Richard Garriott, the veteran game designer best known for his award-winning Ultima series of fantasy role-playing games and Ultima Online, the first commercially successful massively-multiplayer online game (MMO), has founded a new social media company called Portalarium.

The Austin, Texas-based company’s first published title, which is already available on Facebook, is a Texas Hold ‘Em card game called Sweet @$! Poker. According to Portalarium’s Web site, this is the first game in what will eventually be a full suite of half a dozen or more casino-style games collectively called PortCasino.

Additionally, the company is developing a new cross-platform Web browser plug-in that allows games developed on a wide variety of platforms – not just Flash – to run inside the major social networks. Dubbed the Portalarium Player, it is currently in limited beta testing as a Windows PC app on Facebook and is running Sweet @$! Poker. The company is also has plans to launch a full-scale virtual world, CenterPort, which will debut later in 2010.

Joining Garriott at the company are co-founders 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.Rounding out the management team as VP and technical director is 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.Garriott has the role of VP and creative director at the company.

“The Portalarium mission is exactly what I want to be doing next in games,” said Garriott 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.”