How Gamers Killed Ultima Online's Virtual Ecology | War Stories | Ars Technica

Share this video on

What's Hot

What's New

Top Grossing

Top of the Chart


Xorn : Well it probably would have helped if the herbivores didn't increase your skills. I remember locking a Stag in my house to spam Anatomy Skill on and letting them hit me for skill increases. Training Dummies would only get you to 30ish in a skill while animals and monsters had no cap.

Goblin Big Boss : as i was watching this i said to myself "Wait a minute... Ecology? i was playing UO back damn near when it LAUNCHED and i don't recall any Ecology??!" then the ending told me why lol

13orrax : If irl animals just slowly walked back and forth all day they'd all be extinct too

Luiz Alex Phoenix : Well, the players are the almighty heroes meant to defeat every obstacle in their way. Meanwhile, the animals cannot defend themselves and are lucrative sources of income and skills.

Z3DS14Y3R : Just take the Dwarf Fortress approach and make every animal an unstoppable killing machine

kingbane2 : world of warcraft has a very very minor version of ecology. yellow neutral spawn critters sometimes get eaten by carnivorous animals in some area's. wolves will eat rabbits in some of the starting forest areas of the alliance, and in the barrens a similar thing happens. it's not a real ecology because there's no balance struck, the mobs just do it every so often when they run into each other. the neutral critters would respawn somewhere else whenever one dies.

Raxyz Kaarn : "In a virtual world where you give players swords and weapons to commit mass murder I think that a virtual ecology is gonna prove me very difficult." Monster Hunter World would like a word for a moment. XD

Meep Changeling : The solution is obvious: Stop caring about players butchering the mobs that exist to be butchered for resources :3 But a less obvious and hilarioussolution? Max level bunnies. Al of them. All bunnies. Max level. Let the player's try...

EmperorEthan : This interview was directed by Wes Anderson

KuraIthys : It sounds a bit like the population density of humans relative to the things they try and kill is just way, WAY too high. Also, these animals are too easy to kill. Have you ever tried to catch a rabbit? It will run off at high speed and hide in a burrow. Most animals can outrun a person by a substantial margin. Most predators can tear us apart before we have a chance to do anything back to them. Hunting animals requires extreme caution. Anyway, I don't know if you can realistically fix something like this, but it does seem there are a few hurdles here where the animals were just not numerous enough, and not strong enough, to survive the onslaught. Killing them is just... Far too easy and low risk. Even a deer, if you tried to hunt it up close with a melee weapon, it could kick you and that would knock you out for a good few minutes, possibly break bones, and maybe even kill you. So... The animals are just way too weak and vulnerable, and not nearly numerous enough, to maintain a virtual ecology under these conditions...

Aaron Weeks : If we can't kill stuff then we would have had no content . Your game died because the direct connect players were 2.5 times fester then dial up players. There wasn't anywhere to build. Lack of content to do. Only thing to do was grind skills

R99pinball : I thought the lesson learned was to hold open beta testing?

Luter Leko : so basically they didt fix anything

Jonathan Eilbeck : All hail Lord British

KatsPurr : As someone who played UO for years, this virtual ecology was all news to me! Wow! Oh and I wish Ars Technica would have used footage of the classic client instead of the new 3d one.

Witecat J : Somehow I am not surprised. Still, it was a cool idea.

EpicPaperclip : 5:05 wow, that is one intense crackpipe.

Galen Deeds : Enter young whipper-snapper... You created a long progression system in the early days (as I recall) and as a player, one of the fastest ways to level up one's character was to farm xp from the wild-life. Everything gave you xp, no matter how little, so you didn't devalue anything. I love the Liberal mind-set that every gamer is a secretive mass-murdering psychopath, but the fact of that matter is that we were thinking in numbers. If killing animals granted us absolutely nothing at all, then sure you'd have the initial mass-murder because we're all amazed we can even do it in the first place, but it would die off. Eventually only people who were terrible at the game and were extremely bored would have killed animals.

Khyron Kravshera : The problem was how easy it was to find and kill the animals. If a player had to spend 15-30 min to catch and kill a rabbit and 1-2 hours for a deer they wouldn't waste the time.

magaldi : Man...I just love this story. I've read it somewhere back in early 2000's and even today it still blows my mind how they were doing this in 1997. Ultima is such an underappreciated series. People love games like Elder Scrolls and Wicher today, but few knew about how ground breaking Ultima was ever since the very beginning of PC gaming. It's even wierder to think that what killed this franchise was none other than EA. Yep, EA. Killing developers for the last 20 years.

Jeff Cockmann : Well of course you want to go around hitting anything you could find, it would level up a bunch of skills just to do so, and then skinning too

Squiggs 【Glitches - ROM Hacks - Speedruns】 : I'd watch an entire video about the pipe at 5:04

wilson mura : I'd like to think that Zelda was the start of the solution but even so and as stated, the testing phase was non existent or did not account for millions of users... so yeah not the gamers fault there.


Yotrymp : Without any explanation, the players just saw the game as... A GAME. No player would ever consider the ecology unless you told them about it, because it's such a weird mechanic and doesn't have an obvious impact on the game. It's like making certain walls destructible with no perceivable sign of being able to be damaged, and no obvious reward, along with making the wall really hard to damage, and wondering why players never try to destroy the walls.

Capnsensible80 : "Go ahead and trim around the ears, I've been growing that one braid back there for years, I've had it since the first time I saw Queensryche!"

jul m : If they wanted the players to behave rationally then maybe a system could have helped which rewards not killing herbivores like a pacifist buff after a few hours of not killing wildlife for no reason or some sort of karma system which punishes unnecessary killing.

