Richard Garriott: “I’ve met virtually no one I think is close to as good a game designer as I am”

Shroud of the Avatar

Chris Roberts. Will Wright. Peter Molyneux. Richard ‘Space’ Garriott has more fingers on one hand than great game designers he can think to name. It’s not that the man behind the Ultima series thinks he’s brilliant. No – it’s that “most game designers really just suck”.

“You know, I go back to the day when I was the programmer, I was the artist, I was the text writer, etcetera,” Garriott told PC Gamer. “Every artist we’ve ever hired ever is infinitely better at art than I ever was. I was never a good artist, or audio engineer, or composer. I was a pretty good programmer, but now all of our programmers are better than I am.

“But other than a few exceptions, like Chris Roberts, I’ve met virtually no one in our industry who I think is close to as good a game designer as I am. I’m not saying that because I think I’m so brilliant. What I’m saying is, I think most game designers really just suck, and I think there’s a reason why.”

Garriott’s reasoning? To paraphrase Jack Black: Those that can’t do art, do programming. And those that can’t do programming, do game design.

“If you like games, you eventually get to the point where you’d like to make one,” said Garriott. “But if you had this magic art talent as a youth, you can refine your skills and show a portfolio and say, ‘I’m a good artist, go hire me’. If you’re nerdy enough to hack into a computer, programming on your own, you can go to school and learn proper structure, make code samples and go, ‘Look, I’m a good programmer, hire me.’

“But if you’re not a good artist and not a good programmer, but you still like games, you become a designer, if you follow me. You get into Q&A and often design.”

In fact, Garriott says he’s found that artists and programmers actually frequently make better designers than their colleagues, “because they understand the technology or the art”.

“So we’re leaning on a lot of designers who get that job because they’re not qualified for the other jobs, rather than that they are really strongly qualified as a designer,” he concluded. “It’s really hard to go to school to be a good designer.”

Garriott’s currently working on online RPG Shroud of the Avatar at new outfit Portalarium. Does he have a point? Can you provide any strong counter-arguments for intelligent design?