Raph Koster on how Ultima Online pushed the MMO industry forward
Game Designer Raph Koster continues to ponder the significance of Ultima Online on this, the 20th anniversary of the MMORPG’s historic release. In a recent blog post, he answers a question from a fan who asked how UO pushed the industry forward.
To address this, Koster takes readers back to 1995, when the internet was mostly accessed over slow dial-up modems and the gaming landscape was much more different than it is today. After outlining a brief history of MMOs to that point, he lists several groundbreaking features that Ultima Online attempted, including:
- “Pure scale” with up to 2,500 players in the world at once
- Dyeable gear
- A world simulation that was varied in behavior
- A massively interactive world
- Widespread player killing, housing, and shopkeeping
- An actively managed community
- A flat monthly fee to subscribe
- A world where you could live and not just fight
“This was consciously designed to be this sort of emergent world, carefully, skill by skill and object by object,” Koster noted. “There were happy surprises and unpleasant ones, but interdependence, economy, ecosystem, player types and roles — all of this was actively designed for and we attempted our best to anticipate behaviors.”
He pointed out a few “philosophical heirs” of Ultima Online, including Minecraft, survival games, EVE Online, and Animal Crossing.
Koster also said that Ultima Online wasn’t wholly original: “In many senses, UO had almost no ‘firsts’ — you can always find an antecedent for something it did, somewhere, probably for everything I’ve listed above.”