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Fans give millions to fund fantasy Avatar video game

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Source: Portalarium, Inc.
Ultima creator Richard Garriott was one of the pioneers in the video game industry, essentially inventing the role-playing genre and breaking ground in the world of online games in the 1990s.

Now the 53-year-old serial entrepreneur known as "Lord British" is hoping to make just as big of an impact in the crowdfunded gaming world with his latest studio: Portalarium. And fans have contributed millions of dollars—and are still giving—to help him succeed.

To date, his still-in-development game—"Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues"—has raised almost$6 million from nearly 50,000 backers on Kickstarter, with nary a penny spent on marketing. That's a number that could climb higher at the end of the year, when the game is expected to be released to the general public. A fantasy role-playing video game, "Avatar" is a spiritual successor to the Ultima series, whose fan base remains avid even after all these years.

Garriott is planning to demo his anticipated game Wednesday and Thursday at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

It has been a career full of summits and stumbles, and these days he's climbing the mountain once again, hoping to meet or exceed his past peaks.

Garriott's big break in gaming came when he was a high school senior, in 1979, with the release of "Akalabeth." Sold in Ziplock bags with photocopied instructions and a cover drawn by his mother, the game quickly found an audience—selling 30,000 copies and earning him $150,000 in royalties.

Within a few years, Garriott and his brother launched Origin Games, which became best known for the "Ultima" series, a long-running franchise that is often cited as one of the most influential in the industry. In 1992Electronic Arts (EA) bought Origin for $35 million. He stayed with the company for eight years before striking out on his own to create Destination Games, which was bought 12 months later by Korean developer NCSoft.

After a seven-year stint there, he shifted his focus to the world of social gaming, where he had a rare, true failure. Today he's on the rise again with "Shroud of the Avatar," a forthcoming action role-playing game backed by fans on Kickstarter

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