The future looks bright from where Lord British stands.
Richard Garriott has been around long enough to know a thing or two about the gaming industry. With more than 16 games published under his name, and two (three?) highly successful game development companies under his belt, he's seen the good and bad of the gaming industry in his more than 30 years of involvement. In addition to telling me about the future of his latest game, Shroud of the Avatar, Lord British offered his thoughts on the progression of gaming as a storytelling medium, the death of the theme park MMO, and the future of virtual reality gaming.
Garriott feels very confident about the future of the gaming industry. Much in the same way that film, radio, and other mediums took a number of years to become established as equal to others, so too will gaming eventually find itself as a respected and powerful medium. Even better, he doesn't think we'll need to be waiting much longer. "The amount of time it's taken [for gaming to find itself] is about the same. It took about 30 years before film, as a case study, had the same kind of standardization that radio had. And we're getting to that point now."
Garriott also had a few predictions on the future of the industry. "Something that I think is going to remain true for the next decade at least...It's interesting to watch the relative sales of first person shooters versus sandbox role-playing games, because they go up and down relative to each other at very clearly viewable events. That event is every time a platform is relatively stable, people want a better and clearer gaming experience, in a sense of better content. As soon as there's a technological revolution, they go, 'I want all the bells and whistles in my first person shooter'. It's very obvious." Lord British explained that when new technologies come out, people want a simple and familiar way of exploring new technologies, whereas they seek out a deeper and more meaningful story once a platform has become accepted. This analysis seems apt in the market of Crysis and Skyrim.
One thing that might mitigate this trend, however, is speed at which technology is advancing. Because graphics have become so powerful already, there is much less room for advancement, and many games already have a sense of 'good enough'. "Machines are now so fast that the difference between the fundamental render engines is not that gigantic, and on top of that, there are things like Unity that are keeping an engine constantly evolving, so that you don't have to have the hard reset. So there's some chance that we'll see that reset smooth out."
Lord British thinks that sandbox and theme park game types are becoming a thing of the past, as everyone seems to grab the same formula. "There are some really great role-playing games that are phenomenally beautiful, phenomenally fun, quite deep role-playing games. But, as a broad stroke, most MMORPGs fall into the EQ/WoW model, and that model is completely trodden into the ground...and because people aren't doing world-crafting, they're falling short. They've made a system, not a world."
It was clear that Garriott thinks fans are ready for something new to change the atmosphere. As the gaming industry has grown over the last decade, so too have the tastes of gamers. "I think the age of level grind MMOs is past. I think depth is required for there to be quality and desirability in an MMO."
Lord British is looking to do more than change the structure of the game. While describing his dream game, Garriott explains that having a game with meaning will become more and more important as individuals gain a deeper understanding of the potential of games. "I do think level-grind theme park games are dead, in favor of the sandbox, and not just the sandbox, but the sandbox with meaning. That's going to be the next wave. I think it's going to take time to mature, so I'd say five or ten years out, and you're finally going to see a game that ... has high enough quality rendering that we don't care, it's got virtual reality where it's good enough, and not only is the world internally consistent and sandboxed, but it's worth being in because it's meaningful to me to be in."
Garriott had a few thoughts on the future of gaming technology, though he admitted he didn't assign much confidence to his projections. As a long-time proponent of virtual reality (VR) technology, Garriott is very excited for the next generation of virtual reality, specifically the Oculus Rift and the Omni, a piece of VR hardware that allows physical walking. "I think that we're finally there with virtual reality. Within five years, definitely within a decade, we'll finally have good VR at last."
Garriott concluded by returning to his earlier point, "Of course, what's going to happen first on this new technology is first person shooters. Every time a new piece of technology comes along, first person shooters will become predominant again. And then once it's been settled for five years, then you'll see the great role-playing games showing up on VR."
To see how Garriott is planning to adapt his own work to the changing state of the gaming world, check out our discussion of Shroud of the Avatar, and the new technology and game style that it's bringing to bear. Also be sure to stay tuned to WarCry for Part 3 of my interview with Richard Garriott, in which we discuss what he thinks makes a great game designer, and his advice on what game designers of the future should be striving towards.