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Loading... Garriott's Gambit

Posted Thu, May 07, 2009 by Ethec

Welcome to the 1,074th Edition of Loading...

Loading... is the premier daily MMORPG news and commentary newsletter, only from Ten Ton Hammer.

Richard Garriott is suing NCSoft for a cool $24 million. Has he unwittingly announced his retirement from games development too? We'll walk you through the financial speak and legalese to get to the heart of the matter, and consider the long term effect on both Garriott and NCSoft in Loading... Garriott's Gambit.

Coyote is back in a big way at Ten Ton Hammer, and his daily column explores all things geek with Coyote's trademark wit in It's All Geek to Me. Read it daily at Ten Ton Hammer!


The Pulse

You vote with what you view at Ten Ton Hammer, and the result is the Ten Ton Pulse (What is Pulse?).

Here's today's top 5 Pulse results for today:

  1. World of Warcraft
  2. EVE Online (UP 4)
  3. EverQuest 2 (down 1)
  4. Age of Conan (down 1)
  5. Warhammer Online (down 1)

Biggest Movers in the Top 20 today :

  1. Darkfall (UP 29 to #16)
  2. Aion: The Tower of Eternity (UP 2 to #9)
  3. Dungeons & Dragons Online (UP 2 to #10)

Loading... Daily

Before I go any farther, I've bumped into Richard Garriott twice now and during our brief chats he seemed like a really nice guy and was obviously really passionate about games. He is known for his rock star antics, whether the showy parties at his Austin, Texas castle or for the casual trip into space, but I couldn't detect a flash of arrogance either of the two times we spoke with him. He puts me a little in mind of Gambit from X-Men Origins: Wolverine - flamboyant but cool and calculating, flashing his ideas of logos like psionically enhanced cards. As for the panache, the games industry is bigger than Hollywood at this point but doesn't act like it. We could do for a little more prestige-enhancing star power, just in general.

But Garriott's $24 million suit against NCSoft came to light yesterday and quickly caught fire across the Interwebs. Game Politics used their bar association connections (I'm assuming) to get a hold of the complaint, and we find that Garriott was given a hefty number of stock options as all or part of his compensation for working on and having his name tied to the game. Stock options are a common, performance-based way to pay key people - for a full explanation check out How Stuff Works. In this instance, if the Tabula Rasa succeeds, the stock soars, and Garriott can buy the stock at an artificially low price, sell high, and purchase his space shuttle. But, of course, that wasn't quite what happened.

Garriott contends that he was compelled to unload these stock options in the worst trading environment in recent history. Why? He claims NCSoft "internally recharacterized" (love the legalese) his discharge as voluntary (rather than involuntary, as Garriott contends), and that in turn forced him to activate the options within 90 days or lose them. That Garriott did activate these options shows that he thought using them would be more beneficial than losing them, and it's worth noting that activating a stock option only requires you to buy the stock at a set price. You don't have to sell it; you can sit and wait for what you think is the most advantageous time to sell. If you do do that instead of selling immediately, you have to pony up a fraction of the cash and claim the difference between the strike price and market value as income for tax purposes. So that could end up being fairly pricey.

From NCSoft's perspective, whether won or lost, lawsuits like this can seriously impact a company. While the lawsuit is pending, you have to disclose it on your financial statements and you usually must make some monetary provision against losing the suit if you feel it has the remotest chance of succeeding. The news has yet to hit the Korean stock market, where Reuters just reported that NCSoft stock was doing well thanks to some positive mojo from the Aion trial in China. Poor stock performance obviously limits your ability to finance upcoming projects, which obviously would hurt a game developer more than, say, a toothpick manufacturer.

The prevailing attitude of the Internet is that Richard Garriott broke Tabula Rasa and now he's trying to break NCSoft too. I don't know what or who broke Tabula Rasa other than it was mostly a single player game in a massively online environment, and that tends to feel pretty lonely. Players of all stripes had been crying for more solo content for years, so maybe we're to blame too. As for insider opinions on what happened to the game, we've made attempts to contact NCSoft and former devs on the subject, and the cone of silence has descended; no one's interested in talking yet. Too soon.

If Garriott is, as he recently said, is interested in making games again, he probably did himself a serious disservice on the career front. Biting the hand that once fed you is a pretty serious sin, perhaps unforgivable in an industry as (dare I say) incestuous as games development. There's always the chance you'll run into a Buffalo willing to pick up your Terrell Owens, but your name and its baggage doesn't go away. But if this is about justice rather than more showboating, than so be it. Like antarious says in our epic thread, what a strange final chapter to the Tabula Rasa story.

