Ultima Creator, NCSoft Exec Returns to Gaming

After a two-year break from gaming, and a short trip into space to visit the International Space Station, Ultima creator and former NCsoft executive Richard Garriott is back, this time as the technical director of a social media company.

Austin-based Portalarium will focus on "developing and publishing online social games, virtual worlds and related services and products," according to its website.

The company's first product is The Portalarium Player, a web brpwser plug-in that is supposed to help games run seamlessly inside a variety of major social networks.

The first game to make use of this new player is Texas hold 'em card game Sweet @$! Poker, which is in beta testing on Facebook. The plug-in is in development to run within MySpace and other social networks as well as the Mac, iPhone and Android.

"The Portalarium mission is exactly what I want to be doing next in games," Garriott said in a prepared statement. "This really takes me back to my roots in the game business – small development teams, low barriers to entry, affordable budgets for quality projects, and unlimited new interactive frontiers to explore together with our customers."

Other company execs at Portalarium include Dallas Snell (chairman and development director) and Fred Schmidt (CEO and publishing director), both of whom previously worked together with Garriott as executives at ORIGIN Systems, Electronic Arts and, most recently, NCsoft. Stephen Nichols, who spent his entire 17-year gaming career in online games, most recently as producer and lead programmer of NCsoft's Dungeon Runners, will be the company's vice president and technical director.

I'll be interested to see what this group does in a space that is becoming increasingly important to all types of gamers. It certainly isn't the sort of gaming start-up I'd expect from the person behind Ultima Online and a slate of other massively multiplayer online games.