[Ed: Posted for Petrus]
Ultima Online is dying?
I believe that there is evidence to suggest that it could be.
Admittedly when something is very large, its demise often takes a
considerable period of time...The Titanic took something like four
hours to sink after initially striking the iceberg. But there are a
couple of reasons why I believe that from a long term market share
perspective, the game could be in trouble:-
a) From what I've read, virtually everyone involved with the game's
inception has left.
b) The game's live team seems to be attempting to change it into a
large-scale clone of Diablo 2. By that I mean that the dungeon Doom
has become the primary focus of the game, and gameplay has become
primarily item-based as opposed to skill-based. If you don't believe
me, look at tradespot, check out the demand for LRC armour (as one
example), and also read about the "relic" phenomenon. Relics aren't
much more than clones of the exact type of items that were present in
c) EA's "Return to Britannia," campaign last year did not instill
confidence in me, and I'm sure possibly did not in some other users as
well. It implied that the game was not as successful as it had been in
the past. Logically, why else would they be giving away free game
time, and offering free downloads of Age of Shadows, an expansion
which previously cost in the neighbourhood of $40 US? They seemed to
be attempting to regain an older portion of the player base who had
apparently stopped playing. I'm assuming the previous point may have
had something to do with this.
d) UO's current population is approximately 165,000 according to
mmogchart.com. The game's peak population level of 240,000 was
reached in April 2001. The current numbers indicate however that the
game's population level has fallen by 32.25% in the last 28 months,
which also means that the population level is dropping consistently at
an average rate of around 1.5% per month. While this is not
necessarily meteoric, it does indicate a steady population haemorrhage
e) EA are no longer directly selling UO CDs or any new expansion packs
in Australia (as one example), which is the main reason why I myself
am sadly no longer able to play the game. EA also seem to be
attempting to gradually force all subscribers of their MMOGs to adopt
credit card usage as a primary means of payment. Since I do not have a
credit card, this means I am unable to play UO, and it also means I am
unable to play The Sims Online, which is another game I wished to
play. I have long suspected that the insistence on credit card
payments is the reason why The Sims Online has not met projected
f) There is some evidence to suggest that the game's current
programmers are frustrated with the age/possible obsolescence in some
respects of the game's codebase. Although attempts at creating a
sequel have generally failed or been cancelled, work on the 3D client
has been incremental at best.
In summary, I do believe that Ultima Online is in serious, long term
trouble, at least as far as market share is concerned. I am also
inclined to believe that there are three key ways in which EA could
possibly reverse this trend, if they were interested...although most
evidence would tend to suggest that they are not.
a) Reverse the trend towards credit card only payments, and take steps
to make at least some UO CDs available in countries which natively
host shards. Australia has a shard in Sydney...and I assume the only
people playing there are credit card holders.
b) Move *part* of the game's emphasis back towards crafting and
skill-based elements, rather than Doom and its items being the central
focus. Yes, crafting is still there, but when I last played the game
it was starting to feel almost vestigial. Doom was most people's
focus, even for economic reasons.
c) Create at least one more region of the same size as Malas, (ideally
2 or 3) in order to deal with problems associated with overcrowding in
certain areas. Also create a more extensive local moongate system
within said regions, in order to aid navigation.
d) There is a project on SourceForge called Ultima Iris, which is an
attempt to produce a genuinely three dimensional Ultima Online client,
using the existing engine/map system. Although this software is
primarily intended for use on pirate shards, and obviously does not
have EA's sanction or blessing, it does *represent* compelling
evidence that UO's existing engine could be made contemporary in some
areas without having to scrap or rebuild it completely.
I do not believe that the use of tradespot/ebay are in themselves
adversely affecting this game, at least from what I have seen.
However, I also believe that crafting needs to resume some importance
as a means of revenue generation, rather than being primarily
loot/combat based. I also think that this game is extremely valuable;
that the trend I've outlined here can be reversed, and that it should
be. I am not intending to generate negative publicity for the game
with this article. Rather what I am attempting to do is merely draw
attention to some issues which I feel need to be corrected in order to
ensure the game's long term wellbeing.