Game Development Reference
Interview with Richard Garriott: The Three Grand
Eras of Gaming—cont'd
Q: Talk a little bit about the Three Grand Eras of Gaming and why the
current one is so important.
A: First, let us look at why each of what I call the “Three Grand Eras
of Gaming”—which are solo player games, massively multiplayer games,
and now social and mobile games—are both interesting and important.
Social and mobile are really two areas and not the same, but they are both
happening at this moment.
Solo player games were obviously a very good business from the begin-
ning, but small. A top-selling solo player game, starting with things like
Akalabeth , immediately sold in the hundreds of thousands, and over 20
years, moved up into the millions. Between 1980 and 2000, a top-selling
solo player game might sell in the 6-, 8-, or 10-million-unit range for a
true top seller. Those games by the definition were solo player games that
you bought at a retail store and brought home to play alone on your com-
puter. At this time, computers as a percentage of your personal income
were fairly expensive, and the instructions required to install these games
on your personal computer were fairly sophisticated. The combination
of having to go to a retail store to buy it, bringing it home to install it
with a fairly complex install, along with fairly complex instructions, on
an expensive home computer, meant that the marketplace was limited to
relatively wealthy teenage male nerds. This was really the total market. It
was still a great business. The business grew very rapidly, and even before
that era ended, the games industry exceeded the movie industry as far as
scale is concerned, if you compared box office revenue to revenue from
games at retail.
The second grand era came with the release of the first massively
multiplayer games. Even back before the Apple II, people were network-
ing computers together. As soon as there was a computer, people began
to hook them together and try and do things. There were Multi User
Dungeons and the AOL dial-up RPGs like Neverwinter Nights . They were
multiplayer, but I do not know if you would qualify it—strictly speak-
ing—as massively multiplayer. Ultima Online was the first one that went
past the 100,000 user mark and sold in the millions. What is interesting
about shipping Ultima Online is that our publisher, Electronic Arts (EA),
had no expectations for its sales. It was going to demand that not only
did you have to go to a retail store, you also had to pay $50 up front.