Throughout that winding trail, Garriott has learned a few things about running a business and taking risks—from both sides.
For instance, he said, sometimes the reasons behind success aren't what they might first appear.
After the successful completion of "Ultima Online," the industry's first big massively multiplayer game at Electronic Arts in 1997, there was some internal confusion about why the game was a hit. EA, said Garriott, attributed the success to "Ultima's" reputation. Garriott argued it was the persistent world, where fans could play as they wanted. While he said he strongly encouraged EA to begin work on "Wing Commander Online," a massively multiplayer space simulation, the publisher balked.
"'Ultima Online" was the biggest-selling Ultima by a multitude of all the previous [games in the series] combined," said Garriott. "It was the fastest-selling PC game for EA when it launched. ... But EA thought the reason it had done well was because of the established fan base, and they told us to do 'Ultima Online 2,' [which was later canceled]."
("Ultima Online" has since been cited as a source of inspiration for games like "World of Warcraft," which currently has more than 10 million monthly subscribers.)
Garriott and members of his team left to found Destination and cool their jets while a one-year non-compete expired. By happy coincidence, the week that stipulation ended, EA decided to shutter Garriott's old studio in Austin, Texas.
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"That, for us, created an opportunity and a problem," he said. "The opportunity was that EA gave us back for free what we had sold to them for millions of dollars. The problem was, we couldn't pay these people."
The group decided to stick together and work without a salary if necessary. Within 24 hours NCSoft had reached out, and within two weeks it had bought the reunited company to help it grow a presence in the U.S. market.