18 Years Later, Why Are People Still Playing Ultima Online?

Later this year, Ultima Online [official site] will turn 18 years old. In the genre of MMOs, that makes the game positively ancient – and it’s even more remarkable when you consider that it’s still funded via a subscription model.

I’ve never played an Ultima game, much less one that’s nearly my age. I wanted to find out what the game is like to play today as a newcomer, and to ask people why they’ve continued visiting Britannia for nearly two decades.

Digging into the game’s forums, I found myself talking to user “Petra Fyde”. Fyde has been playing since October 2000 when she succeeded in bugging one of her sons for a character on his account. Soon after this she got an account with her husband and has been playing ever since.

What does it take to play a 20 year old MMORPG? Petra now spends a lot of time writing guides to help others understand some of the more obtuse systems in the game. She’s one of the biggest advocates for the community, so I asked her what keeps her logging in after all these years:

“I play because I enjoy playing,” she writes. “Through the game I have made many, many friends in many different countries and of a wide range of ages. I’ve never met some of these people, but over the years they have supported me through times of trouble, helped me stay online through computer breakdowns and talked me through computer problems. They have been ‘there’ for me in a way that neighbours who actually live nearby never have.”

I wasn’t sure how different UO could actually be, in spite of its status as one of the first MMORPGs. It turns out that while it definitely felt familiar in places, as its DNA has been passed to those games followed, UO is altogether something stranger. I’ve seen incredible things in the last 10 days with Ultima Online, perhaps more exciting things than I’ve encountered in my first few days with any other MMO.

Creating a character is always one of my favourite parts of picking up a new MMORPG. It’s unfortunate that Ultima Online immediately shows its age by giving you only a smattering of cosmetic options, but I liked the look of every character class.

The Paladin is particularly shiny, and I loved the idea of traversing fantasy Britain as a Samurai. I also wanted to toil away crafting magical weapons as a Blacksmith, the idol of every young adventurer as I handed them the items with which they’d go out and make their fortune. But if I was going to explore Britannia for the first time I didn’t want to be slaving behind an anvil. I discovered the Ninja class preview made it look like I had bone-adamantium claws. It was an easy decision, although maybe the name Wool Verrine was too subtle.

The tutorial was standard fare – collect your items, hit some monsters. I did find a glitch to generate infinite katanas and later trigger a poison gas trap, but I handled it well. With a bag full of rusty katanas and a vague idea of how the combat worked I ventured to the starting city of New Haven.

Approaching the town square I saw a man sat mutely astride a lizard almost as large as the bank he was squatting alongside. Meanwhile a robed mage repeated commands infinitely as particle effects washed off him. Both were idle and neither responded to my greetings. I’d chosen Atlantic, the busiest server with a “medium” population, but the entire town was deserted other than the small crowd of idle players and their giant reptile-king.

I tried to play in standard MMO style by grinding skills and killing monsters, but an eagle ate me and when I logged back in after a break I’d lost my clothes and one of my many swords.

I felt a little put out. I remembered Petra telling me about fighting her first dragon, a pet that broke free of its master and was running loose. She managed to fell the beast using a combination of spamming healing items and running bravely away. I couldn’t even best an eagle. I dusted myself off to try again.

On my next skulk through the forest I noticed it: “A monster looks at you menacingly but does not attack. You would be under attack now if not for your status as a new citizen of Britannia”

Wait, so nothing will attack me?

And that’s how I became an embedded reporter in Ultima Online. Jumping through the Stargate Moongate to Britain, I found wide expanses of open land. From here, I threw off any concept of trying to better my character and instead focused on touring what the world could throw at me.

I immediately got lost in a hedge-maze filled with terrifying demons, and had to pay a troll a thousand gold to escape. I wandered into an abandoned town, filled with beautiful houses and mannequins standing on street corners. Then I found the house of many Pats: filled with NPCs called Pat. I did most of this while transformed into a rat.

But what keeps players coming back time after time when there are so many different MMOs floating around?

“[Ultima] endures because it is diverse, appealing to many different people with many different play types and makes no demands,” says Petra Fyde. “Basically you do what you want, when you want, if you want. You don’t have to commit to hours online while undertaking a ‘raid’. You can log in for 10 minutes and still feel you’ve achieved something. It endures because players have ‘ownership’ of property, they have houses which they have built and furnished, they ‘live’ in UO. There’s a sense of presence here.”

While initially I couldn’t understand the appeal of Ultima, when I decided to shake off the limitations of an early level character and simply explore for myself, I found a game world with a lot to offer. Player created civilisations, unique monsters, and the sheer mystery of the world combine to keep this ancient MMO compelling.

For all the ways in which the genre has improved, Ultima Online remains one of just a few MMOs that let you live an alternative life. That feeling of ownership that Petra Fyde mentions, combined with the diversity on offer, keeps players coming back day after day. Yet it’s a little sad to see the world is slowly fading away. Parts of Britannia feel abandoned, and while there’s always life nearby, it still feels lonely.

I don’t know whether my experiences were enough to keep me playing when the 14 day trial is up, especially as $38.99 (£24.75/€34.77) for 3 months feels steep (although there are discounts available for paying in six month installments) and I definitely don’t have the time to devote to learning the myriad of systems. Still, my time in Ultima Online has been, by and large, a positive one. If you’ve a love of exploring strange fantasy worlds, Britannia is a fine place to visit.

108 Comments

Top comments

  1. Kajisan says:

    Ultima Online (Renaissance) was my very first MMO that came as an extra with Ultima Ascencion. I played over 3 years, being a Gamemaster for another year. UO is the only game that defines Roleplay. You don't need to grind or leveling up. It was the stories the players created on their own, sometimes with the help of the gamemasters having a global adventure event on certain Saturdays. Everybody played the role he wanted to play. Want to be a magician? Sure.. it took several weeks on our Server to become one..and once you was one of them..you was literally a damn f* Gandalf. You was able to stand in front of 10 enemy players and they can't kill you..because it was not possible "roleplay" wise. The 10 players respected this, and you had to respect other things.

    It's something very rare and for me its a bite to the heart that World of Warcraft more or less killed this interaction between players..made them marionettes who gave their wisdom to the current generation of players, roleplaying less than a cow on the field.

    Shroud of the Avatar is an attempt to bring back these old goods, but like movies like Dune..or 2001, i think its too slow and hardcore for the actual generation of gamers.

    Example? We had a raid on an enemy bastion, and sat a whole night in front of a fireplace - waiting for the right moment. We talked about distant lands..how one of us hunted a Dragon last week, sang songs. You just can't do this in modern MMO's. It's possible..but it needs the right people for it, understanding the base principles of roleplay. I did not had these knowings when i started with UO..and found people who took me aside. I learned a lot about roleplay, about other people and about myself - acting with other people.

    Today, i am game developer aside people who worked on UO, and they're good people. It's all about imagination, UO just gave the Pen and the Paper an alternate more colorful form.

    ooc: sorry for bad english, non native

    OooOOoOOOOoOOoooOOO
  1. Bureaucromancer says:

    Whenever I look back at UO I get the feeling of what MMOs could and should have become. This was a a virtual world, and while it may not have done everything a modern sandbox game could these were primarily tech limitations rather than design decisions. Everquest made a real mess of the genre; it’s actual design made sense, especially at the time, but every damn game that followed cloned it. Somehow the real originator of the modern MMO got ignored in favour of a much more restricted design that worked for Everquest, and no one has ever tried to go beyond it in anything but a niche way (looking at you Wurm – nice ideas, but my god the grind, even by MMO standards).

    • bhauck says:

      Is WOW really to blame here? It came out 7 years after Ultima Online. Hadn’t the genre already moved in the direction you’re lamenting by then?

      • bhauck says:

        Sorry, the mobile site keeps jumping around my screen while different parts load. Should have been a reply to one comment down.

