Vague Patch Notes: Stop giving rich people money to make failed MMOs

Space tourist. SPACE TOURIST.

Richard Garriott has been to space. I’m going to repeat that a lot for emphasis, just because I feel like it’s important. Richard Garriott has been to space. He was a celebrity tourist going to space at an estimated cost of $30 million. (Here’s a source on that.) The man is in no way poor or impoverished. He has made a huge amount of money from his time designing the Ultima series and from Ultima Online, and then from NCsoft working on Tabula Rasa, and then more money from NCsoft from a wrongful termination suit – enough money that his trip to space was basically free.

And then he asked gamers, who will never get to go to space, for even more money to make a video game. And now he’s doing it again.

I want to make something very clear here, although I am heartened to see that our commenters are not buying into this latest scheme: If someone is trying to sell you something and he’s breathlessly touting its NFT incorporation, either that person is an idiot or he’s brazenly trying to part idiots from their money. Heck, I’ve written entire articles about how NFTs are a scam (and play-to-earn is an even bigger scam). But here we’re taking on something else: people who are pitching these hustles not because they have to but because they believe you’re stupid.

You might say that’s a little bit harsh. After all, Richard Garriott may have a track record that consists of the 25-year-old Ultima Online, failed Tabula Rasa, and failed Shroud of the Avatar, followed by this latest NFT scheme, but that doesn’t prove he thinks you’re stupid. I don’t know what’s in his heart, after all. It’s entirely possible that he thinks very highly of the people who give him money!

And sure, I’ll concede the point that in the broadest sense I do not know what lies inside of Richard Garriott’s heart and cannot prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he believes people are stupid. But I can also point you to Portalarium’s release history. What did the company release before SOTA, exactly? Why, a pair of Facebook games that shuttered the exact instant Facebook games went from being a boom industry to a failed investment. The company stayed in the game literally until the moment that there was no more money to be made out of it.

Not to mention that Portalarium no longer exists due to what sure as heck looks like shady accounting to avoid accountability for all of the ways in which SOTA failed to deliver to investors. We’ve reported extensively on all of the SeedInvest events there, which generally boil down to the SeedInvest people saying, “Look, we can’t force this company to do anything, but it hasn’t filed any appropriate paperwork and it appears to just be legally evading responsibility,” before SOTA’s lead dev Chris Spears pipes up to say, “That’s not true for reasons I will not prove in any way, but I’ll deny it anyway; watch me stream on Friday.”

Oh, by the way, Chris Spears has publicly stated that he’s involved with Garriott’s new NFT game.

In other words, I might not know with unalloyed certainty that Richard Garriott thinks people who give him money are stupid. But he is very clearly willing to take other people’s money to fund a game that, I hasten to point out, he could fund himself if he wanted to. He doesn’t need Kickstarter or NFTs or any of that; he has tons of money. The man lived in a castle and spends his days adventuring around the globe. And if he persists in taking the money of other people to not deliver a functional, enjoyable game? That doesn’t scream “he respects his fans.”

Remember me? Someone is hoping you don't!

Honestly, when I think about Richard Garriott, two things always spring into my mind. The first is interviewing him at PAX East one year when my wife had just had gall bladder surgery, so I was commuting to and from Boston for the convention that year. He commiserated over it and offered a gift for me to bring back to her: one of the mission patches from his trip to space. My wife and I love space flight. It was an intensely kind gesture.

I also think of sitting in a panel with our own Chris Neal (before he was working with us, ironically), listening to Garriott explain calmly that all of the times his games were failures were the direct result of publishers meddling with his vision, and how Shroud of the Avatar ensured that wouldn’t be a problem. And, uh… well, now you can see the results of what his unmeddled vision is! So that’s something.

Why do these things spring to mind? Because clearly the man isn’t a monster. He’s not evil. He offered an act of kindness to someone he’d never met out of a sense of shared inconvenience. And yet there’s also clearly an ego at work there, a sense of being inherently better at this, a sense of ignoring the consequences of your own actions. Claiming the good results while blaming someone else for all the bad ones.

Of course, this problem the MMORPG genre and gaming industry are having right now isn’t just about Garriott. This is also about Peter Molyneux, who has several installments of scamming people, first with Godus, then with… oh look, another NFT scheme. After just enough time that people hopefully stopped remembering about the last time he emerged hat in hand claiming that a legendary visionary developer needed your help to fund this game that publishers won’t back, and it’ll be perfect and shining and flawless.

This is also about the very wealthy Chris Roberts, who… wouldn’t you know it, showed up on Kickstarter, hat in hand, claiming that a legendary visionary developer needed your help to blah blah blah I don’t want to just cut and paste the sentence but I absolutely could. I wrote a whole piece about how that game cannot possibly live up to your dreams, and nothing has changed about that whatsoever. A decade of development and almost $450M in crowdfunds and here we still are.

Gosh, it’s starting to seem like these fabulously rich people coming to fans asking for money aren’t really coming and asking because Evil Mean Publishers won’t let them make these games. It’s actually starting to look like publishers expect finished games that players actually enjoy and not a decade of promises and incomplete systems with no end in sight. Or a game that seems to struggle to hit triple digits in players. Or whatever you call Molyneux’s track record beyond a mixture of games that overpromise and underdeliver, plus this latest monstrosity.

Let’s be real here, I could go on. But I trust it’s not necessary at this point.


These are projects that could be funded entirely by the people behind them. If Richard Garriott had a game that he were absolutely certain would be a smash hit, he could just fund the game and not dabble in NFT sales to make it a reality. Yes, it would be gambling with quite a bit of his own money, but… that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? It would be gambling with his money, not your money.

All right, theoretically “your” money. Again, our readers aren’t having this nonsense, so odds are if you’re reading this, you’re not going to be putting in your money, and good on you for that.

So what’s the point of this column? It’s really for everyone else: Stop giving these people money. If someone with an industry reputation who made a lot of money making these games in the past wants you to fund a new idea, politely decline and point out that if he’s so certain the game is the wave of the future, he can self-fund it and we’ll all watch as he makes all of his money back. That goes for everything from Kickstarter campaigns to cryptobabble cons.

And if he doesn’t want to self-fund the game because he’s not so sure about it… well, then, that says everything you need to know, doesn’t it? Because then it’s pretty clear he doesn’t so much care about the game, the customer, or the investors; he cares only about betting big with someone else’s bankroll. And if he can afford to freakin’ go to space, he can probably afford to front his own bets.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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