For this edition of Massively Overthinking, Kickstarter donor Sargon wants us think back to 1997, when Ultima Online launched and parted MMOs from graphical MUDs forever. Now think forward to 2015 again. UO’s still here! And Sargon wants to know why it’s not getting more play.
What would persuade you to return to Ultima Online? If you are a former player, what would it take for you to go back? If you never played before, could Broadsword do anything to inspire you to try it?
This question needn’t even be specific to UO. We all know that older games struggle with making inroads into modern markets. Let’s tackle the conundrum: I posed Sargon’s question to our own MMO die-hards.
Brendan Drain (@nyphur): I really do admire Ultima Online for its influence on the genre, and if it disappeared tomorrow it would be an immeasurable loss for the genre. It was one of the main influences behind the original development of EVE Online and pioneered many features that still live on in MMOs today. I’m glad that UO is still around and impressed that it’s still being worked on, but I don’t think there’s anything the devs can do to hook me in at this point. The game is just too old now and holds no nostalgia value for me as I didn’t play it back in its prime. That said, I can fully understand ex-players desires to jump in again and an expansion is a great way to incentivise that. I’ll occasionally go back to my own MMO roots with a trip through RuneScape’s latest offerings or a bash at old EverQuest II content, but for me there’s no emotional resonance with Ultima Online.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Ironically, my sub to UO lapsed yesterday. I played from the beginning, and I still resub every few months — I think I might be the only one on staff who can answer you in the affirmative. I was thrilled when Broadsword was spun out to focus on the classic games rather than shut down with the rest of Mythic under EA’s heavy hand. I go back because I have built characters and a house and an investment in the lore and history of the world; it’s got tons of non-combat skills that make it unique, it’s one of the very few existing sandboxes that isn’t a pure gankbox, and it’s still getting love. So I’m definitely not the person they need to convince, and I’m not sure that there’s much incentive for non-vets to try it again right now — especially with Shroud of the Avatar sucking a lot of the air out of the Ultima room.
I will say that Broadsword has done a ton to improve UO in the last year and change, starting with major updates to the player vendor system and the new-new-new client, which actually brought the game’s UI into this millennium. It’s getting a paid expansion (which I will be buying!) later this year, and the devs are currently working on a massive overhaul to the new player experience in preparation for the game’s launch on Steam (it was greenlit last year). It has a lot going for it and isn’t on its last legs, which ought to at least quell some worry that someone who jumps in now will face a sunset tomorrow. Short of server merges (very much needed) and a massive economy overhaul to make the “affording stuff” part of the game palatable for newcomers, I think the devs are already doing everything they can to attract old and new players. Steam will be a giant boost. I suppose it could also go free-to-play, but I don’t think it’d be a net positive for the game as the studio would have to retool the entire open-world housing system to make it work.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Absolutely nothing. The setting doesn’t interest me, the game mechanics don’t interest me, the grind doesn’t interest me. It has nothing I want save housing and far more things that I don’t want. Everything I know about the game tells me that it’s tailor-made to be a game I don’t find fun. I’m glad for the people who still play it and enjoy it, I’m glad for the fact that it kicked off this genre in the first place, but I don’t want to play it.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I don’t think much could get me into Ultima Online, to be honest. It wasn’t really my cup of tea even when it was much younger. I did dabble in it briefly a few years ago, just to get a taste, and didn’t find anything right off the bat that sucked me in. I guess it’ll always be one of those games that I admire from a distance but confess that it’s not you, it’s me. I am glad that it’s still running and even expanding, as it’s an important legacy and perhaps a reminder to developers that there are other types of MMOs that can be made than the same-old, same old. Perhaps it will inspire a grand new generation.
Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): Although there are a lot of things that I like about Ultima, I have come to realize that I am a graphics snob. I don’t expect everything to have super-duper graphics, but sprites just don’t do it for me anymore (except for platformers. Go, Shovel Knight!) So the only way that UO could really convince me to come back is to update the graphics to something that would have released at least in the last five years — unless it changes into a 2-D platformer. Otherwise, I’ll be honest: I think the mechanics hold up, and it’s certainly a place that I could spend a lot of time in.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I am not a former player; I’ve never touched the game. I’ll also admit I have never even considered playing — not even once. Now that I am thinking about it (way to totally break my steak there!), the expansion probably is the only thing Broadsword could to do get me to try it, but more credit goes to The Stream Team, not the studio. There is a good chance I’ll pop in to stream it if/when the expansion launches just to be able to show stuff off to folks. Other than that, I have no interest or intention in continuing to play it on my own. Honestly, there are just way too many games I enjoy on my plate as it is and I am not looking to add another. I am not sure physically could without an extra 10 hours tacked on to every week. It’s not because the game is old; I’d be back into a full run of Star Wars Galaxies in a heartbeat! I’ve even dabbled in EverQuest, but it took a Choose My Adventure to force me to squeeze in the time. If I had fewer games I was already trying to schedule enough time to play, it might be different. Could just be a case of timing. Then again, even when I had more time, I wasn’t interested; I whole-heartedly threw myself into other things.
To all who still love the game, or who will test it out and fall in love now: rock on! Enjoy the stuffing out of it.