#257 Richard Garriott Video Games and Space Exploration



In "Explore, Create: My Life in Pursuit of New Frontiers, Hidden Worlds, and the Creative Spark," Richard Garriott reflects on his journey from a passionate teenage gamer crafting rudimentary computer games to becoming a pioneering game designer and a multimillionaire. Garriott's tenacity and innovative spirit drove the success of his Ultima series, including Ultima Online, which defied Electronic Arts' (EA) expectations and became a massive hit, inadvertently creating a real-money economy within a virtual world. Despite his achievements, Garriott faced the harsh reality of corporate control post-acquisition by EA, leading to creative compromises, a toxic work environment, and ultimately his dismissal. This pivotal moment left him emotionally devastated, yet it failed to extinguish his entrepreneurial flame or his thirst for adventure, as he continued to explore new ventures in gaming and beyond.

Summary Notes

Break-In Experience

  • Richard Garriott describes a terrifying break-in experience at his home.
  • Initially, a stranger appeared at his door after a gathering to watch a comet collision.
  • Richard used the remote gate to encourage the stranger to leave, which temporarily worked.
  • Hours later, the stranger returned, breaking in through a glass door.
  • Richard confronted the intruder and eventually the police arrested the man, who suffered from mental illness.

"When the sound of a glass door being smashed woke me up. I was alone in my house."

This quote sets the stage for the break-in story, indicating the sudden and violent nature of the intrusion.

"I realized that he must have been standing in the darkness for hours, just watching my house and waiting."

Richard reflects on the intruder's persistence and possible premeditation, which adds a chilling element to the narrative.

"I warned him, stop right there or I'll shoot."

The quote captures the high-stakes confrontation between Richard and the intruder, highlighting Richard's readiness to defend himself.

Richard Garriott's Background

  • Richard Garriott is an accomplished game designer and adventurer.
  • His home in Austin, Texas, reflects his creative and eclectic interests, including a telescope and medieval weapons.
  • Richard's career in game design began in the 1970s and he is recognized as a pioneer in the industry.
  • His autobiography, "Explore, Create," details his life and mindset towards creation and exploration.

"And it was written by Richard Garriott."

This quote identifies the author of the autobiography, providing context for the subsequent discussion about his life and work.

"He was one of the first successful computer game designers."

Richard's early involvement in the game design industry is highlighted, marking him as a trailblazer in the field.

Mindset of Malleability and Influence

  • Richard believes in the malleability of the world and one's ability to influence it.
  • He emphasizes the importance of understanding the world to master it.
  • Richard's mindset aligns with influential figures like Mark Andreessen and Steve Jobs, who also believed in shaping the world around them.

"I was lucky to learn early on that deep understanding of the world around you makes you its master."

Richard credits his success to his deep understanding of the world, which he believes gives him the power to shape it.

"Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is, everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you."

This quote from Steve Jobs resonates with Richard's philosophy of personal agency and the potential to influence the world.

Intersection of Preparation and Opportunity

  • Richard attributes luck to the intersection of preparation and opportunity.
  • He stresses the need for attention, risk-taking, and the willingness to face failure.
  • His attitude has led him to create and impact industries like computer games and commercial spaceflight.

"Luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity."

Richard's definition of luck encapsulates his belief in active engagement with opportunities through preparedness.

"You must expose yourself to the possibility of massive failure."

The quote emphasizes the importance of risk-taking in achieving success, a principle that Richard lives by.

Creative Drive and Exploration

  • Richard sees a connection between his creative drive in game design and his passion for exploration.
  • He has engaged in various expeditions, including space travel and deep-sea exploration.
  • The same impulse that drives his game development also fuels his adventurous pursuits.

"These words are inextricable from each other. They feed each other."

Richard explains the symbiotic relationship between exploration and creation in his life.

"Explore and create. These words are inextricable from each other."

The title of Richard's book encapsulates his philosophy that exploration and creation are interconnected endeavors.

Historical Influences and Entrepreneurial Mindset

  • Richard admires historical figures like Ernest Shackleton for their adventurous spirit.
  • He draws parallels between his own explorations and the ventures of past explorers.
  • The mindset of endurance and perseverance is a key theme in his life and work.