      • Kapouille says:

        Back in those days, it was essentially UO vs EQ. Those 2 games are fundamentally different in design: the first is a sandbox universe, the second a virtual theme park. Sandbox virtual universes are more difficult to design and implement than virtual theme parks, they also are an intrinsically socially driven game experience. On the other hand, virtual theme park games are very formulaic, have simpler game systems, and can be easily played solo.

        WoW was very VERY inspired by EQ, and, like most if not all Blizzard products, is a polished-off clone of a successful product. WoW did indeed propel the MMO genre into the limelight and has become the gold standard for MMO financial success. And that’s probably the reason why virtually all MMOs today are based on EQ’s WoW flavoured model.

      • PancakeWizard says:

        EQ and SWG which predate WoW were largely informed by UO, rather than trying to streamline everything, so yeah WoW is largely to blame (although blame sounds more negative than it probably should), because it was the point where developers realised that there was actual serious money to be made from a certain formula rather than creating virtual worlds to play in.

        SWG’s ‘NGE’ was directly (ill)informed by WoW’s success and gutted the unique sandbox experience to try and cram in a quest-clicker. Although what happened to SWG was as shame, personally I feel Star Wars was the wrong setting for such a game anyway. “Let’s be a moisture farmer and set up a market stall” is much more Star Trek than it is the swashbuckling universe of Star Wars.

    • Rindan says:

      Watching how MMORPG have ended up is like one of those quirks in history where somehow the one that should have won lost, and we got stuck with the god damn loser for the next couple of decades. I remember the Everquest vs UO battle. It blows my mind that UO lost and that all the little MMORPG shit heads running around are direct descendants of Everquest. It also probably explains why MMORPGs suck.

      Everquest and all of its descendants revolve around making you want to get stuff to get more stuff. These games snatch people with addictive personalities and squeezes as hard on that part of their brain as possible. They suck. UO was different. UO was the promise of an actual living world. The original UO was actually more impressive than what we have today. The original UO was going to have rabbits only respawning when they bumped uglies and made more rabbits. They wanted a living world.

      The Everquest linage is, in my opinion, dying. Slamming as hard as possible on compulsive behavior only works so long. Only an open and living world can make something that is interesting year after year. There is a reason why we read stories about the goings on in Eve, despite its truly awful game play mechanics, but “events” in WoW are rarely talked about. WoW is a fucking boring theme park. Eve is alive with human struggle and strife.

      Honestly, I am waiting desperately for someone to make something in the UO linage that has actual fun game play. I could fucking throttle the makers of Elite: Dangerous for failing to take up the torch. If those bastards had made ED game play then slapped on top of that Eve player to player interactions and social structures, it would have been fucking GLORIOUS. Instead, this stupid shit heads are going to make more randomly generated places to fly your ship by yourself; because a billion empty and boring places without people clearly wasn’t enough.

      • melancholicthug says:

        While i agree it would have been ‘good’ if the UO way of MMO had ‘won’, that would have really been the quirk in history. The lowest common denominator aimed-at software will almost always win, because it will bring over more revenue, because it’s easier, and makes people who don’t like to make a relatively large investment (in time, brainpower, applied social skills to gather similarly-minded people to rise to some challenge…) feel ‘powerful’ or like they’re really acomplishing great things. That is just the way things work in the current socio-economic state of the world.

      • whorhay says:

        I think the way the game played was actually a huge part of it never taking off like EQ and later MMO’s did. I tried it a few years ago and everything that you could want to do was incredibly tedious to actually do. This basically required having a ton of very detailed macros to do basic things like chop trees or mine for ore. So far as games go it simply wasn’t playable unless someone had an above average level of interest in it already. All the talk of it not requiring any grinding is an incredible stretch. Spells fizzle with low skill levels, and the only practical method to raise those skills in anything resembling a reasonable time frame is to use afk macro’s to spam spells like the character the author mentioned seeing in town. Smithing required lots and lots of ore, which you or someone else is going to have to deliberately grind for.

  2. xyzzy frobozz says:

    It’s fairly simple I reckon…

    Ultima promised and (largely) delivered a “sandbox” experience, a world to live in and one in which you could change through your actions.

    It’s the same reason that EVE Online endures after so many years.

    Meanwhile, along came World of Warcraft. It offered a theme park where you could take lots of different rides, but essentially it remained/s a static place. Countless other MMOs have essentially delivered the same experience, all with lesser degrees of success.

    Which is a shame, because the MMO genre held a lot of promise of offering a tactile, living world in which players could actively influence the course of “history”. Unfortunately many sunk a lot of money into trying to emulate WoW’s success, when they should have been creating the successor to UO.

    But, having been burnt by the whole MMO gold rush, there’s probably little chance we’ll see the successors of UO and EVE. Hence why people keep playing UO and EVE….

    • malkav11 says:

      Ultima Online had 250,000 subscribers at its peak. Eve’s apparently topped out around 360k subscribers. WoW’s never had less than millions. Even Everquest has had over 500k. I think it’s pretty clear that sandbox MMOs are not what the majority of the market has ever wanted.

      • MisterFurious says:

        The majority of the market goes where the advertisers tell them to. Blizzard has always been good at advertising and marketing. They’re far better at that than they are at making games.

      • SaintAn says:

        That’s because WoW and other themeparks market to casuals that are not gamers. There’s way more money in casuals because they are unthinking and easily controlled, so you can do whatever you want to them and they’ll keep giving you money. Doesn’t change the fact that there’s money in sandbox MMO’s. While not as much as WoW, they’ll still be making a lot, and it’s a way safer bet than making a themepark and having to compete with WoW and failing like every game that has tried to go up against them until FFXIV.

        • malkav11 says:

          I would never dispute that there is some money to be made in sandbox MMOs. UO is still going. Eve is still going. Perpetuum and Mortal Online and so on seem to be surviving. Ergo, there must be money coming in. What I do dispute is the continual cry of the sandbox MMO aficionado that “if only people had striven to advance sandbox MMO design instead of trying to make another WoW, they would have the next breakthrough MMO hit and make all the monies.” Or even “more than me-too theme park MMOs”. Sorry, but it just ain’t so. They were niche games to start with and they remain niche games. Furthermore, I pretty much guarantee that 90% of those me-too theme park MMOs you’re dismissing offhand are currently making as much or more than those sandbox MMOs and probably have more players than most of them too. The ones that have shut down largely either happened before switching to F2P was standard practice or the company in question decided not to bother running it any more despite being totally viable financially (e.g. CoX). Sure, none of them managed to topple Blizzard from their throne, but there’s a huge range of numbers between 360k and 12 million.

          And hey, nothing wrong with niche games. I for sure wish there were more turn-based RPGs, for example. But I’m not out there claiming that if only Bioware saw the light and made the next Dragon Age turn-based they’d sell way more copies. Because they surely would not.

          • Heroes182 says:

            UO was -not- a niche game. It’s audience may have been limited by its need for an Internet connection (not uncommon by 97, but certainly not the norm, and the idea that you’d be using up the phone line for hours at a time just to play a game was a HARD sell).

            Ultima was pretty much at its peak at the time – sure, the most recent one (UVIII) was weak, but the glory of VII and the Underworlds was recent enough that it was arguably the biggest RPG series at the time. MMOs did already exist, but barely, and we’re mostly text based MUDs, so when Origin announced the next Ultima would be an MMO… It was huge. Many were skeptical, but everyone paid attention.

            It’d be like if Bethesda had announced on the tails of Oblivion, that Skyrim would be an Occulus exclusive game.

          • malkav11 says:

            Ultima Online was one of the first MMOs, yes, and at the time one of if not the biggest, quite probably. But 250 thousand subscribers at the top of its game (in 2003, which was definitely into the internet era) is still dramatically less than subsequent MMOs, including relative contemporaries like Everquest, which came out just a couple of years later, much less WoW and its ilk. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that if it had broad appeal, it had an opportunity to get that sort of audience. It never did.

        • malkav11 says:

          Also it is patently ridiculous to suggest that people who like WoW or other “theme park” MMOs aren’t gamers, but whatever.

