Richard Garriott, creator of the Ultima series of RPGs and MMORPGs, is getting into the blockchain games gold rush. In an interview with PCGamesN, he and longtime collaborator Todd Porter announced that they've begun development on a new massively multiplayer online game—one where players can buy plots of land charge rent for accessing them.
The plots of land in the pair's unnamed MMO will be tied to non-fungible tokens (NFTs)—receipts that indicate proof of ownership that are logged on a blockchain (Garriott and Porter don't indicate if they'll be starting their own blockchain for this game, or using an existing one).
The game will be a top-down fantasy RPG in the vein of the Ultima series. The game will be funded through a mix of traditional investment and land pre-sales. Once players own the land, they'll be able to construct in-game businesses or portals that can transport players to custom-built dungeons.
And of course, land owners will receive a cut of whatever currency is generated by sales from NPC-run shops.
If there is any developer who's dealt with in-game housing shortages before, it's definitely Garriott. The Ultima Online series was beset by ebay-run grey markets where players bought and sold in-game plots of land without the developers seeing any cut of the sales. "All we [got] from people trading items is risk and complaints," Garriott told PCGamesN. "[Using blockchain] is a way to just clarify the economics in a way that is very fair and consistent between the players who are buying, selling, and trading these virtual assets."
So as you can see, the prospect of running digital businesses is a key feature of Garriott's next project. But despite that play-to-earn prospectus, he and Porter say they've been very skeptical of NFT-based games to date, and that skepticism supposedly informs how they're designing this new game.
Garriott, who is himself a cryptocurrency investor, explained that they want players to not have to think about the blockchain while playing their new game. Porter pointed out to PCGamesN that gas fees (the price paid to execute a transaction on any given blockchain) have been going higher and higher, and can be complicated to execute.
"It would be impractical for us to design a game where every object was existing on the blockchain—it would be cost-prohibitive," he added.
The pair did not explain if land in their new game would be artificially scarce or infinitely purchasable. The risks of housing and land shortages plagued the Ultima series, and are still causing problems in non-blockchain titles like Final Fantasy XIV.
Garriott and Porter's game development experience could mean that this project fulfills the goal of being a game project first, with blockchain components that reward the "game" aspect. Reading between the lines, it's also notable that this pitch seems to partly silo the blockchain components away from the core gameplay goals.
Part of the game's hook seems to be that Garriott, Porter, and their colleagues can effectively build a platform for in-game small businesses that let players create unique experiences for the benefit of other players, meaning that there'd be clear distinctions between playing for fun and interacting with the game to earn income.
Only time will tell if this unnamed games' land winds up being functional utility for a fun experience, or (as we're dealing with in the real world) an asset for investment portfolios.