Garriott exits NCsoft as profits plummet

Space tourist and Tabula Rasa creator wipes slate clean by resigning position at MMOG studio to pursue "new interests"; publisher reports quarterly income down 50 percent year over year.


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Lineage: The Blood Pledge
Tabula Rasa

Whether it was a spiritual experience or alien abduction, something happened to Richard Garriott in outer space. Less than a month after returning from a 12-day, $30 million stay aboard the International Space Station, the legendary game designer has abruptly resigned his position at NCsoft.

Garriott (r.) and the ghost of MMORPGs future.
Garriott (r.) and the ghost of MMORPGs future.

"Many of you probably wonder what my plans are, now that I have achieved the lifelong dream of going to space," he mused in an open letter on the Tabula Rasa Web site. "Well, that unforgettable experience has sparked some new interests that I would like to devote my time and resources to. As such, I am leaving NCsoft to pursue those interests." He then apologized and thanked the game's developers, support staff, and subscribers.

Garriott had been involved with the Korean publisher since 2001, when, after leaving EA-owned Origin Systems, his startup Destination Games was bought and renamed NC Interactive. There, as CEO, he presided over development of the sci-fi massively multiplayer online role-playing game Tabula Rasa, which launched in late 2007 to decent reviews--and widespread technical problems. "I am very grateful to you loyal players for sticking around through what I think we can all honestly say was a rough launch," he said in his sign-off.

Garriott's move is the latest chapter in a decades-long career, which began with his creation of the single-player role-playing series Ultima in the 1980s and into the 1990s with his first MMORPG, Ultima Online. While sudden, his exit from NCsoft was not totally unexpected. Despite six years of costly development, Tabula Rasa failed to achieve critical mass, selling just over 61,000 copies at US retailers as of September 30, 2008, reports the NPD Group.

According to an earnings report released today, Tabula Rasa accounted for only 2 percent of NCsoft's revenue, or 1.76 billion Korean won ($1.3 million) last quarter. For the July-September period, NCsoft saw profits fall 50 percent to 5.0 billion won ($3.7 million) on sales of 78.3 billion won ($58.0 million).

Curiously, Tabula Rasa's monthly subscriber figures were omitted from NCsoft's report, which included figures for most members of the MMORPG specialist's portfolio: Lineage (881,979), Lineage II (857,531), and City of Heroes/Villains (124,939). To date, 5.59 million people have activated accounts for the Seoul-based publisher's free-to-play MMORPG Guild Wars.

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