          • SomeDuder says:

            The whole “gamer” forced subculture is pants on head retarded – gamer = person who plays games, if we go by the definition of the word. Different companies want to associate this with their brands. Consolefolk, like MS XBox, want to make the word “gamer” synonymous with other brands, like the whole Doritos and Dew schtick.

            Others think that gamers are extrovert people who do nothing but post YouTube vids all day.

            And I think they are all a bunch of hack frauds, since none of the aforementioned fuckers can even begin to solve any technical problem more difficult than “how do I put these pants on?”. Steam forums especially are a fun source of lolwut.

        • Jaketucker says:

          Hey, Author here. Just wanted to step in to say that in no way are people who play WoW or similar MMO’s “casuals” – that’s a silly thing to try to assert, and the casual/hardcore divide is also equally silly.

          People like what they like and I definitely don’t want conversations about supposedly “casual” mmo players coming from this. Cheers!

        • pyronite says:

          “That’s because WoW and other themeparks market to casuals that are not gamers. There’s way more money in casuals because they are unthinking and easily controlled, so you can do whatever you want to them and they’ll keep giving you money.”

          You talk about “casuals” like they’re animals. That’s not good.

        • Darkwood71 says:

          Casuals huh? You can use that word when you’ve mastered Dwarf Fortress (Lol). Seriously though, I was a beta tester for UO when it came out in ’97, and to be honest, I was very disappointed. As it related to MUDs of the time (which I played quite a bit of), I much preferred to play text versions of RPGs. They had more depth in my opinion. Also, UO had some pretty hefty system requirements (and in ’97, those requirements weren’t cheap), and as others have said, the dial up issues were a huge hassle.

          Additionally, UO’s sandbox approach lacked anything to help get new players up to speed, and the denizens of the time just loved to kill newbies (in beta even). It didn’t make for much fun to be honest. Hell, EVE has worked to create (and is continually working to perfect) the new player experience to introduce people to their game. UO, not so much from what I can recall. I do remember wacking a target dummy over and over and over. Yay, for hardcore gaming.

      • Xyth says:

        then McDonald’s = What the restaurant market wants

        • Asurmen says:

          If you want to play the analogy game then McDonalds and a Michellin star restaurant are not the same genre despite your attempt. At least compare McDonalds to another fast food place.

          • xyzzy frobozz says:

            That’s the point though isn’t it?

            I appreciate that people become reflexively defensive of their favourite games, but the comparison that I made between WoW and UO was not a qualitative one, but to point out the two main and divergent approaches to MMO design – theme park and sand box.

            So if we could stick to that discussion it’d be real swell!

      • Dabruzzla says:

        I disagree. The popularity of new survival games like Minecraft, Ark, Rust, etc. clearly shows that this is what people wanted from MMOs all along. To create a world and a community. They just didn’t know it before, because noone ever marketed them the benefits….

        • manny says:

          It’s more difficult to foster a community than push content. Minecraft, Rust and so on are all flukes and succeeded in spite of their creators than because of them.

      • xyzzy frobozz says:

        The aricle isn’t about what the majority of the market wants though, is it?

        The question being asked is why people keep going back to UO, which is a completely separate question to why WoW has more subscribers.

        • xyzzy frobozz says:

          Also…. how many people had a home internet connection in 1997?

        • malkav11 says:

          No, but you suggested that people “should have been creating the successor to UO” and that they were wasting their time following WoW’s lead. The numbers suggest that what most people were looking for from MMOs is what WoW delivered, not UO, and insofar as pursuing the MMO genre at all was worthwhile for most developers (and from what I can tell from the outside, it’s certainly been financially worthwhile if nothing else), the WoW track is the more fruitful.

          Personally I think the world has never needed more than a fraction of the MMOs that have been made and most of the people who sank time into making them would have done more for gaming as a whole by pursuing offline endeavours, but hey, people gonna gold rush.

          • manny says:

            WoW is not a good example. It’s success was bolstered by Warcraft 3 smash success. Their fans followed Blizzard into MMO territory cause they were fans of the world, and WoW delivered with a budget no other company could compete with. (also keep in mind WoW was built on the Warcraft 3 engine initially)

            As far as I can tell no UO like game had anything like the numbers of Warcraft 3 nor it’s budget preceding it’s release.

      • PancakeWizard says:

        It’s not one or the other though, and you’re making the mistake (as have many publishers/developers done), in thinking that it’s better to go for the million-maker WoW formula and fail, than go for a more niche audience and be moderately successful. In that respect, MMOs are no different to any other game.

        • malkav11 says:

          It has generally been more worthwhile to pursue the magic money hats of WoW and fail and be moderately successful than to pursue a much smaller overall market that’s also already invested in their sandbox games and possibly fail and not be successful at all, far as I can tell. But you’re free to disagree. Like I say, there’s certainly room for sandbox MMOs. it’s just not the golden path to MMO success that sandbox fans seem to think.

  3. Kajisan says:

    Ultima Online (Renaissance) was my very first MMO that came as an extra with Ultima Ascencion. I played over 3 years, being a Gamemaster for another year. UO is the only game that defines Roleplay. You don’t need to grind or leveling up. It was the stories the players created on their own, sometimes with the help of the gamemasters having a global adventure event on certain Saturdays. Everybody played the role he wanted to play. Want to be a magician? Sure.. it took several weeks on our Server to become one..and once you was one of them..you was literally a damn f* Gandalf. You was able to stand in front of 10 enemy players and they can’t kill you..because it was not possible “roleplay” wise. The 10 players respected this, and you had to respect other things.

    It’s something very rare and for me its a bite to the heart that World of Warcraft more or less killed this interaction between players..made them marionettes who gave their wisdom to the current generation of players, roleplaying less than a cow on the field.

    Shroud of the Avatar is an attempt to bring back these old goods, but like movies like Dune..or 2001, i think its too slow and hardcore for the actual generation of gamers.

    Example? We had a raid on an enemy bastion, and sat a whole night in front of a fireplace – waiting for the right moment. We talked about distant lands..how one of us hunted a Dragon last week, sang songs. You just can’t do this in modern MMO’s. It’s possible..but it needs the right people for it, understanding the base principles of roleplay. I did not had these knowings when i started with UO..and found people who took me aside. I learned a lot about roleplay, about other people and about myself – acting with other people.

    Today, i am game developer aside people who worked on UO, and they’re good people. It’s all about imagination, UO just gave the Pen and the Paper an alternate more colorful form.

    ooc: sorry for bad english, non native

    OooOOoOOOOoOOoooOOO

    • bradgy says:

      This guy gets it.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      I think the NWN PWs went one better in letting people host and heavily mod everything. That’s the game Id really like to see a successor to, unfortunately NWN2 messed it up by making the world maps too big to download on the fly.

    • Smashbox says:

      Not bad English: a lovely comment

    • aziztcf says:

      Finally my spirit speak skills come in handy!

      *An Corp*
      Need a gate?
      *Vas Rel Por*
      It’s Trinsic, I swear. Totally not Deceit.

    • Foosnark says:

      “UO is the only game that defines Roleplay.”

      Have you ever played GemStone or DragonRealms? All text, but the roleplay is huge. Or at least it was when the community was small — which it probably is again, these days.

      My recollection of UO was dozens of people standing around yelling “BANK” and “HAIL”, getting killed by every passing jerkwad, being caught in an endless cycle of extremely dull crafting until a friend gave me a zillion gold, landscapes crowded with houses, being attacked by killer canaries while on horseback, hours spent with nothing to kill because there was one big worldwide spawn, and finally finding some small pleasure in luring NPCs into the woods and murdering them. Mostly though, it was the opposite of fun.

  4. Ashrand says:

    I feel like the only true inheritor to the UO school of design in the popular space might be minecraft.
    Everyone else is chasing the everquest model because it’s easier and seems to work ok for blizzard, i think that’s a real shame.

