The Status of Ultima Online, April 2013 (Update)

Update: Ultima Online Producer has released a letter outlining UO’s future.

The Status of Ultima Online – April, 2013
My first UO-related post back should be about the status of Ultima Online here in April of 2013. The most important UO-related development since January concerns Michael ” Phoenix, formerly known as Vex” Moore, Lead Designer and the lead person responsible for UO’s future plans and content addition, being laid off:

“Today was my last day at Mythic. For the past three and a half years or so, I’ve had the great fortune to come to a job with a team of wonderful people, always working to improve on what is still one of the best damn MMOs ever built. We truly are a different breed, always having to deal with flak coming from all directions, but always loving our jobs even though the job is like a bucking bronco and we’re just along for the crazy, crazy ride.

Unfortunately, harsh economic realities and the nature of the video games business mean layoffs happen.

My immediate plans are to get soused (probably for much of the weekend), then after that it’s time to see what new adventures might lie in my future!”

I thought he was a nice guy from my interaction with him, and he had an extensive knowledge of UO going back to his days as a designer on Samurai Empire. If you would like to pay your respects, there is a thread on Stratics. I hope that he’s able to find employment quickly.

The Known Ultima Online Development Team of April 2013
Software Engineer – Stephen “Bleak” Brown, Yvette “MrsTroubleMaker” Aarons
Lead Artist – James “Onifrk” Crawly
Associate Designer – Greg “Kyronix” Havlusch
Quality Assurance Lead – Michael “Misk” Armstrong
Producer – Bonnie “Mesanna” Armstrong
EA Community Rep – Dropixel
– EMs to run the events (still under contract as far as I know)
– GMs to police the game and help players

If you’re not doing the math, that’s two developers, one designer, one artist, one doing quality assurance, and one person trying to keep everything together. If you know of any corrections, please post them below or email me at uo@ultimacodex.com

My Status
I’m finally starting to rejoin the Ultima/UO community after several months of dealing with a newborn child (he’s finally letting us sleep through the night), some job opportunities, and a move cross-town to start the year off, all of which left me no time for UO. I apologize to those that I temporarily dropped contact with and will be rejoining the various communities in the next week or two.

Background image, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

16 Responses

  1. Thepal says:

    I just hope they don’t shut down the game. As long as it is kept open, EA keeps some pretty huge bragging rights. It has to cost them barely anything to run, so I don’t see why they shouldn’t keep it running for the next century or so.

    Longest running MMO: Ultima Online – 103 years…

  2. cor2879 says:

    I think there’s been a few people who have started playing again after feeling nostalgic due to all the talk about SotA. I know I was one – after 11 years I got a trial sub and then bought the Stygian Abyss upgrade. If EA doesn’t want to run the game anymore maybe they could just sell it to Portalarium or something.

    • Sslaxx says:

      Ultima Forever is a clue to what they want to do with the franchise, I think.

      • cor2879 says:

        Please God no…

        Ultima Forever looks terrible. It’s nothing like the game I want to play

        Ultima Online is the only ‘sandboxy’, ‘Not WoW’ mmo left. It would be a shame to see them bring it to a close now.

      • WtF Dragon says:

        U4E is definitely a different game from UO. Definitely not terrible either, but not a sandbox MMO, to be sure.

        Nor is it the only Ultima interest EA has…or, well, parts of EA. At least not based on what I’ve heard from a few different people. But not unlike Wing Commander spin-off projects at Origin back in the day, it seems that Ultima has kind of entered this holding pattern within EA wherein projects concerning the IP will be pitched, investigated, and shelved with starting rapidity and regularity.

        In many respects, U4E is the exception rather than the rule, in that it’s an Ultima project that actually seems like it will make it to a release state. One hopes that if it does well enough, it might serve as a catalyst for some other, larger project that too will see the light of day at some point.

  3. Sanctimonia says:

    Congrats on the kid. I’m going through that as well (Geoffrey’s seven months old). He’s pretty cool now and interacts with the environment much more. They learn quickly.

    UO needs to evolve. The idea and base mechanics need to be loosely ported to a more modular, concise and manageable code base. Laying off an employee, leaving them with six or less, is only a good start if that is the plan. I’m not betting on it being part of the plan. Shit move, EA. Shit move.

  4. Deckard says:

    Thanks Sanctimonia – little Henry is starting to get mobile, even if it’s just rolling around, and loves to examine his environment as well.

    Pressed for time today, but a couple of things I want to squeeze into this comment – I think that things have changed in the past 2-3 months. In January, with the Producer’s Letter, there was still talk of future additions, including an example of the the Enhanced Artwork. Since then, some people have left, including the Lead Designer last week.

    Some in the UO community are pointing fingers at this or that playstyle or client, or dreaming up conspiracy theories (such as EA or some EA executive hates UO). It’s much easier to accept or believe that somebody in particular is responsible, rather than a faceless corporation making decisions based on a spreadsheet. If EA or EA upper management truly hated UO, they would simply shut it down, because they shut down much higher profile games all the time (ask the SimCity and Sims Facebook fans about that).

    To EA executives, UO is a game that produces a certain amount of revenue/profit according to some formula in a spreadsheet, and as long as those numbers meet certain levels, UO is allowed to exist. They are more concerned with Star Wars: The Old Republic, SimCity, closing down PlayFish, the future of BioWare as a whole, the latest Battlefield game, etc.

