Only a few short months after having launched Tabula Rasa in 2007, Richard Garriott discovered that he had been selected to live out his own sci-fi fantasy by journeying to the International Space Station. The trip, which occurred nearly a year to the day after launching his first massively multiplayer online game, cost Garriott in the range of $30 million. Now, the famed game designer may have found a way to pay for another trip to orbit.
Yesterday, Garriott filed suit against NCsoft in the United States District Court of Texas, charging his former employer with breach of contract and fraud that he claims cost him more than $27 million. According to the complaint, Garriott is now seeking $24 million in damages.
The charges stem from Garriott's departure from the company in November 2008. Though it was initially characterized as an amicable resignation, Garriott now claims that he was fired from his position at NCsoft, a move that resulted in him having to prematurely exercise a number of stock options that he was awarded when the Korean publisher purchased his company Destination Games in 2001. Two weeks after his departure was announced, NCsoft said that it would be shutting down Tabula Rasa, effective February 2009.
"In or about November 2008, Chris Chung, president of NCsoft's North American operations, informed Mr. Garriott that NCsoft had decided to 'part company,'" reads the complaint. "Although Mr. Garriott objected to his dismissal, Mr. Chung insisted that the decision was final--Mr. Garriott had to go."
The suit goes on to note that Garriott received this information while still in postflight quarantine after having returned from the ISS, and the open letter announcing his departure from the company posted to the Tabula Rasa Web site purportedly penned by Garriott was in fact written by NCsoft.
"As Mr. Garriott prepared to leave NCsoft, however, Mr. Garriott learned that NCsoft had internally recharacterized his termination by Mr. Chung as a 'voluntary' resignation," the suit continued. "This mischaracterization had profound and detrimental effects on Mr. Garriott's stock options: If NCsoft terminated Mr. Garriott's employment (which it did), then the options--worth tens of millions of dollars--would remain in effect until 2011; but if Mr. Garriott resigned voluntarily (which he did not), then NCsoft might have terminated those options--worth tens of millions of dollars--within ninety days of his departure." (Emphasis in original.)
The suit goes on to state that despite Garriott's attempts to redress the issue with NCsoft, he was forced to exercise his options within the 90-day window, lest he lose everything. "This forced exercise caused Mr. Garriott to lose the remaining 2 1/2 years of his option period and forced him to sell into one of the worst equity markets in modern history," the suit reads. The sale also resulted in "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in costs and tax liabilities, according to the complaint.
NCsoft had not responded to requests for comment on Garriott's suit as of press time.