    • SaintAn says:

      Never played Ultima Online or any Ultima game before even though I love MMO’s. I suppose I should try it now that I know it isn’t dead.

    • Ieolus says:

      EVE Online provides similar player agency and ownership in the world/galaxy.

  5. heretic says:

    Amazing that this is still around for such a high price, but I suppose it must be what people are willing to pay for the experience otherwise it would have become defunct a long time ago.

  6. Kajisan says:

    And yes, in one or another form UO was some kind of Minecraft. You need arrows, so you made an appointment with an Hunter. The other player was going into the woods, carving wood, killing birds. Made shafts out of the wood, getting feathers from the birds, then made the arrows. Name me one modern MMO doing this.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Does Wurm count as modern? I think stuff like Mortal Online and its ilk are going for a similar vibe too, though without success in my estimation.

    • lutjasuki says:

      runescape works just that way

    • SaintAn says:

      FFXI still does that. FFXIV used to in 1.0, but they turned it into a bad WoW clone. And Darkfall’s original version used to do that too, but I’m not sure if they still do because I quit with the garbage reboot.

  7. Elusiv3Pastry says:

    UO was pretty magical, and there was nothing like it at the time. Sure, Meridian 59 came first, but UO featured fancy isometric graphics and a robust, truly open world where you could be anything as minor as a baker, fisherman, or lumberjack, to a feared murderer who stole people’s houses or a city pickpocket who left trapped boxes on the street that would cause the unwary to explode into little bits. The detail for everything was nuts — minecraft-like crafting system to forge tools, weapons, armor, food, potions (loved those exploding purple potions), to magic (each spell required a number of different ingredients to function). You could write books and leave them anywhere for people to read, or play chess, checkers, backgammon, or dice with other players. You could buy a boat to sail anywhere. You could own your own shop and have it run by an NPC while you supply the goods. You could build a house or castle ANYWHERE that there was space (this eventually led to overcrowding in some spots), and you could lose your house instantly to some A-hole who ambushes you at just the right time to steal your key or sneak in the door behind you if you don’t lock it fast enough.

    There was originally no class system — you got good at whatever you did through practice. Want to be a warrior? You need to get your ass kicked by a sheep or eagle for a while before you take on any orcs. Or you could use practice dummies to work up from the very low levels (many players would place their avatars in front of a practice dummy and run a macro overnight to build strength or skills. I used a roll of ball bearings to hold my use key down).

    The PvP system was pretty grand, too. There were no instanced battlegrounds; you could kill anyone, anywhere, any time. This rarely happened in cities though, as victims could call for the guards to help (you actually had to yell “Guards!” to get help). As you killed people your reputation eventually decreased to the point where city guards would kill you on sight, so you had to have an alt or friends with a good reputation to go into cities for you for banking or other business.

    I could go on for a long time. UO was one of those games that could be included in a “gaming made me” article. My international gaming group of friends banded together in UO, and we’re still playing together after all this time.

    …Everquest sucked.

    • Xyth says:

      You say “could” as if this was only possible in the past. I’m curious about trying this game. Aren’t all the things you mentioned still possible?

      • Dabruzzla says:

        I think they are. However, as the article mentioned the community is dwindling and this sort of systems largely depend on the activity of the community.

  8. TormDK says:

    Same reason why I started playing EverQuest again, on the progression server Lockjaw.

    Good old game design that we just don’t see much off any longer.

  9. elsparko says:

    I remember UO very fondly. It definitely was a sandbox experience and I very much liked the approach that you could be anything in a living and breathing world not just your random RPG adventurer guy. You never had to battle monsters or even vist a dungeon if you didn’t want to.

    Haven / New Haven aside there was also initially no real starting point for players. You would just pick the city you liked and bam there you were. For me it was Trinsic. Later on I went on to give myself the title “Lord of Barrier Isle” because I actually owned a little house on a nice spot on this little island just outside Trinsic.

    I got to know a lot of nice people in UO. It’s not just your typical “LFG”-affair. You just happen to stumble upon someone at your local bank and you start to chat around etc. Also joining a guild was a very social thing that required you knowing the right people and often doing some custom initiation rituals. On the other side you now had a lot of friends online and people would stick their heads together to come up with adventures to experience. Treasure hunts, dungeon raids, parties… you name it. Nothing like dressing up in some sort of self-dyed cloth uniform that you wore above your normal armor to show of as a group. It just felt much more involved then say Blizzard giving you some “guild tunic” to drop into some character slot just so…

    What made the difference is how “connected” people were back then. If you know somebody and you saw them passing by on the road you would feel obliged to say hello and have a little small talk. Of course UO didn’t have any sort of “chat menu” built in. If your character talked it just appeared over your head and depending on how load you talked it could be “heard” some screens away. (Of course you could form an ad-hoc party and have instant off-screen chat too. Also we knew about ICQ back then ;))

    One anecdote I will always remember is that I initially saved up gold to form a little guild for me and my friends. Our goal was to go to Britain and pledge to the code of honor so that we get free Serpent Shields from the British Castle guards. We would run around with those shields and pretend to be tough guys until someone from a Chaos guild showed up in Trammel (the non pvp facette). He made fun of me not being “real order” and invited me to follow him to his moongate to Felucca. As my ego was hurt I followed him. Just one guy what can go wrong, right? Turns out not only would it lead to Felucca he also lead me straigt into Buccaneers Den. Immediately a lot of red player names approached and made short work out of my character. They proofed to honorable PKs (player killers) though because afterwards they guided my ghost to a healer and also let me pick up my stuff before handing me a moon stone that would take me back to Trammel. Have to say I learned my lesson in humility there. Never touched that stupid shield afterwards…

    • elsparko says:

      also… where is the edit button? Sorry for the bad grammer / spelling. I’m obviously not a native speaker.

      • Premium User Badge

        Skabooga says:

        Hahah! No apologies necessary, that was an excellent story. I’ve never played Ultima Online, but a story like that gives me as much insight into it as any article (although this was a good article, too, Mr. Tucker).

    • Ieolus says:

      Ughh.. I hated Trammel. That is what killed UO for me; the split in the world.

  10. DrollRemark says:

    My only ever experience of Ultima Online must have been over about ten years ago now. I remember getting set up, wandering about a town with no clue what to do, and then trying to rob a bank by shouting at the NPCs, whilst people outside laughed at me. Happy times.

    I’ve never played an Ultima game, much less one that’s nearly my age.

    In fairness, most of the others are older.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    As an Ultima fan, I jumped at the chance to play Ultima Online. Knowing the setting helped me stick with it, but it was the freeform, sandbox nature which got me to enjoy it so much. I began not really knowing what to do, and just tinkered around the edges. In many MMOs you’d have to pick a class and stick with it, whereas in UO I could start as a miner and become a warrior, and then change again later.

    It’s a shame that there haven’t been more similar experiences, instead everyone is chasing the same thing.

  12. Hunchback says:

    Best MMO ever made, period. Really.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    There seem to have been a few games trying to recapture that UO feel – not least of which is Shroud of the Avatar, the closest thing to UO2 – but nothing’s really caught it for me. Some of that comes down to changes in myself and the ways I order my free time, I’m sure. Guess you really can’t go home again…

  14. Kabukiman74 says:

    The thing that killed UO for me unfortunately was the housing system. When I started playing (must be 15 years ago or so), every server I could play on was completely flooded with houses…hell, there was no wilderness left. Having a new char, you couldn’t even see where a city ended and would walk into deadly traps, either from mobs or even player killers laying in wait for easy prey.

  15. Exirtis says:

    While I have a certain nostalgic fondness for Ultima Online, I’m surprised at how idyllic many of these opinions are. I was a day one player and and most of my memories distill down to how frustrating the game was—frustrating because of how much potential it had, but how quickly things became unplayable.

    For this I’m ignoring the lag, the bugs, and other growing pains of a new MMO – I was more than willing to give the game time to find its stride, technically – it was the experience of massive player griefing that killed the game for me, combined with the apparent unwillingness of the devs to prevent it.

