Update: Garriott has moved to explain his original comments in a post on Gamasutra, saying: "Thanks (NOT!) for the sensational headline! While I appreciate those of you who read the whole thing, to see better the whole context, even still, this article is skewed to make a sensationalist slant.
"My point was, that game design is the hardest, but also the most valuable skill to build in the industry. That every company lives and dies based on the talent of its game design team, and that as an industry we are not doing so well creating the talent we need in this industry, because educational systems have not caught up in this area as well as programming and art. I was not trying to toot my own horn, rather state that game design is hard. Ah well. :) "
Original story: Richard Garriott believes there are too few truly talented game designers in the modern industry.
The Ultima creator counts himself and the likes of Chris Roberts, Will Wright and Peter Molyneux as exceptions, but rather than taking pot shots at others, he seems to suggest in a new PC Gamer interview that there are flaws in the way modern design talent is assessed and promoted in large parts of the industry.
Garriott's idea of a true designer appears to be one possessing a combination of skills that extend to other specialities including programming and artwork.
"You know, I go back to the day when I was the programmer, I was the artist, I was the text writer, etcetera," he said. "Every artist we've ever hired ever is infinitely better at art than I ever was. I was never a good artist, or audio engineer, or composer. I was a pretty good programmer, but now all of our programmers are better than I am-but if I'd stayed in programming I could probably keep up.
"But other than a few exceptions, like Chris Roberts, I've met virtually no one in our industry who I think is close to as good a game designer as I am. I'm not saying that because I think I'm so brilliant. What I'm saying is, I think most game designers really just suck, and I think there's a reason why.
"If you like games, you eventually get to the point where you'd like to make one. But if you had this magic art talent as a youth, you can refine your skills and show a portfolio and say, 'I'm a good artist, go hire me' If you're nerdy enough to hack into a computer, programming on your own, you can go to school and learn proper structure, make code samples and go 'Look, I'm a good programmer, hire me.'
"But if you're not a good artist and not a good programmer, but you still like games, you become a designer, if you follow me. You get into Q&A and often design.
"And the most valuable part of creating a game is the design, which the programmers are technically executing. And they'd be happy to just execute some of them. But in my mind, most artists and programmers are just as much of gamers as the designers, and I usually find in my history that the artists and programmers are, in fact, as good of designers as the designers. They're often better, because they understand the technology or the art.
"So we're leaning on a lot of designers who get that job because they're not qualified for the other jobs, rather than that they are really strongly qualified as a designer. It's really hard to go to school to be a good designer."
Garriott's comments come shortly after his latest project, Shroud of the Avatar, passed its $1 million Kickstarter funding target. Focusing more on player choices and discovery than on level grinding, the game aims to reinvent the classic, fantasy role-playing genre.