"I fancy myself an admirer of men like polar explorer Ernest Shackleton."

Richard expresses his admiration for Shackleton, indicating the influence of historical adventurers on his own life.

"By endurance we conquer."

Shackleton's family motto, which Richard finds inspiring, encapsulates the idea of persevering through challenges to achieve success.

Early Gaming Influences and Company Building

  • Richard's interest in gaming began with tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).
  • He relates the role of a Dungeon Master in D&D to the process of founding and running a company.
  • His gaming experiences informed his approach to creating virtual worlds and building game companies.

"DND is a role playing game, an interactive story that is negotiated between the narrator, the dungeon master, and the participants or players."

Richard draws a metaphorical connection between the structure of D&D and the collaborative and problem-solving nature of entrepreneurship.

"Interacting with the other players to solve problems and move the adventure forward."

This quote highlights the collaborative aspect of tabletop gaming, which mirrors the teamwork needed in business ventures.

Emergence of Computer Games and Storytelling

  • Computer games were in their infancy with no clear path to becoming an industry.
  • Storytelling was recognized as a powerful tool, not just in gaming but across various domains.
  • Richard Garriott, as a teenage dungeon master, understood the importance of storytelling and its learnable nature.
  • The ability to craft compelling narratives was a key skill for game masters in Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).
  • The idea of storytelling driving product development is also seen in the success of Steve Jobs and Apple.

"This was before the emergence of computer games." "I learned that each game was only as good as the ability of the game master to craft a story and manage the negotiations into a compelling narrative."

The quotes highlight the pre-digital game era and the importance of storytelling in engaging players, which is a skill that can be transferred to other areas such as business and technology.

Influence of Storytelling on Technology and Business

  • Storytelling is not just for entertainment; it shapes the way products are developed and marketed.
  • Steve Jobs exemplified the power of storytelling in product launches, creating a narrative around why a product is needed.
  • Richard Garriott's experiences with D&D taught him narrative skills which he later applied to computer game design.
  • Storytelling is fundamental to human communication and has been a form of entertainment since the dawn of language.

"Steve was a master at this before he told you what a product did, he always took time to explain why you needed it." "It was the story of the product, and it drove what we built."

These quotes explain how Steve Jobs used storytelling to define the value of a product, influencing its development and public perception, which parallels Richard Garriott's approach to game design.

The Beginnings of a Gaming Empire and Personal Growth

  • Richard Garriott's interest in computers began with playing Pong at age 11.
  • He gained access to computers through his high school and NASA connections due to his father being an astronaut.
  • Garriott's first computer game creations were shared through "sneaker net," a precursor to digital distribution.
  • Early computer games were sold in Ziploc bags, highlighting the nascent state of the industry.
  • Garriott's storytelling abilities, honed through D&D, were crucial in the development of his computer games.

"The only place that we knew with computers was NASA." "Playing DND, was the seed that would eventually grow into my elaborate computer games."

These quotes illustrate Garriott's early fascination with computers and the beginnings of his journey in game development, showing how his passion and storytelling skills were foundational to his future success.

The Evolution of Computer Games and Garriott's Success

  • The computer industry's growth allowed for more complex games to be created.
  • Garriott's first commercially successful game, Alcabith, was sold in his workplace and later distributed nationally.
  • The gaming industry was unregulated and chaotic, with many publishers involved in drugs and risky business practices.
  • Garriott's earnings from Alcabith surpassed his father's astronaut salary, reflecting the unexpected financial potential of the gaming industry.

"I was flabbergasted. I was 18 years old when I arrived." "It was a phenomenal amount of money, enough to buy a house."

These quotes convey the surprise and success Garriott experienced at a young age, underscoring the lucrative potential of the gaming industry even in its early stages.

Technological Advancements and Future Opportunities

  • Technological advancements in computing power enabled the creation of more sophisticated games.
  • The concept of "holding on" for future technology to unlock new capabilities is a recurring theme in entrepreneurship.
  • Garriott's experiences with unreliable publishers led him to consider self-publishing his games.