    I can’t be the only one who remembers the platemail-wearing, halberd-wielding mages who did nothing but camp the spawn-point and killed every newbie who spawned; or the funnel of chairs that helped facilitate this.

    I kept my subscription going for at least 6 months (three months longer than the most patient of my four friends who’d started on day one with me), periodically logging back on in the hopes that things had changed. While it had abated somewhat in later months, the regularity with which I was killed by some random griefer in town, just as I’d begun to make progress, made me give it up and wonder how it was that anyone new started and kept playing the game, paying for such an experience. And mystified that it remained running beyond its first year.

    • lutjasuki says:

      uo:renaissance essentially killed pk’ing. To the delight of almost everything and the vociferous fury of the griefers. You can still find people raging that uo:t2a was the best era. uo:r was release in 2000

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      Yeah, reading through this post, people are thinking back on all the fun sandbox elements and how great it is to be able to do what you want and wonder why so many players likes the ‘theme park’ MMOs over the sandbox ones. The answer is free for all Player Killing. I doubt most of those players would be against building their own house wherever they want or go gather this to create that, what they dislike is some highlevel unknown person running up and randomly killing them for no reason. Or getting the house they spent hours or days getting into shape being stolen because they looked away for a second or the other player used an exploit they didn’t know about and could do nothing to defend against.

      A single griefing player can easily sour the game for ten other players for an afternoon of fun, is there any wonder why the ten would rather be left alone behind the high wall of a theme park? Of course, the griefing player will then wonder why the server is empty.

    • Foosnark says:

      Same here. I honestly have nothing positive to say about UO from my experience in it.

    • Ieolus says:

      I’m sorry to say its because you and your friends are pussies. ;)

      The constant danger of PK attack is part of what made the game alive for some of us. Yeah I hated when I was killed by PKs, and there was a specific French dude on Atlantic that I especially hated. Wish I could recall his name.

      But when I finally was trained up as a 7x GM and had the same skills the PKs had, I was able to compete and best them at times. The freedom that UO gave you has never been repeated anywhere, and that is a shame.

      My favorite anecdote from UO … I bought a pre-patch silver bardiche that I used for ages to kill liches. That thing would 2-hit them, it was awesome. But one day I got killed with it on my by a lich, and running around as a ghost some guy saw me and looted my bardiche. I hunted that fucker for months but never was able to recover my precious weapon. 16+ years later I will never forget that! How many games can say that? :)

      • Big Murray says:

        If you want to play a PvP game, that’s fine. The trouble is that for most people, that gets old fast. UO is a massive world filled with dungeons, massive PvM opportunities and a whole lot of beautiful scenery and world to explore. It gets awful tiring not being able to enjoy any of that because you know some guy is going to bomb out of nowhere and try and kill and loot you.

        The only people who really complained about Trammel were the PKs and the griefers who suddenly lost they prey. And the fact is that it got to the point where you basically couldn’t enjoy PvM because all the big PvM spots in the game would be crawling with PKs and griefers, so a large part of the game was unplayable.

  16. Arglebargle says:

    There’s a reason that when Trammel happened, roughly 70% of the players moved.

    There were a ton of conceptual and design problems and flaws with UO. Part of the reason that later development of MMOs has become more locked down.

    • Big Murray says:

      Nah … Trammel needed to happen. PvM was completely unplayable as it was.

      • Regeta says:

        Of course it needed to happen.

        Trammel saved Ultima Online.

        It was the sole reason for it gaining success. It prevented the game from dying an early death.

        If you take a look at the chart of subscribers, you will see it begin to fall before Trammel, and once Trammel was released it rises and then continues to rise for years- reaching a peak in 2003. That is 3 years after trammel.

        Trammel = 3 yearrs of UO growth & success.

        Pre-Trammel = More than likely the biggest reason why the game didn’t beat EQ’s subscriber numbers. The game wasn’t “fixed” (in the context of the subscriber bleed bandaid) until 3 years after its release.

    • Regeta says:

      After Trammel, 70% of the players moved?

      What are you talking about?

      Trammel was a HUGE success. Before trammel, the population began to dwindle down as people were leaving because of the overwhelming griefing.

      Enter Trammel, and the subscriber base rose significant, to the highest it ever was.

      Trammel was the high point of Ultima Online’s success.

      TLDR Before Trammel = Dwindling Population. After Trammel = Years of Growth & Success.

      Source: Dur. Anyone who knows anything about the history of Ultima Online.

      From wikipedia:
      “Ultima Online’s fifth expansion in 2003 was the most aggressive yet, offering players the ability to custom design their homes, the Paladin and Necromancer professions, a new land called Malas, and 13 new combat moves. In March 2003 Ultima Online reached 250,000 subscribers. Lord British returns in September 2003, the same month as the game’s 6th anniversary.”

      • Regeta says:

        Well technically, the high point was the 2003 expansion introducing Paladins & Necromancers. Two skill sets / classes that were long overdue- and something I personally loved. IMO, that was the height of UO.

        The samurai/ninja stuff is cool…but out of place. At least IMO. I also hated the Renaissance PvP changes. It was very unbalanced, making Swords gimp, Macing OP, and Fencing niche. Before Renaissance, I loved the PvP. Afterward, I disliked it. Well, I liked it still…but the changes sucked.

        Trammel was nice, but Felluca was ultra lame. What they needed was more foresight (impossible) into the problems. Realistically, they needed to act faster adjusting the game’s design.

        BTW, the most fun I ever had in PvP was the Faction System. I loved the Faction System. Four Factions, 1v1v1v1. Control of towns… huge battles… it was like a massive ultra guild war.

        I also loved the guild wars. Those were the best of all. Anyone who wanted to enter PvP could go Guild War.

        I also really liked Chaos/Order, but to a lesser extent of Factions.

        It was all amazing PvP. What isn’t amazing is being griefed over and over again, especially when you want to just PvE.

  17. Titler says:

    My second ever RPG was Ultima IV back on the Sega Master System in 1989, I caught up with the entire series over the intervening years, and I played UO for the first time from 2001 to 2003 and then 2010 to 2014; I also had the honor of both playing with Petra Fyde on Europa, and EMed for the game briefly; but you couldn’t have picked a better representative of the game to interview, and indeed show why the game has endured, than Petra.

    Because there were no quests as such. No goals you were set or challenges you had to meet. What kept the game alive was it’s community, who put their heart and soul into the game, rather than had it narrated to them by a fixed plot. I sound like an old man saying “We made our own entertainment back then”, but in this case it really was true; you had a lot of dedicated and creative players right at the birth of a brand new industry, in lands that let you pretty much do what you will with those talents and dreams.

    I can remember for instance my own character being born and leaving the newbie lands to arrive in Moonglow, with a chicken in tow from practicing taming, and 3 people sitting outside the bank started mocking me for it; Years later I’d train up a 4x Grandmaster, player killing chicken just to see who was laughing now as it pecked them to death.

    There was no auction house, so you’d have to travel the lands looking for people’s shops, and maybe meeting the people themselves who would educate you about those mysterious objects called “Server Birth Rares” or Holiday rewards which were already 4-5 years old by the time I first came to the game. I spent years seeking a “Singing Ball”, which randomly made all the sounds in the game, so I could sit on my virtual porch and dream of strange lands and unseen creatures…

    Or those self same players could become enemies over particular popular spots of land you both might covet when it was your turn to consider setting up a shop. People got into vicious flame wars over under-cutting each other, or stealing each others customers.

    I remember once being on pure my crafting character (which we all called “Mules” because they could be 7 different crafting skills in one) harvesting Lizardmen for their leather in a dungeon at 3 in the morning UK time, and a character proposing to me because my character tended to dress a little slutty; Oh yes you could seduce someone even at such low resolution with thigh length boots, and a short skirt and an apron which combined visually into a strapless open backed dress. He started pushing for a real life date until I had to admit I was male in real life and then he cursed me out quite badly, he he.

