NCsoft Pulls Plug on Garriotts Tabula Rasa
By Kim Tong-hyung
The inevitable happened Saturday when NCsoft decided to pull the plug on ``Tabula Rasa,'' its ambitious online role-playing game that quickly turned into a monumental bust.
In a posting at Tabula Rasa's Internet site (www.rgtr.com), NCsoft said it will shut down the game on Feb. 28. Remaining players will be rewarded with free time playing the company's other games, such as ``City of Heroes,'' ``Lineage II'' and upcoming, ``Aion,'' which is slated for North American release in the second half of 2009.
Richard Garriott, the legendary game developer who was the creative mind behind Tabula Rasa, left NCsoft earlier this month, saying he was pursuing ``new interests.''
More layoffs are expected at the company's game studio in Austin, Texas, where Garriott ran his development team.
``The development team has worked hard to improve the game since its launch, but the game never achieved the player population we hoped for,'' NCsoft said in the letter.
It took the Korean game publisher nearly seven years, and an estimated 100 billion won (about $69 million) to put Tabula Rasa on the market, but just 15 months to bail.
After encountering numerous delays since the beginning of development in 2001, Tabula Rasa was officially launched in North America and Europe in November last year, only to be a massive dud.
Tabula Rasa managed just 1.8 billion won in sales during the third-quarter, dead last among the company's five massive multiplayer online game (MMO) franchises. The game was recently offered at less than a dollar on online commerce site Amazon (www.amazon.com), roughly equivalent to the price of a McDonald's double cheeseburger.
NCsoft yanking Tabula Rasa off its lineup hardly qualifies as a surprise, as company officials have been saying they couldn't afford to have the game stay as a money loser.
Inking Garriott, whose reputation is based on the iconic ``Ultima'' series, was certainly a bold investment for NCsoft, which spent 43 billion won to acquire the American's company, Destination Games, in 2001 and allocating 2.06 million shares in stock options to him, his brother Robert, and other Destination employees. However, the company now doesn't have much to show for it.
Garriott unloaded all of his remaining 390,000 plus shares in NCsoft between February and August this year, earning him more than 17.8 billion won.
The extra cash would have certainly been helpful in paying for his $30 million ticket to board a Russian spacecraft last month, following in the footsteps of his father, Owen, a former astronaut.
Although NCsoft is now reluctant to say anything about Garriott officially, there are questions about his commitment.
As an investor, Garriott was deeply involved in the establishment of Space Adventures, a private firm that organized his recent space trip, when he was in charge of creating Tabula Rasa. He remains a member of the board at Space Adventures.
Korean online game companies have been adding high-profile foreign developers to their payrolls in recent years, to improve the quality in game development and raise their profile among Western gamers.
However, as seen by NCsoft's experience with Garriott, not all of the marriages have been productive.
Hanbit Soft looked to score big with ``Hellgate: London,'' developed by Bill Roper, who had also been involved in the creation of Blizzard Entertainment's ``StarCraft,'' a computer game that is as popular as air here.
Hanbit is known to have invested more than 10 billion won to establish a joint venture with Roper's Flagship Studios to push the development of Hellgate.
However, the cold reception following its launching in October last year eventually resulted in the closure of Flagship Studios. Hanbit, since acquired by T3 Entertainment, is now mulling over the possibility of legal action against Flagship Studios and Roper.
Since hiring Alex Garden, the creator of the ``Homeworld'' series, in 2006, Nexon has also been aggressive in gathering American talent, inking Steve Rechtschaffner, formerly of EA fame, and Chuck Osieja, since.
The trio of Americans is now behind the development of the company's upcoming game ``Sugar Rush.''