As spotted by Massively Overpowered (opens in new tab), Ultima creator Richard Garriott’s next project, a blockchain MMO formerly code named Effigy, got an official name, Iron and Magic (opens in new tab), as well as a website. The site contains fly-throughs of a selection of fantasy locales, as well as an under-construction shop featuring plots of land, buildings, and the opportunity to “buy land in the realm of Lord British.”
In an interview with PC Gamer (opens in new tab) back in April, Garriott and developer Todd Porter made the case for their game and its blockchain features. Despite some interesting musing on Ultima Online’s digital economy, Garriott and Porter don’t seem to offer anything you haven’t heard from other NFT developers before: the promise of “owning” your digital assets and “earning” some kind of monetary recompense from the gaming you do in your leisure time, or as Garriott put it, “We’re certainly doing more for players than just, when they put their money down, they play the game and all they’re getting out of it is 60 hours of fun.”
For those less familiar with Richard Garriott, he’s most famous as the creator of the Ultima series in the ’80s, a crucial piece of gaming history and a bit of a “last common ancestor” for Western RPGs and JRPGs, as well as a crucial influence on MMOs and immersive sims through its spinoffs Ultima Online and Ultima Underworld. His Lord British persona was a consistent presence in these classic games.
Garriott’s more recent MMO endeavors, Tabula Rasa and Shroud of the Avatar, ran into trouble. Tabula Rasa shut down about a year and a half after launch, and SotA’s initial Kickstarter success gave way to a sequence of delays and development overhauls before quietly dying. Garriott himself has made more headlines in recent years by being ahead of the curve on the “rich guys going to outer space” beat, and he recently traveled to the bottom of the Pacific (opens in new tab).
It’s a rough time to launch a digital world with blockchain-backed real estate, cryptocurrencies more broadly experienced a real humdinger of a Spring (opens in new tab), with Bitcoin and Ethereum precipitously dropping in value and so-called stablecoins fluctuating in a decidedly not stable manner. That instability extends to NFT real estate: Cointelegraph reports (opens in new tab) that six of the largest Ethereum-based metaverse projects featuring digital real estate purchases like those promised by Iron and Magic saw an 85% decline in average price of those assets in recent months. Additionally, unlike a, you know, real life bit of real estate, you can’t do cool things like grill out or play frisbee golf on your suddenly worthless plot of digital land.
Beyond questions of financial wisdom or tangibility, figures like former Greek Finance Minister and Valve in-house economist Yanis Varoufakis (opens in new tab), as well as Brazilian game developer Mark Venturelli (opens in new tab) have made compelling philosophical arguments against these initiatives’ promises of decentralization and the dystopian notion of “play to earn.” No matter how you slice it, I’m not inclined to buy land in the realm of Lord British.