Richard Garriott: Zynga is 'either the enemy or an ally' [Interview]

Ultimate Collector
In a way, you can say that famed game designer and Ultima creator Richard Garriott is the next big name in games to side with FarmVille house Zynga. While he's neither a Zynga employee nor has his newest studio, Portalarium, been acquired by the social game giant, Garriott's first major Facebook game, Ultimate Collector, will be published by Zynga. And to him, the decision to join Zynga was merely a matter of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

"We were at a trade show a few months ago-- four or five months ago--and that's when we saw the announcement for Zynga Partners," Garriott recalls. "Then we sat down right there and said, 'OK, well [Zynga is] either the enemy or an ally. So, which will they be in this upcoming era?' We just thought that the advantages of not having to go raise many more millions of dollars into our tiny company, and getting a chance to look under their hood to learn some of the best practices they've learned."
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Richard Garriott: Zynga is 'either the enemy or an ally' [Interview]
Just like that, another of the most well-known game creators has been wrangled by Zynga, at least for this game. Speaking of which, Ultimate Collector (which we think shows promise) is aimed squarely at the casual crowd. But Garriott has bigger, perhaps more abstract plans for his first major social game: to nudge Zynga's audience toward a new, deeper kind of social game.

Richard Garriott "If you look at the games that have become popular in social media, it's things like farming, running a cafe or obtaining pets. It's really sort of the social world of Ultima Online," Garriott points out, referring to the finer elements of his first MMO, like farming and crafting, "and so I actually think that our team is very well prepared to up the ante in social roles, which is what I think we're doing first of all with Ultimate Collector."

The man behind Ultima is confident that Ultimate (get it?) Collector will usher the new audience of gamers--regardless of whether these folks consider themselves as such-- back into the fold of deeper, more core-focused play experiences in a way that they'll appreciate. At the same time, he hopes to chip away at the stigma that social games are for time-strapped moms.

"Ultimate Collector's really targeted at the casual player, at taking them deeper. But then the next game that we're working on, the role-playing game [with] 'Lord British's Ultimate RPG' as the working title: That is a game that will be targeted at gamers,"Garriott says. "But [it is] trying to show them that there is this kind of viral distribution asynchronous gameplay supporting a Lord British-style deep game that can be played in relatively short episodic sessions in a way that doesn't run off the lighter players, but fulfills a deeper play experience."

It's safe to say that Lord British has a lot on his plate. But if you ask him, "It's a lot easier to solve that problem if you actually do have a great game in your hands." If Portalarium has such a great game on its hands, then why turn to Zynga to (hopefully) make it a success? The answer is simple: It's easier and less costly for a developer to side with the likes of Zynga than to spend millions upon millions of dollars trying to compete in terms of player numbers. That said, don't go thinking Garriott has gone and drank the Kool-Aid, so to speak.
Ultimate Colllector screens
"Not just Zynga's, but lots of social games use monetization strategies that, as a hardcore gamer, I find offensive, frankly," Garriott admits. "I really don't like games that constantly pester me to pay. I find it radically interferes with my suspension of disbelief. So, I'm devoted in the Ultimate RPG game to finding novel monetization strategies that don't offend me like some of these do. Yet, it's still really important to learn those lessons, and there's no better place to learn them then by having Zynga as a partner."

Of course, Zynga could stand to learn a thing or two from Portalarium, which explains why the company has signed on game makers like Horn creator Phosphor Games." I think that Zynga has not proven that they can [release core-focused social games] as well internally. They do the very light games exceptionally well, but I'm hoping we can fill an important gap for them, which will, of course, serve us both well."
Ultimate Collector screen shots
As for this game that's supposed to fill that gap, don't expect to see it in action anytime soon. The Portalarium head doesn't expect to see it released until late 2013 at the earliest. Luckily for you, however, Garriott wants the public to be an integral part of the development process, meaning we'll this project early into its process.

"I still think that the opportunity is ripe for in the area of RPGs, which is one of the reasons I'm enthusiastic about getting back in with an RPG at this time. [It's] not that I think there aren't some people doing really great work. There are some pieces of it coming together. I've already found a few games that I play, that I'm inspired by, as I think about what I might like to do," Garriott tells us. Hopefully the time to leave the drawing board comes sooner rather than later.

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