    But what made UO unique was that it allowed you to actually play those roles in game as well; GMs (and now EMs) were able to marry your characters and give both a ceremony and unique wedding rings. And your character then, and still to this day (the article doesn’t quite make this clear) gained skill points in what ever your character did. Hit stuff with swords, your Swordsman skill rises, spend your evenings knitting your character gained in Tailoring; you had a total of 700 points to spend in whatever you felt like; you still can be a sword wielding mage in plate if you feel like it. Or a taming Ninja who rides around on a tiger.

    And there was no Global Chat back then, so we all used ICQ instead; I sometimes wonder if UO actually helped popularize the whole concept of Talker Programs, or at the very least, kept that particular piece of software alive. What you can certainly say is that it nurtured friendships that existed outside of UO, and moved to other games as each player drifted away but kept their ICQ up; and is why companies now try and bring in social networks as early as possible. “If you liked Game X, why not try Game Y and tell all your friends about it?!”

    • Titler says:

      But that leads into the problem with UO too; we’re remembering our gaming youth, when everything felt bright and new, and you can’t cross that river twice, especially when there’s 18 years of water under the bridge since then. And because it really is so community based, the game is slowly dying as the community ebbs away a little more each year.

      Not because “Trammel Killed The Game”; that action was taken more than 15 years ago now; the Player Killers and l33t |3o|\|3 |)3\/\/|)z who also can’t let go of their youth could have had children who’d be only a year from College in the time scale that Consensual PvP has ruled the game.

      And not really because of (“Ahem, remember that very nasty NDA you signed?” – EAs Lawyers) or even (“Please remove that rottweiler from my testicles”) which hasn’t helped; nor will the coming Expansion reverse by itself for that matter. It’s just without a player base, it can’t maintain a player base… it’s just not the sort of theme park that advertises itself and does all the work for you. You have to be there.

      I’m glad I was.

      Although I think my time now there is done (never meet your heroes), I’d still recommend people give it a try. But you have to be prepared to see past the graphics (they aren’t very good even using a modified Warhammer Online client, which the screenshots above are from; but the Enhanced client used does at least has modern macro power built in. The older client is more stylish but horribly limited out of the box now) and really get into the feel of the character and set your own path through the world. Unlike Shroud of the Avatar (which I’ve backed, but sigh) you CAN own the castles you see; if a player has it, you can make it or trade for it or eventually BE it.

      So, the 14 day free trial is available for anyone. Wander over to Stratics and meet Petra and many more amazing people. And see what you can make of UO.

      • Kala says:

        “you can’t cross that river twice, especially when there’s 18 years of water under the bridge since then.”

        Yes ;(

  18. racccoon says:

    Ultima Online was a fantastic game at its time and still is its only downfall is the PRICE! its way to high to warrant it worthy of letting go.

    The game needs to to be $5 bucks a month or a one off payment of $40 max

    if they did this lowering the price of the game, the world would flow again.
    & UO wouldn’t be stuck in hole drowning a slow death propt up by a few consistent members.

    • Jaketucker says:

      I would have subscribed if the price wasn’t too high for my freelance wages. Laughably expensive for an 18 year old game.

  19. Kala says:

    The problem for me is, regardless of how nostalgic I get, you can never really go back. Only forwards.

    “Creating a character is always one of my favourite parts of picking up a new MMORPG. It’s unfortunate that Ultima Online immediately shows its age by giving you only a smattering of cosmetic options, but I liked the look of every character class.”

    Re: classes, I liked that UO didn’t really have them in a strict sense. What it had was a dizzying array of skills you could learn (and a cap of about 700 points I think. So you could have 7 skills grand mastered, or a hodge podge jack of all trades) Though tbh, I’m so foggy, the class you’re talking about might be the starting archetypes (i.e starting clothes and equipment, which initial skills are emphasised) though I’m sure there was a custom option there. But there definitely wasn’t a ‘class’ in the sense that you were always hemmed in to a certain skillset or role. It was utterly flexible, and that was a huge strength.

    Again, hazy, but I think the title you had came from your strongest skill? So you were a swordsman if you had the most points in swordsmanship, a mage if it was magery, a warrior if it’s tactics (an assassin if poisoning?) but that was always subject to change.

    “I tried to play in standard MMO style by grinding skills and killing monsters, but an eagle ate me and when I logged back in after a break I’d lost my clothes and one of my many swords.”

    Yes! Yessss! This is how it should be.

    I like that monsters (or other players) can come along and rifle through an unattended corpses pack. Because when you think about it, in what scenario would that NOT be possible? Why WOULD you have your stuff come back? We’re used to it, because it’s a normal thing now, but it’s really counterintuitive. (and god, one of the many compromises, selling of it’s soul, of UO was the insurance system. NOO. NOOOOO. You *should* be able to lose your items, losing your items is good!)

    You can always run away if things get too tough though :p (followed for several screens by a ‘Vas Flam’) Or tame the eagle! I once had a Mongbat named Monty. it once got stuck in someone’s house, so I called a GM to get it out for me.

    “And that’s how I became an embedded reporter in Ultima Online. Jumping through the Stargate Moongate to Britain, I found wide expanses of open land. From here, I threw off any concept of trying to better my character and instead focused on touring what the world could throw at me.”

    Hehe :) I had a character like that. He was called Gate Jumper, and would just through any random gate left open by a player, to parts unknown. He wore a pink shirt, a tricorn hat and carried a lantern. His skills were mostly in ghost speak. He was not protected though, so as you may imagine, he died a lot.

    (and not that this is especially amazing, but the amazing thing is that UO gives you the room and the space to do silly things like this, while most MMOs expect you to colour in the lines)

    “But what keeps players coming back time after time when there are so many different MMOs floating around?”

    I know this was answered by the player you were talking to, but I would hazard a guess that it still, after all this time, offers a different experience. It’s a cliché (and often an unfair one) to call games WoW clones but…WoW’s influence should not be underestimated. It was a behemoth, and it makes sense to copy a successful formula. There’s so much jargon now synonymous with MMOs (e.g levels, raids, epics) that (some) people seem literally bemused when encountering something different (I’ve seen people come up against that wall in Eve – your skills train in the background? But what do you *do*?).

    The whole sandbox journey-is-the-reward choose-your-own-adventure ethos in MMOs is certainly in the vast minority now. But back in UOs day, it was pretty much 50/50 with the more linear model of EQ, and at least as much of a given. Kind of a shame, really.

    • Ieolus says:

      Losing your items is great, and is still the best system… unless you just lost that irreplaceable pre-patch silver bardiche… I’m still sad about it 16+ years later.

      • Kala says:

        That’s what the bank is for. So you can fondle your special treasures and never use them ;p

        • Regeta says:

          There is actually a term for this in game design. It’s called “Valorite Plate Syndrome”.

  20. frightlever says:

    Played it for maybe 6 months, after a run with the original Asherons Call, but the heyday was over even then.

    Play Money by Julian Dibbell is an interesting read about his attempt to make a real world living as an Ultima Online trader.

    DragonRealms, a commercial MUD from Simutronics, will turn 20 next year and still costs $15 per month to play, though you really want the Premium account for $30 per month. Or there’s a Platinum package for $50 per month. It’s expensive, really really expensive is what I’m saying. Good game, if you want role-playing.

  21. Mateo says:

    UO remains my most memorable MMORPG, half because of the sheer amount crazy roleplaying, and half because you could do whatever you wanted.

    My Felucca avatar was a PK. A Grandmaster mage, but also a Grandmaster Chef. It took me forever and RSI to make Grandmaster Chef, but it made it all worth while that after I killed a PC and looted their body that I could leave a nice baked caked with my name attached to it for their return.

    Name me another MMO that allows that level of comic lunacy.

  22. zipdrive says:

    I’m sorry, but this piece feels like half of an article. From detailing the feel of the very first minutes it suddenly cuts to “and it’s interesting and unique”. Huh?

