A Return to Ultima (ish)

A few years ago, it seemed as if the MMORPG world had passed Richard Garriott by. He’d had two rather contentious breakups with corporations, Electronic Arts and NCSoft, and he seemed more interested in pursuing his dream of going to outer space.

Two years ago, Garriott re-emerged at the SXSW Accelerator, an event I emcee that pits start-up companies against each other in a “pitch off.” Garriott, who didn’t win, was there to launch his newest endeavor: a simple social game called Ultimate Collector, which was published by Zynga through Facebook.

I won’t lie, I found the whole enterprise a little strange. I’ve known Richard in a professional sense since the mid-1990s, and all of our interactions have centered on discussions about storytelling, epic adventures, and communities. Ultimate Collector felt like something else.

Just one year later, though, the world seemed to tip back onto its proper axis. Once again at SXSW, Garriott launched a $1 million kickstarter, The Shroud of the Avatar, an epic storytelling adventure. How excited was the game community: The project was successfully funded in less than 10 days. More than 16,000 people contributed.

Garriott no longer owns the rights to the Ultima name (it would seem), but the Avatar was the main character in the series, which means we will once again be returning to the world that helped launch the modern game industry.