Ryan A : Congratulations, you've discovered unregulated capitalism.

person8203 : Pre-launch: we created a beautiful virtual ecology where the animals and plant-life effect each other and develop a natural equilibrium in the game world. This will be wonderful to watch for people playing rationally. Post-launch: players massacred everything faster than it could spawn

Cicero : The problem is that there was a reward no matter how minuscule the players will chase it like no other. Ever kill the passive creatures in World of Warcraft? Because there is no reason to do so.

ParempiJallu : So basically humans acted like...humans have always acted :D

Dazzy Z : So they did exactly how humans have done since the beginning off times. Enter new lands, consume all. The only thing why we don't do this in real life is laws, peace treaties, and education.

Sebastian Riesending : reputation for illegal hunting - guards attacking you - solved

Astro Monkey : I remember running from cows and chickens back in the day :(

eight216 : I gotta say, knowing nothing about Ultima, i saw that coming. Players don't care, they will straight up murder everything that it's possible to murder and if you punish them for doing so they'll complain about it.

Tera : You should check out wakfu, the virtual ecology works great.

Bruce Forte : Another MMO has since tried something like this. It's a French one, called Wakfu

1Raptor85 : I love this video but have to ask, in a video about classic UO why only show video and screenshots of post 2010 UO, the video had absolutely nothing to do with the conversation, lol And not everyone was completely blind to the ecology, many just didn't realize the depth of how far it went or really why it was happening. It was actually pretty well known during that short time that predators, for example, would wander farther from their usual areas as players killed off all the small animals they would normally kill but ignoring them which would sometimes end with some pretty nasty beasts getting hilariously close to town.

Tim Ogul : I think for a virtual ecology to work, it needs two factors UO lacked. 1. The animals need to MASSIVELY outnumber the players, enough that humans can't get to them all, and 2. The animals need to be a serious pain to hunt down. If you can just wander up to them and one-shot them with a sword, then players will do that, but if they can scurry away into the brush and melee combat is mostly impossible and ranged combat is tricky, then players will just not bother with low value animals because higher value ones are more worth the time. There are plenty of modern games I play where I ignore most of the indigenous animals because they take more time and effort to kill than they're worth.

Tyler Sevener : That pipe tho!

Signal15 : This is the only man on earth that can pull off a rat tail

Talas : you need to Aply the 1st Law of the Chicken. Wich is to make it so hard and timeconsuming to kill or catch a chicken that it is no longer worth it. People will still try to do it [mostly just to prove they can] but it helps the balance.

Antichrist : Someone needs to do this in a single player game like fallout/heavy rain

Lily Kunya : No risk, low reward investments are more popular than high risk, high reward investments.

Jasae Bushae : Wakfu has something like this. I wonder how they go about it...

Circe : You have to make these animals much harder to fight or find. That's how it is like in the real world anyways. Also, introduce permadeath.

John Wang : That game on the Apple II+ looked more like Wizardry than Ultima. The original Ultima on the Apple II did not have any internal dungeon scenes, the dungeon on the outdoor map simply blinked while the results of your dungeon diving was randomly generated and displayed. I didn't play a lot of Ultima II as it was about twelve floppies's worth but it was more of a time travel adventure as you traveled from era to era and the continents would shift. Ultima III was the fun one with the lava, the parties and the towns. All of the games were terribly easy to break so I'm not surprised that Ultima Online broke so readily. The herbivores needed to be elusive, skills and experience from creatures needed to be more logarithmic in nature such that they decreased rapidly as you tried to grind on them so that there would be a point where you basically wouldn't get any more points for killing another rabbit and stores would say they already had more than they could sell, the herbivores needed to be very difficult to hit since the main objective of herbivores would be to be elusive to those who would kill them, the herbivores could run away from you within an ever increasing range as your levels progressed etc. Most importantly, outdoor worlds should fork off with very small player counts perhaps even only one player per outdoor world, the only place you really want multiple players to interact would be meeting places such as towns and taverns to form groups to cooperate on a dungeon dive or mission together, once a group was defined then they could perhaps share an outdoor world but group sizes should be limited. The fact that once you were online that the player numbers would far exceed what you could test and would impede enjoyment even if it didn't break anything technically was obvious, even back in the 90's; after all, everyone remembers how difficult the top ten on an arcade machine would be dominated by just a few perhaps one player in the arcades of the 80's and be pissed off about it. Completely open worlds just means someone will spoil your fun. Of course, the fact that many players screw up ecologies is a factor in the real world too. Humanity are locusts to the Earth. Gotta love those old Shugart 5.25" floppy drives but to really be in keeping with the period, you should have a 12 inch Black and White TV connected via an RF modulator on channel 33 for your monitor.

Silent Walker : I knew EXACTLY what the problem was going to be the moment he mentioned what ecology was and I knew exactly how they would try and fix it before he even mentioned any of it.

KonFess : The mistake was not considering the Human players as part of the ecology, in the Apex Predator position. Whatever the players were removing from the world, should have been spawning elsewhere and more plentifully. What I remember about that time and playing was Farming (being a Farmer). That Farmers were suppose to find wild livestock (pigs, chickens, cows, goats, & sheep), but couldn't. Because players worked on Combat skills first before Crafting. So even though the player base was told, and the game mechanics were explained to them, they went off and chose the worst leveling path possible.

chbrules : I'm a database guy and I didn't know where the term sharding came from. Interesting etymology!