In a dark smithy, heavy with dust, a man sat staring at an old rust-flaked anvil.
Archive for March, 2010
In 1997, Origin Systems launched an ambitious project called Ultima Online (UO for short). UO is a massive-multiplayer roleplaying game (MMORPG or MMO), which is an intimidating mouthful that refers to a computer game that is played in a shared setting with thousands of other players.
Among those playing the game at launch were three friends who had adopted the character names Joshua Rowan, Robert the Red, and Sir Lancelot. They formed a guild that they called The Golden Knights, Guardians of the Way, and set themselves the task of defending a chokepoint called The Crossroads against other players who had taken on the roles of killers and thieves.
Shortly after launch, one of Joshua’s real-life friends expressed an interest in the game, and soon created a character on the same server as the Golden Knights; Ursula. Her husband at the time, watching over her shoulder, soon got an account and created a character of his own; Thorin Ironbeard. That’s me.
My return to Ultima Online has left me thinking about why this antique game resonates with me when so many newer and flashier titles have left me feeling flat.
One draw that UO has that so many others don’t is a dedicated contingent of contract staff (Event Managers) that run events and scenarios, playing characters in the game and interacting with players and player communities. It’s an extension of the successful and popular volunteer program of the early days of UO (which was derailed by a lawsuit).
Advice to developers: in-game staff is critical. Obviously out-of-character support is vital (and just as obviously most companies short-staff support — when your accountants start tearing their hair out and screaming that you have far too many GMs, then you probably have about half of what you need).
But it’s just as important to have staff in the world that are part of the world. Your NPC queen should stand up from her throne now and again, stretch, and stroll down to the nearest player-run village to borrow a cup of sugar. Or something.
Last December, The Golden Brew Tavern, a virtual player-run alehouse on the Baja shard of Ultima Online, decayed away into memory after nearly 12 years in continuous existence. The Brew is mentioned in books on community building and the history of MMOs, academic symposiums, and other places that we never expected to end up.
Retrospectives were composed, memorials were planned. The event coordinators on the Baja Shard named things after us (including their website). It was a touching tribute, the best funeral we could hope for.
So naturally, we decided to spoil it by not being dead after all.