    Where’s the exploration? Is everything special in this game about owning property? If not, what? If yes, how does it manifest when playing?
    What do people in the game DO?

    Sheesh, I learned more about UO from the comments than from the article.

    • Jekhar says:

      You did what you wanted to do. You could enter one of the numerous dungeons and farm monsters for their gold, maybe train one or two skills in the process. You could gather resources in the woods or go fishing and then craft something. You could meet your friends in a tavern and spend the evening roleplaying. You could organize a quest with said friends, using your alternate Chars as NPCs, drop hints in the form of Books you wrote yourself, etc.

    • Jaketucker says:

      Hi Zip,

      Apologies it wasn’t to your liking, but wordcounts are a thing. I saw a bunch of other interesting things (the swamp of scarily scary monsters, or the giant ants nest full of suitably giant ants) but I didn’t have as much space to go into a mass of detail about every single cool thing I saw. I did see a /lot/ of very cool things, although most peoples analysis is a bit more dedicated than mine because I played it for 12 days rather than several years.

      I don’t think that’s so bad here though, these comments are really exciting to read and I’ve been checking back every few hours to hear about peoples memories.

      • zipdrive says:

        Thanks for the response, Jake. Maybe it’s just a word count issue, but with a title like this, I was expecting to read something about what distinguishes UO from, say, WoW, or Wildstar, or maybe some of the MMOs that got shut down in past years, like Shadowbane or the Phantasy Star universe.
        A list of “interesting things” is not necessarily the thing to do, as I suppose every MMO has some of those.
        Maybe that expectation was unrealistic, or perhaps the bottom line should have that it’s not that UO is very different from other games, but that communities tend to stay where they start unless some other force messes with them (looking at you, New Game Experience) or they’re too expensive to keep up with just the core community.

        I, for one, would like to see an article examining if anything in UO’s design is conducive to the prevalence of RP that seems to be going on there, at least as it seems from reading the comments; or if the property ownership (that now started in WoW with the latest patch) is a big influence.

  23. Myrdinn says:

    I have so many fond memories in this game… I remember stumbling upon the ‘Inn of Lost Travelers’ once (I was really lost) and it was filled with maybe 6 or 7 people who all shared stories and had ale. Or the time I led a mob of angry PC-peasants towards my nephew, convincing the crowd he was a witch and should be burned etc.

    Like a lot of people said in the comments already, what ever happened to sandbox MMO’s? I’d jump on a chance to play an updated UO right away. MMO’s are very interesting to me by concept, but the ‘themepark’ bullshit really turns me off every darn time.

  24. Erithtotl says:

    I remember playing the beta of UO and it was near unplayable. I think technology and internet speeds hadn’t quite gotten to where they needed to be.

    That said I agree with the many others here that it is a real loss that Sandbox games are a distant second to theme park MMOs. But I think sandbox games need to do a LOT more to help new players, and they need to have much more severe penalties for antisocial behavior. Part of the problem with sandbox games is they are essentially libertarian paradises. Now I’m not a fan of that world view, but even if you are, the penalties in real life for anti social behavior (murder, theft, and abuse) are far worse than they are on a video game, meaning that it can often release the absolute worst in people.

    If sandbox designers can figure out how to balance new player entry, penalties for bad behavior, and the freedom they promote, they may have a chance to grow their bases beyond the niche that they’ve been isolated to.

  25. shagen454 says:

    This article is kinda calling me back. One of the first CRPGs I played was Ultima 6 when I was in 4th grade – I remember killing Lord British with a few glass swords and then moving all of my furniture into the castle. It was so so immersive.

    By the time UO was announced I was in 7th grade and it was seriously like my ultimate fantasy coming true.

    And it delivered big time and I definitely feel the same sentiment in that more “MMOs” should and should have taken the approach to to further extents, because let’s face it – the combat in UO sucks.

    That aside I definitely miss the days of my guild – The League of Pirates battling the Fuckheads (that was the literal guild name) on the open seas and stealing all of their shit.

  26. codevark says:

    I suspect that the numbers of UO players actually paying to play is fairly small. There have been hundreds of “free shards” running either sphereserver or runuo for years. Some of these are highly active, customized, etc.

    I played the P2P UO for years. I got a guy who I worked with into it, and he and his girlfriend played it so much he was eventually fired (and later was arrested on multiple firearms possession charges, but that’s another story..). For about the first 8 months, I ran around naked getting my ass kicked by rabbits. Then, little by little, my stats and skills began to get to the point where I could actually do stuff.

    My two kids loved UO and we eventually bought a little tower house just outside of Trinsic. I was playing when there were some incredible invasion spawns. Anyone remember when the Ratmen and Trolls invaded Britain? Or when the Undead Army took over Trinsic? Crazy fun times! Once I got into a semi-interesting RP conversation with two (scantily clad and exceptionally cute — but that’s sort of the norm for most games) women. One of them invited me into her house to continue the conversation… and promptly teleported me to some unknown location, and killed me. D’Oh!

    Of course, there were some annoying things, but you learned to live with them. Trying to gather regs in cemeteries inhabited by skeletons, zombies, liches, etc., was always dangerous, especially when wildly strong PVPers knew that lower level chars were there all the time and they would run through, kill you, take all your stuff, and run away. Eventually I got into the habit of always having several sets of armor/weapons/tools/stuff stashed somewhere. Plus, things like losing connection in the middle of something important sucks in any game.

    UO really was (and is) a very special place, regardless of who you are, what you do, or which shard you play on, pay or free. That being said, I’m having quite a bit of fun playing F2P LotRO :)

    • Big Murray says:

      ” I got a guy who I worked with into it, and he and his girlfriend played it so much he was eventually fired (and later was arrested on multiple firearms possession charges, but that’s another story..)”

      Did someone shout “guards”?

  27. rakarnsunju says:

    I loved UO for one simple reason. Role play.
    The great thing about the game was there was nothing to do, no raids, no go here get 10 of these quests and so on.
    On our shard we role played with almost 1000 other players.
    That is why I logged on each night and spent hours being part of a story that was ever changing. It was another life for me and honesty I miss it with my whole heart. I made so many friends IRL. Our RL meets where amazing.
    UO gave me a lot in return for my time, it gave me the chance to write, to work out stories to adapt to a change in the plot and so on.
    I was and forever will be one of the best things I have done in my life. Heck I moved in with a UO player and her family who gave me a chance to live in the USA ( I’m from England myself.)
    It was that friendship that had me move across the world. the n I met my future wife, then I had kids. and it can all be traced back to my time in UO.
    I have never felt that level of in game role play or IRL friendship from any other MMORPG that i have played since. and alas I don’t think I ever will.
    Thank you UO for everthing.

    Rakarn Moon

  28. Premium User Badge

    pegolius says:

    This article got slashdotted.

    link to games.slashdot.org

  29. Petra Fyde says:

    ohh dat’s me! ello.
    @Titler. I’m no longer with Stratics, but I’m still playing daily and I’m still writing guides for players. The link is in my profile. I also have a facebook page under this nick.
    @Kala, it’s true you can’t go back – but you can go forward. UO has been going forward, and I’ve been going forward with it.
    When UO started online gaming was unsophisticated, and so were we. We would never accept now what delighted and fascinated us then. We expect so much more. UO can give it, but you need to bring something to the pot. You need to bring imagination.
    Some people say the game seems empty – well to a degree it is, but with the number of expansions there have been there’s an awful lot of land and dungeons out there. We’re there, but we’re well spread out. Also trial accounts are restricted to the ‘help’ chat channel. The veteran players mostly use the ‘general’ channel – despite the rampant pvp trash talk. On Europa, where I’m mostly found, a group of vets monitor the help chat and actively try to help new and returning players. In addition there is a nightly meeting at west brit bank where help and advice is freely given. (6pm – 7pm UK)

  30. Zanchito says:

    This makes me nostalgic for a game I’ve never played. I have very fond memories of Ultima 7, though, the only Ultima I’ve played seriously (what a game!). I’d try one of those free servers, but honestly I don’t think I have the time required to make it really work. :/

    • Lord-Xanthor says:

      The only thing good about private servers is being able to test out ideas EA never put into play. They are also unreliable once the owner gets bored and many ask for donations for upkeep. Problem here is once they have your money you have no clue who is really running it. Here’s a case with a private server no longer in existence. It had hundreds of players then without even a word the owner made off with thousands in donations and whoever took over banned everyone who supported the server which because of their knowledge, most users got deleted if not banned. Despite what the TOS stated, people who left uo would get emails to come back and most of the time their characters still existed.

