience and today's social networking games to be on opposite sides of the spectrum. Achieving a middle ground between these two would most likely alienate both audiences.
Richard Garriott: Well, Ultima Online is actually a good test case. Ultima Online is a sandbox-style massively-multiplayer game something which has largely not been repeated, in the sense that most other MMOs are in the EverQuest or World of Warcraft model, where conquering and levelling up are predominant values. Ultima Online was more of a sandbox everything in the world was interactive, and it generally simulated lots of what I'll call "professional" roles farming, shopkeeping, or even pet-handling. And those activities just happen to be the most popular things in social media games. So I believe we can create a "Lord British" experience, which is very much the kind of game my classic Ultima followers will enjoy, that will also, just by good fortune of its similarities to current social media games, appeal to the people who are already playing right now, but who've never played MMOs.
IGN AU: Do you think you could sell Ultima Online as it is now albeit perhaps with a scaled-down client to "casual" gamers on Facebook?
Richard Garriott: No, I think you would need to change it to a certain degree. Ultima Online and most MMOs of today have fairly high barriers-to-entry, even just to get started. They're so complex that they're fairly hard to get going in, but I believe that, eventually, you could get people into a very similar experience, so long as you provide it in a viral way, and hand-hold them through the process of learning the game during play. There are ways to "unfold depth" which will bring people who aren't traditionally gamers along the journey. iPhone games are a good example: my favourite one is Plants vs. Zombies, and I was showing it to my girlfriend the other day, and she didn't understand it. But then, I was playing at a very high level, so the game was quite complex. But if you start afresh, the game begins with a very simple set of instructions. It's why Mario games are so powerful: the fundamental mechanics are quite simple, and they just unfold to a brilliant level of fairly sophisticated interaction over time.