Ultima’s creator creates a new MMO, and it’s built on NFTs

ByJose A. York

Apr 12, 2022

The Ultima RPG series has been fundamental to video games not once, but at least twice. The original series blazed a trail that Western RPGs would follow for decades, and Ultima Online was the testing ground for many of today’s best MMORPG ideas and solutions. Now the series creator is trying the hat trick: Richard Garriott, known to Ultima fans as “Lord British”, is creating another MMO – but this time it will be built using technology blockchain.

Garriott works with longtime collaborator Todd Porter, and the duo say they are well aware of the issues crypto poses with it, both in terms of the technology itself and its reputation with gamers.

“There aren’t really any good NFT games out there right now, in my opinion,” Porter tells us. “I haven’t seen anything that I think really held up the gameplay.” Garriott agrees, and says part of that is because it’s still early days – there hasn’t been enough time since NFTs became a major fad for anyone to develop a title. strong based on technology.

Garriott and Porter’s approach to designing a game with blockchain is different from others we’ve seen, but existing experiments haven’t gone particularly well so far. Hackers got away with $600 million worth of NFT Axie Infinity in March, and NFT marketplace objkt.com records 27 total sales of Ubisoft’s NFT Quartz, which it hit for Ghost Recon Breakpoint a few months before announcing the end of the development of new content. (Ubisoft, however, seems undeterred.)

The game Garriott and Porter are working on is in the early stages of production and doesn’t yet have an official name, but it will be a modern take on the familiar Ultima format – a top-down isometric fantasy RPG. Porter says they’ve secured traditional sources of funding for the game’s development, but will supplement that with an NFT-based land sale. Players interested in owning part of the game will be able to purchase specific pieces of it as NFTs.

Concept art that Garriott and Porter shared with PCGamesN shows detailed square plots of land that look like they’ve been dug up and lifted from the surface of a miniature fantasy world, complete with layers of topsoil and underlying rock. Some concept art even shows the earth wrapped in pretty golden gift boxes.

Owners will be able to build shops or inns on their property, or even create a portal to a dungeon level they have created.

“Not only that, but the economics of this thing directly benefit you” under this system, Garriott says. “For example, if you’re the owner of an NPC-run pub in town, you might get the economic reward just for helping bring it into existence.”

The plan is to give landowners and owners a high degree of control over what is available on their plots of land. A blacksmith’s workshop can offer unique sword designs, attracting players from all over the world willing to spend a lot of money. It could also have the effect of increasing the commercial value of adjacent parcels.

If that sounds a bit like the creation of a crypto-ownership class of owners in gaming, Garriott says it’s not really a new phenomenon in games. Ultima Online has developed a bustling secondary market for items, including building lots in high-traffic locations.

“In Ultima Online, when people started buying and selling stores on eBay, we had to ask ourselves, well, what do we think? Do we want to stop it, because we didn’t guarantee that the sale will actually be persistent? And we don’t get anything out of it,” says Garriott. “All we get from people who trade items is risk and complaints. [Using blockchain] is a way to simply clarify the economics in a very fair and consistent way between the actors who buy, sell and trade these virtual assets.

The added value of blockchain, as Garriott and Porter explain, is that it provides a unified system for players to financially engage in gaming, from what is traditionally the crowdfunding stage all the way to live service phase after launch. In the past, developers and publishers had to rely on a small constellation of separate platforms to manage the various stages of fundraising and monetization – Kickstarter to raise capital, eBay for player transactions gray market, Steam, or another storefront selling the game itself.

“[Using blockchain] unifies this whole path,” says Garriott. “It allows us to make sure that the path is persistent and can be managed outside of our games when people say they want to trade things on, hypothetically, eBay or another crypto exchange or in-game. Basically, we should be agnostic, which we are.

Porter and Garriott say they understand the skepticism with which gamers have viewed many crypto-based games to date – these are apprehensions the two men say they have shared. The design of their as yet unnamed MMO is informed by this skepticism, they say, and the game is not intended to involve more people in the crypto ecosystem. Garriott says there are still too many issues with him to expect players to want to interact with him.

“I happen to be a cryptocurrency investor myself,” says Garriot. “I find investing in this area to be incredibly complicated and difficult. So we’re under no illusions that we want to expect gamers to know, care or think about blockchain. We’re going to handle all of this in behind the scenes.

“Blockchain has the same problem with gas [the fees associated with trades] we do in the real world: it’s getting more and more expensive,” Porter adds. “So it wouldn’t be practical for us to design a game where every object existed on the blockchain – it would be prohibitively expensive.”

Garriott says he hopes the system will eventually reward players who decide to create and create new content and experiences. “If you create a very popular gaming space, well, hopefully you’ll make a lot of money, because that means we have a lot of happy players in there,” he says. “So that’s really where we’re going: how can we provide direct value to gamers that’s purposely monetized regularly in real dollars. That’s when they contribute to the real fun factor and the real acquisition of players.