    The biggest sign of things to come is that Mythic is rebranding itself as a mobile studio, and Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning and Dark Age of Camelot are being treated about the same as UO from what I’ve seen. DAOC appears to be consolidating/closing down more servers as of earlier this month. DAOC (and WAR) need fewer servers since the whole point of their existence is player vs player. Server consolidation is simply not possible for UO, not without driving players away, and not without EA spending additional money on it.

    I would love to find out I was wrong about everything and that UO is not in maintenance mode, but I don’t see them having some secret team of developers working on UO. I plan on reconnecting with some folks this week, but I have a feeling that they have the same view.

  5. Deckard says:

    I’d like to add that I don’t think you can really point to any one year as being the time UO started to die, because I think it’s every year where you had a smaller team than the previous year.

    I would say that UO’s last big chance was probably around the Stygian Abyss in 2009. They had a very large team, and they had some very talented people at all levels (some of whom managed to last until now), with a goal of putting Ultima back into Ultima Online.

    Unfortunately the team was gutted. UO (and DAOC) seemed to pay a heavy price for the failure of Warhammer Online and EA’s financial issues in general. If they had kept the Stygian Abyss-era team, we would have had twice as much (if not more) content added, and more importantly, we’d have two well-supported clients with a high resolution artwork update already completed.

    I hate it, because the people who still work on UO clearly love it – I’m sure all of them have had several opportunities to work on other EA projects.

  6. Sanctimonia says:

    @Deckard I’m afraid I have to agree with you on all points, but there is good news. Ultima is but a dream, and we all have a say in what constitutes it. If UO is to shut down, we as gamers and developers truly own the rights to its future. Maybe not in name, but that is irrelevant. You, I, and all who love Ultima own the idea, implementation, execution and subtle nuances that define it as a phenomenon.

    Ultima Forever and Shroud of the Avatar are worthy entries in the series, but in the end it is up to we, the Ultima fans, to enshrine the idea of Ultima with excellent execution and unmatched vision. The future belongs to us; the players and the executors of the spiritual estate of all things Ultima. Take comfort in that, and journey onward my friend.

  7. Eric says:

    Ultima Online has a gem in it’s pocket. All the games that have dominated the market since UO’s inevitable decline are still missing a huge opportunity to create the next multi-million player game. Can you guess what the gem is? It’s player-made housing. UO Had it right 15 years ago, and no serious attempt has been made to run with the success of the idea in another game.

    In the same way players like to personalize the look of their characters, they more-so take pride in owning some pixel real estate. Allowing players to litterally build a house from the ground up that all other players can visit was absolutely pivotal in UO’s success over the years. The negative implications of it (such as land-grab races, etc) pale in comparison to the astonishing fact that you at least have an ability to own land. The fact that it is an option has meant everything.

    Can you imagine if World of Warcraft implemented woodworking and architecture as trade-skills and implemented home building? They would solidify a few million subscriptions for the next quarter of a century. This is, at least, what I would predict.

    I love the UO storyline. I like the map. I like the original content more than any of the expansions. I like the music (is that odd? I even downloaded the Android App for it). But what I liked most when I played was owning and designing my own home. I wish… Oh do I wish… that the UO name could be sold to a company who realizes its potential. It simply needs to be modernized. People don’t need realistic uber-modern graphics (WoW proves that), but it does need an update.

    Anyone who is an old-school UO loyal companion of this absolutely amazing game like me probably feels the same way. UO could have a future. It’s like a puzzle scattered on the floor. It needs to be put together before it can be enjoyed in its entirety.

    Give the gamers Britannia. Give it to them in a 3D, 3rd person, up-to-date form. Cut the content that didn’t work for the first-generation game. Develop a fair housing policy. Keep the skills, pvp, boating, etc… Don’t design a new game. Design UO in the modern world. Build it, and they will come.

    If I had the capital… I would invest heavily to get this off the ground. I played WoW for many years after I left UO. I no longer play. I’ve looked at several games including SWTOR, Elder Scrolls Online (not out yet) and many others. I’m waiting for one thing. Player made housing. If I could get that in a modern UO package… I would probably cry. But, here I wait. For any game, any fantasy based MMORPG to implement it. I’m waiting for a company to build a game that utilizes a brilliant idea that UO championed 15 years ago. Thank you UO for so many great years. I so sincerely hope that you small team of folks who are still holding it together one day get to bask in the sunlight of MMO success as did your predecessors before the turn of the century.

    Thank you all for listening. If there ever exists a band of UO-enthusiasts like myself that have a forum to throw around ideas and BS about the game – please contact me. Even if it’s just to talk about the old days.

    Eric
    (Formerly: Sindar Ethir , Great Lakes Server, 1997-2004)

  8. Ryan baker says:

    I would play and I know like 20 other people would play if it wasn’t so watered down and dead. The gameplay is messed up now due to the few players being so stacked(which personally idk why you even still play) there’s not alot of grinding anymore. If there was a new shard that everyone went to and had to work back up from the Brit cemetery, despise caves and so on. That’s what I miss the most having everyone competing to get gear, gold to place castle plots, my friend plays now and just pvps to me that’s far from what I enjoyed the game for. Seems as though everyone has all the same items you can literally join a shard and get the same items practically free lol…. I liked the old guild wars, order/chaos working with new players farming bulding skills and building relationships. Feeling accomplished to get a full valorite suit nevermind my first artifact. They should do it like diablo put patches and almost make it have ladders where you are forced to start over to stay in ladder but due to the time spent u can still keep all your 15yrs worth of characters they just won’t be ladder chars.

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