The Trainwreck of 21st Century Lord British

Once, long ago in the history of the blog, I wrote a post about how people seemed to be picking on Richard “Lord British” Garriot de Cayeux, largely because the fashion at the time seemed to be to use the silly space suit picture of him whenever he came up in a news cycle.

#winning

Of course, he seemed to be headed towards self-parody with his own photographic choices, like this image used on his Portalarium site

The first image from Portalarium

I cannot explain that moment of sympathy.  It certainly evaporated quickly enough when just a few months later I wrote a post with the title The Madness of Lord British.

There was a lot going on in that post, with lots of links out (some dead, you may need the Wayback machine to find them) to his dubious behavior, strange ventures, and odd ideas, including comparing himself to Tolkien or declaring consoles dead or how he was even back then running his company remotely with some sort of wheelie robot video presence.

It was also the kickoff point for his “ultimate RPG,” something he went on about for some time, trying to wheedle permission to use the Ultima brand from EA by saying nice things about them in the press (but not by, you know, actually talking to EA, who were busy tarnishing the Ultima brand with some garbage called Ultima Forever.)

Then he tried to get into bed with Zynga because Farmville and Facebook games were in the middle of imploding.  He eventually left that behind and jumped onto Kickstarter and used that trend to fund Shroud of the Avatar based largely on his reputation, work, and goodwill left over from the Ultima series of the 1980s and 1990s.

The Kickstarter was a success in that it met its funding goal, but as we knew even then, for a project trying to be an MMO that is just a marketing campaign, a publicity stunt to try and bring in more funding from other sources.

There was an attempt to emulate Star Citizen‘s successful ongoing crowdfunding by selling virtual land and castles as well as actual blood and other Lord British related items.  That was modestly successful at best.

Shroud of the Avatar did eventually “ship” in March of 2018 after some time as an “early access” title, however it was rough to the point of primitive for a game in the second decade of the 21st century, a strange mixture of awkward design and poor aesthetics, that I described as “retroist hobbyism” for lack of a better term when I was playing it.

It wasn’t a failure, but it also wasn’t what many people expected or wanted to play.  Lord British walked away from the title before it was done, transferring it to Catnip Games, though it wasn’t really clear he was all that in involved for quite a while before that.  It carries on as a dubious, low key title, a disappointment to many who expected a revival of the Ultima series, with a small and defensive team trying to eke out a living from the title and its connection to Garriott.

When Lord British walked away from his then flailing “ultimate RPG” I figured that was his last hurrah.  As I commented elsewhere:

This is a man who had the wealth and status to rest on his laurels, consult, speak on panels, and otherwise be a developer emeritus of great regard.

He made video games, got rich and famous doing that, got even richer by selling out to EA, lived in a castle, and got to be a space tourist. He could have called it a day 20 years ago and just spent his time being Lord British for fans now and then and we would have envied him, we would have aspired to be him.

But, as with pro sports stars, if something has basically been your whole life, it is hard to walk away.  So he has carried on, trying to recreate the success of his youth and living off of the reputation that gained him.

And that has been his downfall.  I have no idea what he is like in person, but his public persona has been one of self aggrandizement… he set himself up as the “father of the online gaming industry” at AGDC in 2004 back when he was promoting Tabula Rasa, much to the chagrin of Mark Jacobs and others who had online titles in production long before people like Raph Koster helped make Ultima Online a thing.

He has a history of badmouthing EA for all the problems that occurred after he got richer by selling Origin Systems to them. (Except when he was briefly praising them.)  And he also blames NCsoft and the people there for the failure of Tabula Rasa. (There was an Ultima 8 and Tabula Rasa double blame feature.)

He believes he is the best game designer around, calling the ones he worked with in the past “lazy”  (remember, that includes Raph Koster), and takes all the credit for anything he has touched.  He only made an exception for Chris Roberts when it comes to game designers, and that was clearly because he wanted to draft off of Star Citizen‘s crowdfunding success, a cringe worthy “notice me senpai!” moment.

And all along the way he has been a font of bad advice.  He has a history of grabbing onto a trend in gaming and telling people that is the best way forward just as it tanks.

Still, I foolishly thought he was done, so was both surprised because of that… but not surprised because of his history… when I saw the announcement yesterday that he had thrown his hat into the ring and declared he is making a blockchain MMO.

This is doubly ironic in that this follows on UbiSoft backing away from its NFT schemes and CCP declaring that NFT stands for “Not For Tranquility” when it comes to EVE Online.  Even as gamers are pushing back hard against crypto monetization and studios are realizing that they are alienating their core customer base by attempting to embrace it, Richard “Lord British” Garriott de Cayeux has decided to open his mouth wide and piss straight into the wind.

Words fail me.

Well, except for expletives.  I had plenty of those.

I have, for the last 20 years, found a way to excuse everything he has done based on fond memories of games he coded himself back in the 1980s.

No more.

This is the most contemptible, tone deaf, obvious cash grab in an industry long accused of cash grabs.  This raises the bar on cash grabs.  For years to come I predict I will be saying, “Sure, this move by X was bad, but was it as bad as the Lord British blockchain MMO?”

I am not a fan of Star Citizen, but this announcement has made Chris Robert palatable by comparison.  I don’t believe CR will ever be able to deliver on all, or even most, of the promises he has made, but he is selling a dream and has something tangible in alpha and has managed not to get bored and wander off mid-project.  If you were to ask me if you should buy a spaceship in Star Citizen or give money to Lord British, I’d say knock yourself out with the spaceship.

With other celebrities, I might suspect that somebody had just promised them a dump truck full of money to use their name.  But here we have somebody who has had an independent existence of bad ideas over the last two decades, a history that looks like a series of attempts to cash in on his name and whatever the latest trend was.