Was Garriott's Gambit well-considered? If you were in his shoes, what would you do? Comments welcome in the Loading... forum, continue the discussion on who failed Tabula Rasa the most in today's epic thread, or send me an email!


Shayalyn's Epic Thread of the Day

From our Articles, News and Events Discussion Forum

Richard Garriott Sues NCSoft

It's hard to be a MMOG gamer and not know the name Richard Garriott. After all, Garriott, the creative force behind Ultima Online and Tabula Rasa, is arguably one of the founding fathers of the modern MMOG. When Garriott split from Tabula Rasa developer NCSoft just before the demise of  TR it seemed as though he'd simply walked away. But now, as Savanja posted to Ten Ton Hammer's news forum yesterday, Garriott has filed a 24 million dollar lawsuit against NCSoft, the details of which are alleging that this split wasn't exactly a friendly one, and it wasn't voluntary, either. In fact, the complaint states that Garriott was terminated while still in quarantine on the heels of his highly-publicized space flight; a flight NCSoft used as a marketing tool for the struggling TR.

Is Garriott another MMOG rock star (ala Brad McQuaid) whose star status failed to deliver a satisfying game? Or did NCSoft drop the ball, and then push Garriott aside in order to cut its losses? It's likely we'll never know the whole truth, but we certainly can talk about it while we wait to hear more.

==============================
Awesome Quote from the Epic Thread

"I felt rather odd about the entire Tabula Rasa experience. The game, in my opinion, had one of the most solid foundations and core mechanics of any game I've ever played. The only issue was they didn't have enough game built on top of that. So, my personal feeling was that it was very odd that [Richard Garriott] took a leave of absence just after the game launched.

I will admit that if these claims are true it puts an odd spin on some of it."

- antarious
==============================

Have you spotted an Epic Thread on our forums? Tell us!

6 new MMOG hand-crafted articles today! 21 in May! 548 in 2009!

New MMOG Articles At Ten Ton Hammer Today [Thanks Phil Comeau for links and Real World News]

  • Champions Online: Zone Preview
    The life of a super hero is sadly predictable requiring them to plow through thousands of minions just to stop one mastermind. Throwing criminals repeatedly in the air and hitting them with fire, ice and bullets may sound repetitive but we wouldn't change it for the world. Ten Ton Hammer got it's share of bad guys in Champions Online this last weekend and we bring back tales of the early levels which include the frozen wastes of Canada and a radioactive desert.
  • Free Realms Trading Card Game How-To Guide
    Danny "Ralsu" Gourley has what could be called an addictive personality. He resisted trying trading card games (TCGs) for years before finally succumbing to the madness. Now he's fallen in love with the TCG featured in Sony Online Entertainment's Free Realms. He's written a guide to help aspiring Card Duelists.
  • Lord of the Rings Online: Your Guide to Playing Sauron's Minion - The War Leader
    As the saying goes, there will be plenty of time to sleep when you're dead. While that may not do for those of us in the real world, the War Leader demands nothing less from those around him. Even then, he'll resurrect they're sorry butts if they have the audacity to die in his sight. See why the War Leader is feared by Freeps throughout the realm for this reason and so many more.
  • EverQuest 2: Anashti Sul Deity Quest Guide
    With Anashti Sul unlocked on nearly every EverQuest II server, players are now free to seek to follow this goddess of evil, but getting through the quests can be very challenging and we want to help! Ten Ton Hammer has done all the hunting, sweating, and endless searching for you so that you can get in game and get things done without wasting precious game time.  If you've decided that Anashti Sul is the deity for you, then grab our Deity Quest Guide and get started proving your loyalty.
  • World of Warcraft: Lore Chronicles - Lady Sylvanas Windrunner
    World of Warcraft is a world rich with lore that has been developed for over a decade. Some of the more prominent characters in WoW have roots dating back to the old Real Time Strategy Warcraft games. This week we take a look at the mistress of death and Banshee Queen of the Forsaken, Lady Sylvanas Windrunner. Find out how this one time High Elf Ranger fell from grace, only to later rise as the leader of the Forsaken.
Hot Content - Or, what I took a fancy to:
  1. How LEGO Universe can match the success of Free Realms
  2. EVE Online: Sins of a Solar Spymaster #10 - Bastard's Bluff
  3. geeked: Mr. Bakula, this one's for you
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  5. Champions Online: Powers Preview
  6. Champions Online: Character Creation System Preview
  7. Guild Wars: Fourth Anniversary Event Recap
  8. geeked: Make Love, Not Warcraft
  9. Perfect World International "Age of Spirits" Dev Preview
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Thanks for visiting the Ten Ton Hammer network!

-Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle and the Ten Ton Hammer team

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