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I toured NCSoft today.

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Do you have a gaming company that, once upon a time, you would've done anything to work for?

 

For me, that company was Origin Systems, Inc. The Ultima Series brought me into computer role playing games in a big way. Ultima IV was my gateway game. I spent from 1991 to 1999 upgrading my computers just so I could play the latest Origin releases.

 

Origin is no more, but the company was resurrected, in a way, when the Garriott brothers went to the computer MMORPG maker of the most successful online game in the world at the time, Lineage, and started the North American branch of NCSoft. The staff they hired was 100% former Origin employees. They started making MMOs both in-house and through 3rd party developers.

 

Today, my wife called me up and said two of her Korean students were going to NCSoft to interview Robert Garriott and to perhaps meet "Sir Richard", as they called him (I know, his nick name was "Lord British" but this was what the Korean guys called him.). They said that I would be welcome to come. I was the only one of the group who was fan of any type of interactive entertainment. Needless to say, I was very excited.

 

Three hours later I was sitting in the Monkey House (a conference room in NCSoft) listening to Robert Garriott talking about their business model for MMORPGs. He seems like other entrepreneur / CEOs I've met - he is bright, a good communicator and has a sense of humor. We spent almost an hour talking about the differences between Korean and North American audiences for MMORPGs. Their expectations were going to change over the next few years as Koreans become more used to the way of the west and vice versa. (basically, Koreans wear the 20 hours it takes to get to the fun parts of Lineage as a badge of honor, where Americans lose interest after 20 minutes if they don't feel like a hero by then. Americans have been taught a shorter gratification span through our upbringing on console games. Koreans will eventually become this way, too, as consoles make inroads into their gaming culture. Now, however, PC online games are at the top of the heap, with a lot of help from their superior broadband infrastructure.)

 

One of the interesting ideas was the concept of "MMORPG churn" and how a company can use it to their advantage by making a portfolio of MMOs that spread across different genres instead of just trying to make their fortune on one. The average "churn" in the industry is about 10 months. Most MMORPG players move onto another Online game after about 10 months. NCSofts strategy is to have enough games in their portfolio so that the person will easily switch to one of their other games, rather than go somewhere else where they'd have to put in new credit card info, etc. It was cool to hear someone in the PC gaming industry talk about it as a business and not just hyping their next big game.

 

After that, our escort led us to Richard Garriott. Richard was as cool as I've always heard he was and he gave us a tour of the History of Origin/NCSoft hallway. All the Origin PC games, box cover, golden disks and, of course, every cloth map, on display being described by Lord British himself. The tour went from Aklabeth up to UO and then turned the corner and started talking about Lineage, Lineage II, City of Heroes, Guild Wars, Auto Assault and closed with Tabula Rasa. My PC can't really handle any of those games, except the first Lineage, which I'm really inspired to try now. I'm waiting to upgrade until when I know what the recommended specs for Tabula Rasa will be. We thanked him for the tour and he went back to creating worlds, so to speak.

 

It's interesting, to me, to meet someone who I've seen and read about so many times. I felt like I already knew this person, though of course, I don't, and he certainly doesn't know who the hell I am. It was hard to not ask him about the new house he's having built out in the hills of west Austin or a bunch of other things about the Ultimas that I'm sure he's been asked 100s of times in the past and aren't my business anyway.

 

There were several life sized figures of characters from the different MMORPGs under production as well as some older stuff from the Origin days (a big Crusader No Remorse cardboard stand-up display, for instance) and in every room there was someone making parts of a computer game.

 

After Richard's tour we got to take a look at the QA department where they were doing some testing on Auto Assault and Lineage II. Auto Assault looks really fun, by the way.

 

After that they gave us a nice big bag of goodies: Art books for Guildwars and City of Heroes, A Lineage II T-Shirt, City of Heroes (the PC Game), a City of Heroes book and a demo deck for the collectible card game, a little remote controlled promotional car from Auto Assault and an insulated lunch box with the NCSoft label on it. I thanked our hosts and I thanked the two Korean scholars who had invited me along with them and got in to my car. As I drove away I let out the fanboy scream of pure glee that I had held in the entire time.