He has shown us who he is enough times already to know that this is authentically him trying to get back in ahead of another trend hoping to recreate the fame and fortune of his youth.  I am sure he is using somebody else’s money, but I am equally sure he sees glory and riches for himself in this move.  He is not being used, he believes he is using the investors.

Lord British is dead to me from this point forward.  In the hierarchy of people and companies whom I have vowed never to give money to, anything associated with Richard “Lord British” Garriot de Cayeux is now at the top of the list.

Seriously, I am now willing to give EA the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their history with him.  It makes me think of the Churchill quote about the devil:

If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.

That is where Lord British stands with me today.  He has now shit on his reputation so thoroughly that he is beyond redemption in my eyes.  Everything he has touched since Ultima Online has been a trainwreck.

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10 thoughts on “The Trainwreck of 21st Century Lord British

  1. Pallais

    As someone who loved the early Ultimas and was a big collector / still has some physical copies, yeah, I agree that we should avoid current-day Richard Garriott like the plague. RG is an example of someone who keeps trying to have a Steve Jobsian second act in his business life. While Ultima IV through VII will be landmark CRPGs, RG just needs to go gracefully into that good night of ex-game developers. Be more like Ken and Roberta Williams, where a minor, amusing return is a bit of fun nostalgia, not a situation where you want to scrap the odor you perceive off your shoes.

    As a side note, Todd “Ion Storm Founder / Screwup” Porter just makes the whole thing even worse. This just feels like a really stupid Venture Capital cash grab. While I prefer not to wish people ill, I certainly would be fine if this whole venture dies a quiet, unloved death.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hannah

    Honestly.. the second I saw he called himself “Lord British” I had an inkling what kind of person he was. This elicits one grandiose eyeroll from me.

    Great write up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. PCRedbeard

    Considering I believe Ultima IV and V to be two of the greatest RPGs of all time, this hurts. And I was considering writing a post about how James Stephanie Sterling was declaring the whole NFT madness to be over and that the grifters didn’t win.

    Never get too close to your heroes, I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. kiantremayne

    In fairness, if you were to ask me if you should buy a spaceship in Star Citizen or give money to Lord British, I’d say neither – spend the money on therapy instead.

    Star Citizen is a failure of project management of epic proportions, but while it’s taking forever and too much money to deliver, at least it’s inching towards delivering something that people want (albeit encrusted with a ton of features like poop mechanics that almost nobody wants). Garriott’s recent efforts are a failure of business vision, where it doesn’t matter how quickly they deliver because the core concept is at best ‘meh’. Blockchain MMO is the worst kind of high concept bandwagon jumping. It tells me nothing about the game setting, or story, or what sort of gameplay to expect – y’know, the things that would actually attract a player to a game. It just tells me that they’re using a technology that’s actually a poor solution for most of the technical challenges in making an MMO work, and is a dog whistle for a ‘play to earn’ pyramid scheme whereby players have all of the joy sucked out of their leisure time in return for earnings that are a lot less than minimum wage.

    Like

  5. Highmesa

    Not MMO-related, but Peter Molyneux and Will Wright are both all-in on the blockchain games too, from what I can tell. I guess it’s a trend for older game designers.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Hannah – He was born in the UK and is said to hold a UK passport, along with his US one, based on being born there, but his parents were from Oklahoma, so his Britishness seems mostly illusory. He mostly grew up in Texas.

    @Kiantremayne – Indeed. My endorsement of Star Citizen is entirely based on “at least it is not blockchain” and relative only to things that are based in it.

    @Highmesa – Molyneux has burned so many bridges that I would be surprised if he had any fans left. But, then, I could say the same about Garriott, so there you go. Pity about Will Wright. There does seem to be a common EA thread between the three of them. Hrmm…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. John

    Nice rant! Pretty much agree, and I’m looking at an original box containing Ultima IV for the Atari 800 sitting across the room. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. SynCaine

    There aren’t many developers with a long list of success and few if any stumbles (I can’t think of a single one but I’m sure they exist to some extent), and in an industry so young and evolving so quickly, past success rarely seems to matter. Plus today almost all games are made by large teams, so the importance of one person to such a game is far less than in the past.

    As for Richard himself, like you said he has been a clown in the gaming space longer than he has been a success, so its perhaps fitting he jumps onto the burning dumpster fire that is NFT.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Archey

    Syncaine makes a point I was thinking about too. It seems like in many entertainment areas, adults get together and form companies focused on making money and hire talent to achieve what they are up to. With gaming being so relatively young, we still have people like RG among us, who got their start coding in the metaphorical (or actual) basement, and being true innovators at that time we confuse that with the ability to consistently turn out quality.

    I think in general, a healthy creative relationship usually entails someone acting as a foil to the creatives’ most oddball tendencies. When the creators have too much power, this is the result. Even Prince needed someone to tell him “your music doesn’t mean anything to anyone but yourself”.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – Projects fail and the list of big names in video games where the question “what have you done for us lately?” strikes home is pretty long. One hit wonders and people trying to recreate their one big success are everywhere.

    However, where Garriott has really stepped over the line for me is that he isn’t even selling the vision of a game. He is just using his name and some crypto buzzwords to drum up some cash. His vision is a business model, and a shady scam laden one at that.

    At least with Shroud of the Avatar he put some effort into how this was going to be his ultimate RPG. Granted, he promised the Mona Lisa and gave us a kids drawing stolen off of somebody’s fridge, but he seemed to have some sort of vision to sell, something we could buy into.

    I mean, I probably wouldn’t be fooled again if he had a game vision to sell, but this current announcement is just such a crass, thinly veiled, scam cash grab that it blows my mind that he lacks the self awareness to see it. But then I look at his history and think maybe it shouldn’t surprise me at all.

    Liked by 1 person

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