What do you do when you're a game designer from a bygone era trying to launch a new company? Take on the biggest game developer on the block of course. That's what Richard "Lord British" Garriott did today in an interview with Industry Gamers. He believes that the World of Warcraft developer will suffer if they don't contend "with the Zynga's of the world," including his brand spanking new free-to-play gaming company Portalarium. Garriott maintains that the projects he is working on will keep the casual market in mind and feel much more like Ultima Online. Well duh, says I, you're designing them.
In contrast, Garriott says, Blizzard is doing a poor job of considering this growing segment of the gamer population. Again, it seems obvious, but since this is Garriott we're talking about, the message is clear: They will fail and I will succeed. Why? Because people don't want to pay for their entertainment anymore. In a way I agree with Garriott: Free-to-Play games are a force to be reckoned with. It has been my opinion for a couple years now that the MMO industry is heading toward a tipping point, where the only games strong enough to charge a subscription fee will be those made by Blizzard, and all other companies are going to have to adopt the Freemium model in order to survive.
What Garriott is missing in this equation is that Blizzard has never worried about what other companies do. The secret to their success is the fact that they only compete with themselves. They operate not so much as a game company as an art house. As such they cannot concern themselves with the rest of the MMO industry -- it goes against their prime directive. Also, they are the only company that doesn't have to concern themselves with keeping up with the Jones. They are the Jones, and are in a prime position to remain so for years to come.