Ultima Online

Sunday, 12 July, Year 7 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

I've never played it.i

I've read about it, mostly because people who take a keen if humble interest in my welfare insisted. So let's go together through a very pompous piece, "The In-game Economics of Ultima Online" by one Zachary Booth Simpson (Origin Research Fellow).

To get this out of the way, I'll point out that I would not accept a text of that caliber as anything other than a highschooler's "report", in lieu of actual CS homework at a vocational school. It is, as far as scientific papers go, terribad. And yet it seems to count, somehow, in "the field" as legitimate work on the topic of game economy - which perhaps brings us closer to understanding the root cause of the absolutely horrifying state of gaming economies generally.

I am not going to discuss it in detail, nor highlight its errors, ridiculous assumptions and so onii, other than to laugh at the following quote :

In the real world, we associate hyperinflation with the almost total devastation of a country and its population. In UO this really did not happen because there was little that players wanted that was purchasable with gold. The one major exception was reagents which were also cloneable! The hyperinflation, while annoying, did not preclude players from having fun and, in the end, this is all that matters. This should perhaps introduce a bit of humility into the over-design of the economy – for all its complications, it is not required to make the game fun.

Right ? Riiiight.

Instead, I'm going to extract and underline three factual, unfortunate, actual events. They are instructive.

One. Garriott & co took the time to actually create an ecology for the game. This means, not merely draw and animate monster models and plop them on the map, but also construct a graph in which these monsters are mere nodes, and relationships between them exist, which work out. They eat each other, they spawn each other, on it goes.

This failed to work in practice, much to the developers' expressed chagrin, because the players simply wiped out everything that moved and so the ellaborately designed simulation never even got a chance to start. Talk about sad.

Two. They had put the thought into creating an actual economy, with simulated NPC behaviours and whatnot. Except they also had a gold duping bug, which completely flooded the economy, or to quote

We really have no idea how well the original simulation worked because counterfeiting destroyed the ‘experiment’.

Three. What, you thought two's tragic enough ? Apparently not. So : NPC traders were originally intended to work very much like Eulora works, which is to say always maintain a positive cash flow, and not buy junk nobody wants. This ran into the misguided tomfoolery of the players, who would make junk in order to level their crafting skills and then expected this to bring them a profit. Seriously, apparently the sort of schmucks that played UO would report as a bug the fact that a NPC sitting on ten thousand shirts it couldn't sell would refuse to buy their hundred extra shirts nobody wanted at a profit! Because "they were led to" what consumers have come to expect and "it just ain't fair!" and "the people themselves".

And the designers actually gave in on this score. Fancy that.

It's a sad state of affairs, but other than the first item, which is obviously up in the air as Eulora's not yet had Tier 2 introduced and consequently there's no fighting, hunting or looting, the other two are put to rest. We've had no gold duping in the first month, and the merit for this one rests squarely with Minigame's Chief Engineer. Yes, that woman is better than anything Garriott and Origin could assemble two decades ago. Props. We've also not had, nor are we ever going to have, a situation where the delusional expectations of self importance put forth by players wrecks the economy. It will not happen over my dead body - I want a game that I can enjoy playing and yes this is an "abstract principle" that comes way, way, way before any consideration given to "the people themselves". Fuck those people, themselves.

Honestly, I know of no sadder fate than that of the dev team of Ultima Online. If my first year looked anything like their first year, reflected through the retarded lens of an article like the source linked, I'd be a very, very sad panda indeed.

Fortunately, Lord British was here first, and apparently mopped all the sads up for me. Thanks, Lord British. Long live Eulora.

  1. I suppose most people never did, on account of being wee tykes at the time and not being able to make that sort of decision for themselves / not having access to the resources required etc. I never played it because at the time I was doing other things, and didn't care to. In the end, what difference does the why make ? Here we are, we who've never played it. []
  2. Because I actually own a competing product, and I have no intention to give away the sauce that makes it great, that's why. []
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11 Responses

  1. Ultima Online allows for interesting in game structures like real estate, rafts, boats, fish migration, complex ore maps and in general offers a much more "live" world. Fuck Origin, nobody played on the official servers anyway, there goes your argument. Look at RunUO, a whole community dedicated to developing mods.

    Not having checked out your biggest "competitor" (BTW, how much profit did Eurola yield in comparison to UO? Or Microsoft for that matter? Or is it hating on the big players?) only reflects poorly on your ability to develop any sort of MMORPG. Isometric sprites just look better over poorly rendered polygons flying across the screen.

    Don't hate the critic, hate the game.

  2. cazalla`s avatar
    Monday, 13 July 2015

    The EverQuest economy was plagued with platinum dupes as well as having rogue developers who created and/or duped items for their friends and for the selling on ebay. Any time new recipes were added to EQ via countless patches, the game of looking for which ones could be combined using materials purchased from the vendors in close proximity to each other and then sold back to the npc for a profit began. Once found, you'd bot the fuck out of it until they patched it which sometimes occurred within hours or weeks/months. It was much better to buy items which held their value throughout expansions such as mana stones, fungi tunics and pre-nerf items (I liked this in that if a weapon was found to be overpowered, it would be nerfed but items which dropped prior to the nerf remained as they were creating a market for the limited in quantity pre-nerf items.)