"I learned through trial and error, and mostly error at the time, there was no computer industry, there was no standards." "Hold on. So future technology can unlock more powerful capabilities and more opportunities that you cannot do yet."

These quotes reflect the trial-and-error nature of early computer programming and the importance of anticipating future technological advancements to create more complex and engaging products.

Creative Aspirations vs. Industry Norms

  • Richard Garriott observed a lack of creativity within the gaming industry, as publishers preferred sequels over innovation.
  • He aspired to make his games as immersive and realistic as possible, drawing inspiration from authors like Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
  • The industry was in its infancy, with games often sold in Ziploc bags with rudimentary packaging.
  • Richard wanted to enhance the player experience from the very first encounter, including the packaging and supplementary materials.

"Let's just keep making sequels and let's just stick with what is working." "My desire was to make the world of my games as real as possible, like Tolkien and C. S. Lewis."

These quotes highlight the contrast between Richard Garriott's vision for creating rich, immersive game worlds and the industry's focus on replicating existing successes without innovation.

Establishing Origin Systems

  • Richard Garriott and his brother Robert founded their own company, Origin Systems, to pursue their vision of game development.
  • The company's tagline, "We create worlds," reflects their commitment to building immersive gaming experiences.
  • Origin Systems started informally in their parents' house, with operations such as office meetings taking place at the kitchen table.
  • Their first outside employee, Dr. Cat, was hired in an unconventional manner, reflecting the informal and spontaneous nature of the company's early days.

"We named our company Origin Systems." "We create worlds."

These quotes encapsulate the founding of Origin Systems and its mission to create immersive worlds, demonstrating the entrepreneurial spirit of the Garriott brothers.

Transition from Creator to Businessman

  • Richard Garriott had to learn how to run a company, transitioning from a game creator to a businessman.
  • His brother Robert, who had an MBA, emphasized the importance of work habits and their influence on company culture.
  • Richard initially resisted structured work schedules, but eventually recognized their value for the company's success.
  • The brothers often clashed, with differing views on how to manage the business, leading to passionate arguments and even a physical altercation over a pencil.

"Through trial and error far more quickly than anyone imagined, computer gaming became a huge business, and for me, there was a steep learning curve from creator and designer to businessman." "My brother was always hypercritical of me."

These quotes reveal the challenges Richard faced in adapting to his new role as a business leader and the interpersonal conflicts that arose from differing work styles and expectations within the company.

  • Richard Garriott underestimated the rise of the IBM PC, leading to a critical mistake that almost destroyed Origin Systems.
  • He had to quickly adapt to the changing market, which shifted from Apple II to IBM PC dominance.
  • This experience taught him the importance of being open to new perspectives and not assuming his own views were always correct.
  • The company faced the risk of bankruptcy, but Richard and Robert chose to double down, investing all their resources into developing a new game for the IBM PC platform.

"I concluded that the IBM PC would never pose a threat to Apple's dominance of the market. I was supremely confident it would never compete with Apple." "In less than six months, the IBM PC became the dominant machine in the market."

These quotes reflect Richard's initial misjudgment of the IBM PC's potential and the swift industry shift that endangered Origin Systems, highlighting the importance of adaptability in a rapidly evolving market.

Pioneering New Game Concepts

  • Richard Garriott sought to create games that incorporated moral choices and the player's value system, diverging from the trend of mindless gameplay.
  • Despite skepticism from his team, he persisted with his vision, believing in the artistic potential of games.
  • His game "Quest of the Avatar" was a departure from previous titles and became a significant success, influencing the gaming industry.
  • Richard's journey from imitation to creation exemplifies the process of developing original ideas through experience and experimentation.

"I thought, how cool would it be to incorporate a player's own value system into a game?" "My other games had borrowed liberally from existing fantasy stories. None of them were particularly original."

These quotes show Richard Garriott's innovative approach to game design, aiming to create a more profound and engaging player experience by integrating moral choices into gameplay. His commitment to this concept led to the creation of a groundbreaking and influential game despite initial resistance.

