The original producer and director of Ultima Online, Lord British & Lord Blackthorn:
If Ultima Online is ever going to be recognized as more than the grandfather of MMOGs and the MMO with the greatest reversal of potential ever, there are two major points that need serious attention;
1. Believable World. When Lord British and Lord Blackthorn were in charge of Ultima Online, the integrity of the medieval virtual world was strong and healthy. Ultima Online was at it’s finest, it was a believable medieval fantasy virtual world and was therefore highly immersive; more than any game previous. This immersion is the “magic” that current UO and many newer MMOs lack. There were very few limits on the freedoms of players and almost all aspects of the game world were interactive and dependent upon the actions of players. The game focused on and revolved around the players themselves, not the content. It was the community and people that were important to the game experience, not the pre-programmed NPC content.
Under the supervision of British and Blackthorn, UO did not have giant cartoon-like snowmen and snowflakes, rainbow colored armor, purple spikey-haired elves, flip-flop wearing ninjas, or neon swords with statistics plastered all over them. All aspects of the game fit the medieval theme. Building a reasonably believable world must have originally been one of the main goals and visions for Ultima Online.
In addition, Ultima Online was a quality product and the gameplay was highly balanced; it's likely that the developers, including British and Blackthorn, were some of the most experienced players and used their first-hand gameplay experience to further develop UO. Lord British and Lord Blackthorn were probably the filters that kept most of the poor development ideas out of their virtual world. Because, after they left UO, the floodgates opened with all sorts of foolish game development occurring, such as mirrored attached worlds with two different sets of rules. The original game balance and virtual world that Garriott and Long had created was destroyed by the Electronic Arts Inc. employees that were appointed to take over.
The Electronic Arts replacements:
After over seven years of poor development from Electronic Arts, Ultima Online is limping along as a hodge-podge MMOG. UO has become nothing more than a conglomeration of ideas stolen from other successful MMOGs and therefore no longer offers players a unique experience. There's very little reason left to play UO, since the same PvM game designs that UO is now copying are found in newer MMOGs offering better graphics and technology. The integrity of the world is also ruined with forcefields, parallel worlds, the ability to carry items in death, infinite NPC supplies, giant insect mounts, ridable pastel colored dogs, and even sunglasses; EA might as well add laser cannons at this point - it would not hurt the game that much more.
Clearly, the goals and visions of creating a reasonably believeable medieval virtual world were lost when the talent left UO and EA took over. The virtual world began to suffer as it was torn apart and morphed into a mere online PvM content game by the sophomoric MMO developers that followed. Origin Inc., will always be known as the first company that created a truly massive online world and Electronic Arts Inc. will always be known as the first company to destroy an online world.
2. Heroes & Villains. "Without villains, there can be no heroes.” A game, or any entertainment medium, is flat, predictable, and utterly lacking in conflict, tension, and suspense without a worthy intelligent villain, see The Worthy Villain . “The villain is the main source of conflict and tension and suspense -- those necessary qualities in all of literature. Without a worthy villain, there cannot be a worthy hero. Whether the hero wants to win back the love of a woman, escape from prison, rescue a child, nail a serial killer, or save the world, his quest must be difficult and its outcome uncertain if we are to keep turning the pages. That’s the job of the antagonist. As Christopher Vogel writes in his essential book THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, “The function of the Shadow [villain] in drama is to challenge the hero and give her a worthy opponent in the struggle.”
An online world is no different, if there are no worthy villains, then there are no worthy heroes; the game lacks conflict, tension and suspense and our interest in participating in such a game is much more easily lost. When Ultima Online was a virtual world full of villain players, there was always a large portion of the player base actively playing the game, even into the wee hours of the night. It was the conflict that drove the game. The game was exciting enough to play that it was always highly populated with active players. Even though there may still be 100,000 Ultima Online subscriptions left today, its painfully obvious that most do not spend very much time playing Ultima Online anymore.
The forum discussion: http://mmorpg.com/discussion2.cfm/thread/113341