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Garriott: Social gaming is the “new third era”

Friday, 11th March 2011 06:18 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Ultima Online and Tabula Rasa designer Richard Garriott has said social gaming is the next era, but that developers need to beware of under-estimating – or even overcomplicating – social games.

“Solo player games sold to millions of users, massively multiplayer games sold to tens of millions of users but social media gaming is ready to reach hundreds of millions of players,” Garriott told Edge.

” So that’s why I formed Portalarium; to tackle, learn and hopefully provide some leading contenders in this new third era of gaming.”

Lord British said those who dismiss social gaming as too simple are ignoring history’s examples.

“When I began to watch the social media space and watch how people were poo-pooing it as too simple, I thought, ‘You people haven’t been through the technology-resets-design space as many times as I have, and you’re missing the boat!”

Although Garriott acknowledged that some social games are indeed too simple, he also warned against over-complicating the issue. He mentioned Farmville as a game at the simplistic end, Cityville as over-complicated, and Frontierville as a perfect balance, and “a lot deeper than most people who aren’t paying attention are giving it credit for”.

“Social games are being developed by big teams that are well funded, and have a level of complexity that I already think is too much,” he observed.

“… You get dropped into the middle of these worlds and, even for me as an experienced game player, it’s completely overwhelming; there’s way too much all at once and there’s no way for any casual games player to figure it out and find it compelling enough to even get started. They’ve made the first step – figuring out if you even like it – so large that you give up.”

Beyond some simple casino games to test the OpenPlay suite of multiplayer tools, Garriott wouldn’t be drawn on the subject of new company Portalarium’s first major project – although he dropped some hints.

“I can tell you what our first game is not: It’s not a game about farming, it’s not a game about operating a shop, it’s not a game about managing your pets, or any other current popular category,” he said.

“It really is something that hasn’t existed. However it’s still within the sweet spot of activities that people have already clearly found attractive within social media play cycles and level of complexity.”

On a related note, Garriott also mentioned that post-Ultima Online, no MMO had managed to nail down a sustainable non-combat gaming experience.

“Everything else EverQuest onwards … they are really combat centric. Even though they have crafting, that’s something you do in addition to combat. Compare that to Ultima Online, where there were tons of people who were nothing but a baker, nothing but a blacksmith, or nothing but a fisherman.

“And that’s still quite unique to Ultima Online – how truly differentiated roles were that were not related to combat. … The things that have become popular in social media were also things that were popular in Ultima Online, but just dissected into bite-sized, manageable and understandable pieces, and that’s why I feel very comfortable and confident that we can offer a more complete Ultima Online-esque experience, as long as we present it encapsulated in ways that don’t overwhelm people.”

Garriott recently commented that a large proportion of social gaming is “junk”.

Thanks, Massively.

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