Game Development Reference
Interview with Richard Garriott: The Three Grand
Eras of Gaming—cont'd
Q: How did you monetize your first game, Akalabeth?
A: In the very beginning, I had a summer job at a Computerland
store. The owner of the store noted that this game Akalabeth I was
working on was better than any of the games he could buy from the
handful of the first companies that came into existence. He encour-
aged me to self-publish because self-publishing was just as high
quality as formal publishing. All games at that moment were sold
in Ziploc® bags hanging on the peg board on the wall of the store.
When I spent $200 on Ziploc bags, Xerox coversheets, and hand-
stapled little manuals that I made at a print shop two doors down
and hung them on the peg board, it looked every bit as good as any
other game being published from a quality of packaging standpoint.
It probably was better than most other games being sold that could
be purchased, but that is only one store. In that first week, I sold
somewhere between five and ten. This was infinitely better than the
zero from the week before.
One of those copies found its way to California, and California Pacific
was the company that happened to see it. Back in the very earliest days,
there were only a couple of people you would describe as distributors.
These were people who had a relationship with the handful of com-
puter stores that existed around the country, which was maybe a hun-
dred stores. One of those was this company California Pacific, and they
were the publisher of my mentor, a guy named Bill Budge, whose work
I admired. They called me on the phone and said they would like to
distribute this nationally. We signed contracts and the first summer in
1980, they sold 30,000 copies. Back at that time, all games were sold as a
royalty contract, very much like a book. There were no games that took
more than one person to build. There were no teams for games. I was
paid 30 percent royalties in this case, which now seems incredibly high.
I was selling them for $20 and the reseller sold them for $35. My royal-
ties were 30 percent of the wholesale price. That was about half of the
$35, which means I made about net $5 a unit. You do 30,000 times 5
and that's $150,000 for what took me about seven weeks of time in my
evenings after school. My cost was really zero. Cost basis was zero and
it generated about $150,000, which paid for a few years of college. There
really was no competition back at this time, so the return on investment
was obviously exceptional.