Renowned game designer Richard Garriott, creator of Ultima and now the Kickstarted game Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, has been around the world and seen it from space. He's been in the video game industry for more than 30 years, with much of that time spent in Austin, Texas, although he also maintains a home in New York City.
During a panel at New York Comic Con this afternoon, Garriott spoke about his history as a game developer, and expanded on what he saw as the important distinctions between the game industry in Austin and what he's noticed during his time in New York so far.
Austin quickly became a hub for game development, according to Garriott, because it's naturally a city that people in the art and technology fields flock to. But it's been suffering in recent years because it never developed the best educational institutions to bring the next generation of game developers into the industry. More importantly, Garriott explained, there isn't a lot of money for game development in Austin, because few game publishers and developers actually have their corporate headquarters in town. Instead, they tend to be located in California, and maintain satellite offices in Austin.
"Everyone in Austin is on the binge-and-purge cycle of the industry," said Garriott, noting that when companies have to make personnel cuts, they tend to lay people off at the satellite offices first.
New York has its own set of problems, as Garriott sees it. The vast majority of developers in New York are on work-for-hire contracts, performing grunt work such as coding but not sharing in a game's profits. Because of that, they rarely, if ever, get to create and own intellectual property.
Thus, said Garriott, the keys to a healthy development industry are these: Educate a base of young development talent; establish local corporate headquarters, not satellite offices; and "figure out a way to build original IP."