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.