 

Today was a good day.

 

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That sounded like a cool tour. I've been on a couple cool tours myself, but nothing recent (my most memorable tour was the Altair computer factory in 1978). Sometimes these tours can be a dissapointment but sometimes they blow your mind and that's all you think about for weeks. I hope your tour was of the latter variety (it sounds like it was).

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That sounded like a cool tour. I've been on a couple cool tours myself, but nothing recent (my most memorable tour was the Altair computer factory in 1978). Sometimes these tours can be a dissapointment but sometimes they blow your mind and that's all you think about for weeks. I hope your tour was of the latter variety (it sounds like it was).

 

The Altair computer factory would've been cool!

 

My trip was closer to the latter variety, and certainly no disappointment. Since, there were a few non-gamers with me (hell, they invited me), the tour stayed pretty "pedestrian". While it was really cool to have Lord British himself give a little lecture on the Ultima series it was merely an "Honor" than mind-blowing. I mean, there was nothing he said that I hadn't read a dozen times already. (though, it was nice to be able to make references to "insider" information. When he was talking about Ultima VII he said he was really happy with the level of detail they'd been able to add to the world and I said "Like baking bread!" making reference to the whole controversy that had surrounded Ultima IX when they had almost not included the ability to bake bread.) Most of the easter egg stuff that I might've found new and interesting would've been pointless trivia to the "normal" people that were also on the tour with me.

 

I'm not complaining, it was still the culmination of a 14-year mania of mine. It was great just to shake Robert and Richard's hands and say "I've really enjoyed your work, it's great to meet you." There were times when I was totally "geeking-out", though, especially seeing all those Ultima artifacts hanging on the wall. That was pretty-mind blowing. (Especially seeing an Original Aklabeth.)

 

(Thanks for responding by the way. I posted this in a forum over at DP and not a single person responded to the post! Though one sent a very nice PM.) :)

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That was an awesome experience and I'm happy that you had such a great opportunity.

 

The company I would have done anything to work for, a long, long time ago, would have been Westwood Studios. Lands of Lore is, to this day, my favorite game EVER. The Legend of Kyrandia games are some of the best I've ever played, with amazing graphics and storytelling. And, of course, Dune II was a game changer.

 

When those games were around, companies like Bullfrog, Lucas Arts, and many others were also thriving with amazing titles. For me, as an avid PC gamer, those were the times. Yes, they were.

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On 9/23/2012 at 9:07 PM, Nelio said:

That was an awesome experience and I'm happy that you had such a great opportunity.

 

The company I would have done anything to work for, a long, long time ago, would have been Westwood Studios. Lands of Lore is, to this day, my favorite game EVER. The Legend of Kyrandia games are some of the best I've ever played, with amazing graphics and storytelling. And, of course, Dune II was a game changer.

 

When those games were around, companies like Bullfrog, Lucas Arts, and many others were also thriving with amazing titles. For me, as an avid PC gamer, those were the times. Yes, they were.

It's still a really great memory. Obviously, I'm a big fan of my childhood console video games and they were fun because they were shared experiences with other people back in the day, and with my kids back when I was beginning Chronogamer. (Now my kids aren't around. Trying to play the two player games is difficult and makes me a little melancholy.) I didn't really get to play PC games until my early 20s but when I did, it was like living in them. I remember the feeling of hyperfocus while playing Ultimas 4 and 5. Mapping the dungeons. Keeping track of every clue and power word and rune sequence for the spell. I lived and breathed in those games like one could only do for weeks on end with PC games. (this was around 1992ish, I guess. I think other games had come out for consoles where one could get just as immersed, but I'd totally missed the boat on those, not having had access to a video game console since 1985.)

 

It's funny, I just reinstalled Blade Runner from Westwood Studios. They really were a creative group. I never played the Kyrandia games, but if I ever make it out of the 80s, maybe I'll give them a shot.

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