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

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When creating Ultima Online, Richard Garriott had grand dreams. Richard and Starr Long planned on implementing a virtual ecology into their massively multiplayer online role-playing game. It was an ambitious system, one that would have cows that graze and predators that eat herbivores. However, once the game went live a small problem had arisen... Connect with Ars Technica: Visit Follow Ars Technica on Facebook: Follow Ars Technica on Google+: Follow Ars Technica on Twitter: How Gamers Killed Ultima Online's Virtual Ecology | War Stories | Ars Technica

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AGE 3 : Spend years creating a virtual living ecosystem. Put humans in it, one week later they kill everything.

CapnTates : They should have made "poaching" illegal, and multiple offenders would get a bounty on their heads for other players to collect. Let the players solve the problem.

Bronze : Is nobody gonna talk about the taxidermy pipe?

r g : This guy knows how God feels.

ZuluKasuki : Give a player a crouch button, and they will teabag.

Fredrick Stepp : I actually played the original game. The players weren’t the problem. The issue at hand was the incentives. First, your armor would decay with fights. The easiest and quickest way to replenish was by killing deer for leather. There is a reason part of the map was named hind valley. Second, if you are killing something that levels your skills at the same time as replenishing then that is a huge win. In other games you got basic xp. In UO there were skills you would level by doing them. Lumberjack, tailor, miner, parry, sword were some examples. If I farmed something that accomplished two things or more at once then I was making the best use of my time. Third, the original UO was PVP with corpse looting. You would almost always be better off to wear cheap farmable armor that is easy to replenish. That created a huge market for GM armor. More on GM armor later. People that didn’t farm for resources would shop for gear. The only time people wore the best gear was in town near the bank, so you didn’t need more than one set of rare mined GM valorite armor. Plus, if you were capped on say tailoring, then you could make grandmaster gear with slightly better stats. People would look for that gear vs non grandmaster gear. In order to be a grandmaster, you spent countless hours farming and crafting the same gear until you got enough skill points which at that time was 100. Regarding skills, you could craft armor and see no skill gain. At higher levels, you might need days of working skills to see a single .1 gain. I don’t blame the players for killing everything. I blame the game for creating a system designed to cause that behavior and later complaining about it.

Mike K : My brother and I played UO back when it was first released and early on the game was complete insanity. How so? Well, what MMO lets you kill NPCs, chop them up, harvest their organs (each organ was named and you could pick up each individually) and then EAT the dead NPC? Seriously, early on we could cook and eat NPCs we killed. Technically, you could kill, chop up, cook, and eat real players too, but it was easier and more efficient to kill NPCs because they had the AI of a blueberry muffin. I remember players being really annoyed when Origin (that's the company, not EA's Steam-like digital platform) patched the game and no longer allowed using NPCs as "walking meals." To be fair, Origin's reasoning was that killing and eating NPCs negatively affected the in-game economy as players needed to eat, so cooking food (one of the non-combat professions was cook or chef) for yourself or selling it was considered relatively important. BTW, remember the organs I mentioned earlier? My brother had inventory bags for each organ in his bank. There were bags that contained lungs, hearts, livers, intestines, etc. Why? Hell if I know, my brother was insane. He used to wear yellow robes and walk around proclaiming that the "Cheeseman is our savior" or some such nonsense while pickpocketing people. He wrote an entire book in-game about it. Yes, you could literally write in books, which was neat, but only crazy people actually put the time into writing anything lengthy. My brother spent most of UO as a thief, which meant half the time he was dead (and thus respawned in plain, ugly gray robes after wandering around as a ghost) due to people screaming "BUY THE BANK GUARDS!" This was a macro people created to do everything important in a town while providing the greatest amount of security from people who'd attack or attempt to rob them. He was also rich. He earned his fortune by stealing books from Lord British's library and then selling them to vendors. Yeah, that actually worked and made gold fast. We have a lot of good memories of UO. Of course, we're remembering the fun stuff, not the servers crapping out (and losing sometimes hours of work) or rampant lag or people being complete a-holes just because they could. Regardless, Origin really misunderstood its player base and naively thought the best of people.

Travis Whelpley : Richard Garriot - We made a mistake by not testing out our online game before putting it out on the market. Bethesda Softworks - Hold my beer.

Jiggle Meats : That system sounds good in a single player survival game, not with a game filled with blood fueled rabbit haters

The cloudBottle : The problem is obvious. The animals were too easy to kill. Imagine trying to chase down a real rabbit or deer with a sword. You will never catch either one and if by some chance you corner them the deer would actually stand a chance of beating you.

