The Game Archaeologist: Ultima Online field report


A recent Daily Grind here on Massively asked about what games readers think deserve more coverage on the site. That's a loaded question, of course, but the answers were still very interesting to me, especially the desire from some of you to read more about older games.

Even though I've looked at the history and development of classic MMOs, I don't often know what's going on inside of them right now. With insular communities and a dearth of news being put forth by the studio, the only way that I can think of to find out the real skinny is to ask those who do still love and play these games regularly.

So that's when the idea for a "field report" series on Game Archaeologist came forth. Every so often I'm going to track down players of classic MMOs and see what's happening in them and their communities from these first-hand perspectives. Today we've got Dimitri and Common Sense from Ultima Online, who graciously took the time to answer my questions.

Massively: How do you spend an average play session in the game?

Dimitri: My average play session involves running around the marketplace city of Luna, looking for deals on various items, and subsequently purchasing some of them. If I have a bit longer to spend in-game, I'll go hunting creatures in one of the many dungeons, hang out with the guildies, and maybe do a treasure hunt with them.

Common Sense: What makes Ultima Online unique is having up to seven character slots per account to name as you wish. I go by many names, with each having a specific purpose for what I could possibly want to do during my play time. I have crafters and monster slayers (PVMers), but my main specialty is Player vs Player (PvP). I have multiple character skill templates with no two alike. UO is so massive it's impossible to make a one size fits all character for everything available.

What is Ultima Online's strongest suit and biggest weakness?

Dimitri: Ultima Online has many strong points that have kept me going for 16 years. Being able to buy, sell, own, and customize a piece of virtual real estate that can be accessed by other players is a very nice feature. I have yet to see a comparable housing system in another MMO. In UO, you are not limited to a particular class of character. You can basically create and play whatever type of character you see fit. For example, I have a Mage fisherman, an axe-wielding chef, and a pickpocket Ninja to name a few. Also, rare and event items are great. These are items that are no longer available, available for a short period of time, or being one of only a handful ever created. This created a very pricey market for those who would seek to own these items. I collect rare bottles of booze myself.

As for negatives, duping has always been a problem in UO: either duping gold directly or duping high-end items and then selling these for gold. Dupers have really taken a toll on the economy. As far as the devs go, they really did too little too late, as the damage has already been done. Third-party programs give an unfair advantage to those who decide to purchase and use them. A lack of in-game customer service and support hurts, as days can go by before a GM answers your help ticket. EA's whole system for managing your UO accounts is pure and utter garbage. It's very difficult to navigate even for the veteran player. Finally, Ultima Online being owned by EA is very detrimental in itself.

Common Sense: Definitely the biggest thing keeping UO going is the ability to customize damn near everything. You can customize housing, player skill templates, hair styles, and armor dye. There is also no endgame. You cannot beat Ultima Online. You can only finish your character skills and keep collecting, slaying, and generally having a fun time.

The biggest weakness, eh? Well, our newer account management system is so harsh Stratics had to put a how-to instructional thread up so people could actually give their money to play. It's also pretty glitch and likes to decline payments often. We have a really dedicated core of players, and they don't like not being able to play daily. The other big thing to me is the in-game bugs and lack of in-game support. It's pretty understandable, though, that when you have such an old game with more items than some of the current MMOs have combined, you're going to have multiple bugs.

What interesting developments, discussions, or events have you seen from within the community lately?

Dimitri: During the past year, the most interesting development that went live is the ability to campaign and subsequently be elected governor of one of the cities. As governor, one can establish trade agreements with various guilds, which can grant citizens a specific buff for 24 hours. Governors can also grant titles to citizens of their respective cities. I believe there is more to be added down the road with this system.

Another development that is set to go live any day now is a vendor search feature. This will have a big impact on the game. At the moment, the city of Luna is considered the main marketplace hub. With a vendor search feature, the vendors selling items can be out in the middle of the wilderness and still expect to do business because their items will show up when searched for.

Common Sense: This Broadsword takeover seems interesting. While I do not know much about them, they claim to bring 14 people to the table, which I assume is on top of our current dev team. More people should mean a better state of game... I hope. They've also announced a new PvP system that's in-concept, but little is known about it right now other than it seems to be instanced.

What's been the best addition or game-change implemented by the devs in the past year?

Dimitri: Probably the same answer for number three.

Common Sense: We've gotten a lot of new items in the past year, a new dungeon grind, and a booster pack. The devs are also in the process of adding an in-game vendor search, which should be fantastic when it's finished.

If a new player were to give Ultima Online a try, what advice would you give?

Dimitri: If it were possible for a new player to navigate EA's account management, I would say they can do almost anything in UO. Don't be afraid to ask people questions about anything. Don't be afraid to join up with a guild of helpful people. Consult UOStratics and the UOGuide websites for skill essays, guides, and tips on how to navigate the account management section. And most importantly, when you log on for the first time, enjoy those precious moments. We all long for the days when this game was fresh and new to us. Some of the best experiences of the game are played during those first few months, and those are the memories that stick 16 years later.

Common Sense: Patience is key. There's a lot to learn in this game. There are some really awesome people in-game who dedicate their play time helping new players learn the ropes. I've been playing daily for over a decade, and even I don't know everything about this game. Reading the Stratics UO section is a must to get a general idea. Would I recommend UO? Of course. I couldn't see myself playing any other MMO.

Thank you for your reports! Our next field report will be looking at the current state of MUDs and MUSHes, so if you currently play one of those, please drop me a line at!

When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti pulls out his history textbook for a lecture or two on the good ol' days of MMOs in The Game Archaeologist. You can contact him via email at or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.