    Despite a fucked economy, EQ did have a hierarchy amongst its players and did not provide participation awards until after WoW arrived on the scene. Prior to that, if you were a shit player, word got around as it did if you were a great player. Your reputation was of the utmost importance because if you were caught stealing, purposely getting others killed (The death penalty was harsh in that you lost experience when you died resulting in the loss of days of hardcore grinding xp. In addition to this, items remained on your corpse when you died meaning getting those items back was sometimes a difficult task. Further, your corpse would decay after 7 days and your items would go with it. You literally could not afford to take scrubs with you as the risk/reward while raiding new content was always a consideration as one bad raid could mean the end of not only your character but thsoe of your friends as well.), you were either relegated to a guild which was created solely for the outcasts or start an entirely new character from scratch. While transferring your character to another server was an option, the names of characters which transferred from server A to server B were published including name any name changes ensuring that people flooded that server's forum spamming warnings that player X who stole this from a guild was now playing on their server, burning that person's $100 transfer fee in the process.

    Good times.

  3. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Monday, 13 July 2015

    @Max Eulora hasn't yielded any profit so far.

    It nevertheless had ~2.3 BTC revenue the first month and about 1 BTC so far this month, which is nothing compared to UO in 1998 and a lot compared to UO in 1996, so I guess how this comparison comes out is ultimately decided by how you do your normalisations - 1990s vs 2010s and 2 yo MiniGame vs 3 yo (iirc) UO:SL at the time it finally made release.

    In any case : Eulora cost ~nothing~ compared to the 6mn (in 1995 dollars) that UO cost, which notably was what, 1/3 of all the money spent on MMORPGs that year, so about a billion dollars in 2015 terms ?

    All this aside : you will be hard pressed to find anything that even comes close to the complexity or interestingness of them game structures as displayed by Eulora ~currently~, not in all of history nor in all the collected dreams of three generations of gamers. There isn't such a thing, and without Eulora there'd never been such a thing, ever, no matter who and what. The good news being that it's nowhere near done yet. So therefore, rather than hating anything, how about you come up with a solution to "banal" problems, such as for instance how to price things.

    @cazalla As far as

    having rogue developers who created and/or duped items for their friends and for the selling on ebay

    goes, I recall this being a rampant problem / massive scandal in the early days of Eve, too. I guess they got better at keeping it under wraps by now.

    Btw, how's Eulora look to you ?

  4. cazalla`s avatar
    Monday, 13 July 2015

    I have not played enough to really say but I do love games which have a solid crafting system and allow players to buy and sell to oneanother instead of NPCs. Problem is, I ended up getting stuck under the grey rocks towards the centre of the map, /unstick didn't help at all and after killing myself, I respawned in the same position stuck. I tried using the petition system but that didn't get a response.

    I don't have the time to play games hardcore and who wants to be a filthy casual?

  5. > your biggest "competitor"


    Two gaming companies started in 2013. Portalarium received more than US$2000000.- from random members of the anonpublic via kickstarter. Minigame received just under BTC10000.- from MPEx investors.

    Two years later, the "latest buzz" is that Minigame has a game out, and Portalarium...

    The Buzz
    Richard Garriott's Shroud of the Avatar from Portalarium Raises Two Million Dollars in Crowd Funding
    April 08, 2013
    Portalarium Expands Shroud of the Avatar Crowd Funding to Include PayPal
    March 28, 2013
    Richard Garriott Issues Statement about "Game Design" Comments
    March 21, 2013
    Richard Garriott's Shroud of the Avatar Zooms Past Kickstarter Goal
    March 19, 2013

    Such competition!

  6. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Monday, 13 July 2015

    @cazalla Fixed.

    Btw, don't bother with the petition system as available in game, I dunno that they go anywhere, there's no process whatsoever in place.

    @Anon Lolz. I must say in my defense however that on one hand I'm a lot younger and thus inexperienced, and on the other hand I'm not just running a gaming company, but also a stock exchange and various other odds and ends making up a whole ecosystem.

    But really - it's just because while Garriott can't find designers, I have superb teams.

  7. Man, back when it first launched, it was a revolution (the game, not the article). I remember reading about it in a British magazine (which I had received as a gift from abroad).

  8. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Tuesday, 21 July 2015

    No argument there.

    BTW, you gotta try mine.

  9. I remember that game. It seemed like there was so much potential during the private beta. Had a bunch of cool shit like you're out hunting foxes while the foxes are hunting rabbits.

    But it fell apart during the public beta. Everything got slaughtered, all resources perma-exhausted. Benefits to be gained per hour approached epsilon. All the pre-planned spawn rates in his model were painfully insufficient.

    But it was most epic when random dude deep fried Lord British at a public gathering. I didn't see it happen, couldn't get into the city with all that lag. But the public beta was really the end of it, collapsed economy, crushing lag, Lord British face down in the public square. Appeasing the *playerbase* was the only card they had left to play.

  10. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Friday, 11 May 2018

    Pretty much exact summary.

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