Invention of MMORPGs

  • Richard Garriott is often credited with inventing the term and category "Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games" (MMORPGs).
  • Ultima Online, developed by Garriott, was the first MMORPG to achieve major success.
  • Garriott clarifies that he did not invent the concept but built upon existing ideas within the gaming industry, leading to the first massive success in the MMORPG category.

"Massively multiplayer online role playing games, because... On is this thing called Ultima Online, which was the first to become a major success."

"His point is like, yeah, they credit with me for inventing the term in the category... I didn't invent it... And it winds up being the first massive success."

The quotes underline Garriott's role in the development of Ultima Online, acknowledging his contribution to the MMORPG genre without claiming to be the sole inventor.

Evolution of Online Gaming

  • Garriott discusses the evolution of online gaming, starting from dial-up services and text-based multiplayer games known as MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons).
  • The innovation was in applying the concept of multiplayer text games to create visual, interactive worlds that could connect players globally.
  • The challenge was to make a business model that was viable given the fee structure of dial-up services at the time.

"But in fact, long before the existence of the Internet, people were linking computers to communicate with each other... A decade before we produced Ultima online, we were already dreaming of producing a game that allowed many people to play in the world at the same time."

"These multiplayer games were quite simple... The few hundreds or low thousands and were not competitive with mainstream games."

These quotes highlight the early stages of online gaming and the limitations that existed before the advent of the Internet. They show the progression from simple text-based games to the complex visual worlds of modern MMORPGs.

Impact of the Internet on Gaming

  • The availability of the Internet changed the economic structure of online gaming by eliminating the need to charge by the minute or hour.
  • Garriott and his team foresaw the potential of the Internet to enable massively multiplayer online games, which was initially met with skepticism.
  • Ultima Online's success demonstrated that a massive market for online multiplayer games existed.

"The availability of the Internet, which allowed... People to be online for extended periods... Completely changed the economic structure."

"Suddenly a million people could be online at the same time... The potential was almost incalculable."

The quotes capture the transformative effect of the Internet on online gaming, making it economically feasible to have a large number of players online simultaneously.

Challenges and Tenacity in Game Development

  • Richard Garriott's tenacity was key in convincing Electronic Arts (EA) to develop Ultima Online despite initial disinterest.
  • EA's bureaucratic process and skepticism of online gaming posed significant hurdles.
  • Garriott's persistence and innovative marketing strategies were instrumental in Ultima Online's eventual success.

"EA had no interest in developing it... I am tenacious... I would not leave the office until he agreed."

"We got all the money and the development people we needed... Having money made the situation much better. The managers made it much worse."

These quotes emphasize Garriott's determination to see his vision come to life, overcoming the reluctance of a large corporation like EA to invest in a new gaming concept.

Creation of a Virtual Economy

  • Ultima Online inadvertently created a real money economy within the virtual world, leading to unexpected phenomena such as gold farming and money laundering.
  • The virtual economy highlighted the willingness of players to spend real money on virtual items, blurring the line between virtual and real-world economies.
  • The success and impact of Ultima Online's economy were unforeseen by its creators.

"No one anticipated that the game might enable students to work their way through college, or allow criminals and drug cartels to launder money or lead to the creation of chinese gold farming businesses... A real money economy that would generate billions of dollars in revenue and would obscure the lines between virtual world and reality."

These quotes reveal the complex and far-reaching consequences of Ultima Online's virtual economy, which extended beyond the game itself into real-world economic activities.

Corporate Challenges and Personal Struggles

  • Garriott reflects on the difficulties of rapid expansion and the clash of entrepreneurial spirit with corporate structure after selling Origin to EA.
  • The creative and business challenges led to a loss of control and eventual firing from his own company, which had a profound emotional impact on Garriott.
  • The experience highlights the risks and personal costs associated with selling a company and losing entrepreneurial autonomy.

"We felt this was symbolic of the death of the entrepreneurial company that we had built... EA kept sending us second string replacement managers... None of them stayed in place long enough to see their new projects through."

"Richard, we just don't need you anymore... I left the office, drove to a grocery store parking lot, and wept for several hours."

These quotes convey the emotional toll and sense of loss Garriott experienced as he witnessed the transformation and eventual loss of the company he built, underscoring the personal side of business decisions.

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