  31. Joshua Northey says:

    My guess would be because they enjoy playing it?

  32. Lord-Xanthor says:

    Actually, one of the first online games was for the C64 through AOL called ClubCaribe or Habitat which in later years got turned to Vzones now defunct. I played UO since beta, then worked for Stratics-UO on the event team running the monthly development chats. Unless things changed, there was a lot of grinding to level up a skill and I had multiple accounts to hold a fortress of castle and two towers. I enjoyed working for stratics and the development team for years but ended up having to give up both when I got Married and children started entering the picture. I still talk once in a while with old staff if on and glad the games still in existence. I’m very surprised EA hasn’t ported the game client over to IPhone and Android, it would have brought in a whole new clientele. I had a mage/tamer, hard, even a treasure hunter. I still have a photo floating around from the days there was server wars. Before tamers had limits I released about 80 white wyrms and dragons then use an invisible ring to hide and watch the chaos. It actually crashed the server I played and was asked not to do it again. Which would of been the case except at the time I did this I wasn’t a GM tamern at the time and back then when it was OSI put in a patch to raise requirements to owning one which surprised me the hard way because it was the first town invasion put into effect and when I claimed 10 dragons from the stable, they all went wild at once. It wasn’t just me, people were trying to kill lich lords and same time dodge everyone’s dragons gone amok. Back then if you didn’t have good armour on, one fireball killed you. Imagine having 10 on the loose. I was lucky to have invie jewelry set on macro because I hit that macro faast seeing the messages “Has decided it was better off without a friend” My main account I gave to a friend and sold rest while it was allowed. Heard years later after the mass duping bannings that many card companies did a lot of charge backs which ended the sales of pixels.

  33. Regeta says:

    I notice a lot of people here are ignorant about Trammel.

    Here are just the facts:

    1) Trammel didn’t ruin Ultima Online; Trammel saved it. Before Trammel, subscribers were dwindling and the game was dying. After Trammel, the bleeding stopped and populations soared.

    2) Ultima Online hit its peak subscriber base 3 years after Trammel. Not only did subscribers soar, but they soared for 3 years. The peak subscriber base hit 250,000 subscribers in 2003 with the release of “Age of Shadows” which was the fifth expansion, and added in the Paladin & Necromancer classes/skills.

    Whether or not it ruined the game FOR YOU is just your opinion.

    Despite what you will hear on the internet about how “Trammel ruined UO”, this is only true of a minority of players.

    The majority of Ultima Online subscribers loved the introduction of Trammel.

    Another interesting fact: Ultima Online was the first MMORPG to reach 100,000 subscribers. After its peak in 2003, it did not see numbers again this low until 2008. (In 2008, Ultima Online still had 100,000 subscribers.)

  34. total_immortal says:

    If anyone is interested in playing Ultima Online for free, go to http://www.uorenaissance.com for the BEST FREE server out there. The server is based on the Renaissance era, yet pre-Trammel ruleset on most things. There is a young player program to give new players or old returning players the freedom to get the feel for the game safely. Much has been done to perfect things such as crafting and others that OSI / EA didn’t fix. The population just hit a new high 3 years into its existence with almost 700 online. So, if you want to try the game out, give us a shot at http://www.uorenaissance.com. I’m an old school player since 99 and have played many free servers throughout the years, and finally have found a UO home there. It’s THE best out there.

  35. belev says:

    Just had to register and comment on this…

    I’ve played loads of game, be thye single, multi or MMOs.
    I’ve never experienced anything even remotely close to what UO had and still has to offer as game and combat mechanics, crafting, economy or social system.

    The simplicity of the characters mechanics is stunning and yet so effective. The whole game re-balanced itself because each player had the freedom to observe, try and change their character in almost any possible way.

    In terms of character customization this game gave such freedom that it’s absolutely mind-blowing.
    I’m not talking about facial/body/clothing customization .. those are just eye candy(I love those, but it’s not the looks that matter, it’s what is under the clothes and armor).
    All games after UO strive to achieve relative ‘balance’ between classes (mostly PvP wise). Tons of patches, skill changes, updates, special arenas and battlegrounds with limitations just so that pvp could ‘feel’ more balanced.
    Why? Because they decided to rely on a predefined class system to spare themselves some thinking, or to enforce on the players specific story-line and game-play?
    UO gave freedom with a single limitation valid for all.
    No races or racial perks, no classes or class specific traits, no different stats, all start on equal ground and each and every player can, whenever he/she decides completely change their character or tweak it so that they can handle specific situations.

    Turning from a warrior/paladin into a necromancer/mage just because you found out that you like spells better is priceless(just for information this is like becoming the complete opposite in almost any aspect;alignment, combat style, resource utilization, armor preference, even the way the surrounding NPCs interact with you is different).

    Anyway .. I don’t have enough words to describe the technical perfection UO has as a game.
    One obvious flaw though. The game client, graphics, UI are ancient. They are actually far beyond ancient considering modern hardware capabilities. When I played UO (and that was more than 10 years ago) I though “What a crappy game” during the first 15 minutes. I liked NOTHING there. I uninstalled it after some 20 minutes.
    2 weeks later a friend told me “Try it some more, in 20 minutes you’ve not seen anything. Try to play for around 1 hour at least. Maybe you’ll find something you like”.
    I did try it for 1 hour. That hour became a week. That week became a 3+ years. And after that 1 hour there was not a single minute that I felt bored, that I felt like I’m wasting my time, that I felt frustrated because something is not like I want it to be.

    Imagine you kill a monster and you find a treasure map.
    You got no idea what that is. You ask around, some player tells you you need cartography skill to read the thing. Ok, you spend some time to improve that skill.
    Now you can read maps. Awesome! But .. the map points to some island you never knew even existed. Ok, no worries, you gather some money, buy a ship. Small one of course, they are expensive.
    So you and a couple of friends get on the ship and start sailing.
    Bu the ship must be controlled by 1 person, or you’ll never get to where you want to go. So 1 controls the ship (you had to type directions so the ship moves), the other watches the map and navigates, the third one drinks rum and sings pirate songs (and no, i’m not joking).
    You get to the island, perfect. You find the spot. You’re lucky, you brought a shovel.
    One starts digging, the rest are waiting impatiently around to see the treasure.
    There it is! This BIG chest, full with promises of unlimited riches and … those 3 BIG water elementals that spawned near it and decided to guard it.
    Your whole party is dead.
    Ok, here is the plan: we find and ankh(you resurrect on those), we come back, kill the elementals, get the treasure.
    Good plan, but the ankh is on the OTHER island!
    3 ghosts on the ship, navigating to the other island. Then back. Then running in circles until we get our bodies(bodies disappear in time and you lose items).
    What an adventure. I am yet to find another game that can give you hours of laughter and fun while you play it and years later. A game where legend are build from the actions of players. A game where friendship, hatred and simple player interactions are more important and more fun than the built-in content.

    To those of you that never played UO I have a message:
    Play it, at least for an hour. I know it’s ugly, I know it’s old, I know it looks and feels worse than Super Mario. Just try it out, and don’t give up after the first 15 minutes.
    And to those of you that have: I got nothing to say to you brothers and sisters. You already know what the best MMORPG of all times (up to now) is.