Pedro Henrique Leite felix : "We assumed..." 🙈 If tabletop RPG thaught me anything is that you NEVER assume your player's actions based on logic, NEVER

Festus Omega : I like the representation of 1995 with a gramophone.

harmmany214 : From a player perspective, Ultima Online had a virtual ecology however it was not the one the Developers intended.... The ecology system worked- however it was a online Prison Planet ecology, but was player based, not non player based like the developers wanted. Basically it worked like the following: There were natural resources, players would gather them (meat, ore, wood, herbs). New players would gather these, to raise stats, veteran players would be hidden nearby and would rob and or kill you for said resources- in doing so they would be attackable by other players without a karma penalty for a short time. Even more veteran players would be hidden nearby waiting to kill the robbers, because they would incur no morale penalties for doing so, gaining the resources the robbers gained. The even more veteran players were often the worst of the lot, as they were not interested in intervening to stop people from killing or robbing you as they do not gain resources that way, but rather had to wait to kill the karma-penaltyless robber/killer characters. The end result was a new player population performing mostly mundane tasks to level up skills, with a hidden lower population class that would rob and or kill them, and a third even more hidden even more lower population class that would kill the robbers to gain the resources. Ultima Online was a prison ecology.

A Meme Conservator : This is a really long way of saying "There were more players than we thought there'd be."

DrCreepPasta : *puts killable animals in game* *makes it so killing said animals nets players profit* *gets upset that players kill animals* alright

Lion O Cyborg : Humanity's first instinct when given any kind of freedom is to abuse it. It applies to games as well, as another British gamer pointed out: "Give players guns and they shoot old ladies. Give them cars and they run over old ladies. Give them aircraft and they will ascend to the highest point of the map and hurl themselves out the window, falling right on top of an old lady. And if you give them clothing options they will strip down to the most naked they are allowed to and then run around hip thrusting in the faces of old ladies."

J.I : Man, people really put their hearts in their projects back then. MMOs today are pure cashgrabs, done with the minimal effort required.

Koala Nectar : Note to anyone watching this: The game footage in this is from some weirdo faux-3d engine overhaul that came out like 10 years after the time period Richard is describing here. The game literally looked better in 1997 than in 2007

Assbender666 : this dude is living like a movie star wtf

Danicolasol GamingTV : Welcome to the human race

Eko Mojo : Now I guess you know how God feels

Talented Juli : I thought Lord British was actually British. My whole life is a lie.

D. Bagg : This is basically what we've been doing for the past 20 thousand years for real so it should come as no surprise.

Phoenix Vanguard : 5:05 OK... a little explanation on this please.

John Wilkinson : This can easily be overcome. The negative feedback solution: 1. Assume someone will sit there trying to level up by grinding away on forest creatures. This is obvious. 2. Make part of the ecology non-intractable. Likes birds or an invisible statistic measuring the rate that something in the ground will be ready to spawn a rabbit or rabbits spawn a wolf. 3. Half a tree sprite, will-o-wisp, some over-powered creature come down when the forest is "dying". Have it be like the chicken in Zelda.

SD78 : Agent Smith was RIGHT!

Talin Peacy : They should have taken more inspiration from real life and made the herbivores run away faster than players could catch them and maybe made some of them more dangerous to corner such as herding and having AOE stun attacks like knocking the player down so close in fighting would be more of a daunting task.

LD51 : Best game I ever played, hands down.

Draltar Moonwolf : what's with the pipe? game over man....

b00ger901 : Kill two rabbits, a wolf smells the blood and comes. Kill 5 deer, a pack of wolves tracks the smell of blood on the player. Kill 10 herbavories, a bear is attracted to the player... and so on and so forth. It gives risk to not taking risk and being a living parasite.

Joseph Mueller : Give people a thought provoking video on a mildly interesting detail, and they will turn into edgy moralist nerds in the comment section...

nostrum : This was amazing to watch and listen.Appreciated.

Josh G : My favorite part of the game is when the bear called the player a low life right before it died. 3:47


elf boy : Humans are doing this to the main map of the earth too

garhent : The rat tail, WTF bud?

GimpedLoco : Summary: Design your game assuming every single player is a psychopathic murder hobo XD

SiGhast : "Starr Long: Co-Creator of Ultima" That's misleading. He co-created Ultima Online, but the Ultima series was there a decade and a half earlier.

Cha Leowin : I would piss my parents off 5 times a days using our only phone line to connect to Ultima Online. Good times.

Çerastes : ... so basically you created an ecosystem which rewarded players for killing everything without any downsides. And you act surprised when players do what is efficient? OK. So why put an incentive to kill herbivores like rabbits in the first place? Most players wouldn't kill them if they wouldn't give you anything.

Ricardo Gonzalez : Ars Technica, none of the ingame footage shown in the video makes honor to that 1995 era Richard talks about. Makes me sad.

Igor Sandu : If players could kill the grass - they will do it too! :-) But seriosly - if player can kill an animal and get XP, skin and level up some skills - of course they will kill.

Qull : Even real world ecology can't keep up with human.

Pistol : This could've been fixed by making animals fast enough to run away when hit with a low damage weapon. Also making enemies harder might've helped, can't eradicate what you can't survive.

GamerGeek : I loved this game, still do thanks to ServUO yet there is something missing... Oh yea, my ideas for this game are better. I bet this game could be resurrected in a much better more Diablo III style form.

roland : 5:04 i want that i want that now

Zimmerman : Richard Garriott, master of the rat tail, sometimes blessing us with dual rat tails. Don't let age, or fashion stand in your way Richard.

Born2DoubleUp : just came across this channel watching the westwood studios video on command and conquer. subbed and definitely going to check out more!

Rich Smith : Games. Meet humanity.