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Why does Richard ‘Space’ Garriott need a Kickstarter project, anyway?

Shroud of the Avatar

In 2008, Richard ‘Lord British’ Garriott paid $30 million to become the world’s sixth ever space tourist. This is a matter of, if not public record, then commonly-cited gaming legend. Why, then, does Garriott and new outfit Portalarium need to source $1m from Ultima fans to fund new online RPG Shroud of the Avatar? Here’s a clue: it’s more about the developer-backer relationship than the money.

Garriott told us that his personal fortune has allowed him to do “all kinds of fun things – including leave the planet”, but noted that he himself had invested millions in his new company – by contrast, Portalarium are “only trying to raise about one million dollars through this crowdfunding campaign.”

At this stage, a younger Richard Garriott might have looked for a distribution partner to share in the cost of either developing or launching Shroud of the Avatar. But Garriott knows publishers. He sold Origin to EA in the ‘90s, and saw Ultima 8 suffer under pressure to ship.

“As I reflect on my own career, each of the times that we have forged a deep relationship with another publisher, those very next games are the games that have shipped the least well, shall we say?”

Instead, Garriott would like players to take the place of publishers in the development process.

“You become slaves to your publisher as opposed to slaves to the audience and we’re trying to make sure that the task master we are listening to – starting them early and getting them into these alphas and betas – is the player, and not the publisher,” he told us.

In fact, Garriott suggested that, “while the cash will be put to good use by all means”, the Kickstarter project’s primary function is as a “self-selection process”. “By embracing [the core audience] and bringing them into the development process, it lets us suss out a lot of problems”, he said.

It’s hard to predict what Shroud of the Avatar’s developmental problems might be at this stage. It’s a not-quite-MMO, with a persistent world and a focus on questing in small groups. It’s an Ultima game in everything but name, featuring dungeon crawling, crafting, farming or pet-fostering. And it’s already garnered more than $730,000.

Have you helped fund it?