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Gaming Gods: Richard Garriott

For this week’s Gaming Gods, we go to England, to the unique mindset and genius of Richard Garriott.

Garriott was born on July 4th, 1961, in Cambridge, England, to American parents. He was raised in Nassau Bay, Texas, in the States. He is the son of scientist Owen Garriott, who became an astronaut and flew with Skylab 3 and space shuttle mission STS-9. At Clear Creek High School, Garriott convinced the school to let him create a self-directed course in programming, in which he created fantasy computer games on the school’s teletype machines. In the summer of 1977, Garriott was sent to the University of Oklahoma for a 7 week computer camp. Shortly after arriving, some other boys on the course introduced themselves. When Garriott replied to their ‘Hi’ with ‘Hello’, they said he sounded like he was from Britain, so nicknamed him British. Garriott still uses this name today as part of his gaming Persona, including Ultima character Lord British and Tabula Rasa Character General British. Despite this nickname, Garriott was raised in Texas from a young age, so he has an American accent.

Garriott as 'Lord British'

In the summer of 1979, Garriott went to work at a Computer Land store, where he had his first encounter with an Apple computer. He designed Akalabeth for fun, but the store owner convinced him it might sell. He spent $200 getting a manual and coversheet printed out, then put them in Ziploc bags to sell around the store. Although he sold less than a dozen copies in the store, one of them made it to California Pacific, who signed a deal with him. He sold over 30,000 copies, getting $5 for every copy sold. In the fall he entered the University of Texas at Austin, joined the schools fencing team and later joined the Society for Creative Anachronism.

In the early 1980s, Garriott created the Ultima computer game series. Originally created for Apple II, the first was published by California Pacific computers, and sold in Ziploc bags to interested parties. The second part was published by Sierra On-line, as they were the only company to agree to sell it in a box. By the time he developed the 3rd installment, the games had such a large following that Garriott (along with his brother Robert) established Origin Systems, their own Video Game Publisher, to handle the publishing and distribution of their game, now available on several platforms.

Ultima Online Box-Art

Garriot sold Origin Systems to EA in September 1992. In 1997 he coined the term Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), giving a new identity to the nascent genre previously known as graphical MUDs. In 1999 and 2000, EA cancelled all of Origin Systems new developments, including Harry Potter online and Privateer online. this prompted Garriott to leave the company. He returned to the industry in April 2000 with Destination Games, a company created by him and his brother with Starr long (creator of Ultima Online). Once Garriotts Non-compete agreement with EA expired a year later, Destination joined forces with NCsoft, where Garriott acted as a producer and designer of MMORPGs. After that he became the CEO of NCsoft Austin, also known as NC interactive.

Despite a 7 year development period, Tabula Rasa wasn’t a commercial success. In an open letter on the Tabula Rasa server in November 2008, Garriott announced his plans to leave NCsoft to pursue new interests sparked by spaceflight. However, later Garriott claimed that the letter was a forgery, intent on forcing him out of the company, and that he had no intention of leaving. On November 24th 2008, NCsoft announced that the Tabula Rasa servers were being shut down. After a free-play period for existing players, the servers were shut down on February 28th 2009.

In July 2010, an Austin District Court awarded Garriott $28million in his lawsuit against NCsoft, finding that they did not handle his departure appropriately. In October 2011, a United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, affirmed the judgement.

Zero G Garriott. Don't fly away!

On September 28th 2007, Space Adventures announced that Garriott would fly to the International Space Station in October 2008, as the sixth ever Space Tourist, reportedly paying $30million. Garriott was the first offspring of an Astronaut to go into space, and the second person to wear the British Union Flag in space.

So there we have it. Game designer, Astronaut and Father of MMORPGs. That is why I believe he deserves a place on the Gaming Gods throne.

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