Thursday, July 17, 2008

A refreshing U.Hall post

Every now and then I run into a gem of a post on U.Hall - Unfortunately they usually get very little attention as people tend to like posts that allow them to simply react instead of thinking and then reacting. Here is one such post that really highlights the direction that Ultima Online should be charting (in my opinion),

UO is Community: Three Ways to make UO a better game

by Masuo Kenji (Writer of Mythbusting Siege and Former Siege Reporter)

From my amount of online game-hopping (I am now back in UO for the long haul now), observations of online game community interaction, development and design, I am listing some steps here that Mythic can use to improve and promote UO. This isn't a list about improving certain features of the game, it's more of a general series of guidelines that the development team and community representatives of Mythic can use. I originally made this to be a lengthy article, but I decided to trim it down to three major points.

Feel free to add constructive feedback to this thread. Please, no "They'll never listen" posts. I am sure Mythic reads these posts more than you think.

Three ways to make UO a better game:

1) Mythic must realize (I am sure they do to a certain extent) that UO is a niche game, that attracts a certain audience and market (ex. Sandbox gameplay fans, older age groups, etc). In order to gain new players, they must really work to make it the best game in its niche.

They should sit down and make a list what makes UO unique from other games (ex. Skill systems, sandbox gameplay, depth, community and interaction between players), and work on making those unique features even more refined, defined, and better. (This is the way popular niche games like EVE-Online have improved and increased in subscribers over the years.)

Instead of making UO play "catch up" to other games, UO needs to stand out from the pack by re-defining, improving, and promoting its best core features. It's sometimes good to look at other games and take what's good from them, but remember that this game is an Ultima game, and it needs to show the world what an Ultima game is all about.

2) Remember that UO is a community game. Even the minor actions of a player can affect the greater whole. Sometimes I noticed EA Japan advertised the interaction between players in UO, about the power of the community of the game. There were official EA Japan UO sites that promoted the game by showing interviews with members of shard communities, and the real people behind them. I don't see this advertised enough on the western side, for some reason. Sure, you'll see some of this stuff on UO Stratics, but they need to put this kind of stuff on the front page of UO Herald. Currently, what's only advertised are a few blurbs about gameplay features and the KR client. Show the world that your game is unique and diverse, show the great things about this game that players can do that they can't do in other games.

What's a fairly easy way to get more recognition about your game? Officially film the UO town halls, edit them, and post them on the UO website (or YouTube). Don't rely on just UO players to do so. It'll make UO players enjoy seeing their shard celebrities making public appearances and asking questions, and show to the world that Mythic cares about their players, unlike other games.

That brings us to #3.

3) Customer service and interacting with your game's community. Staff at all levels should take a more active involvement in the community of the game. In the past, devs and representatives alike would appear fairly frequently in game, talking directly to the players and adding a personal touch to their customer service. Today, there is this "forbidden city" element where we send off questions to the palace, and we get a few answers back.

I know that Staff-Player interaction has decreased over the years, due to the cutback of Seers and Counselors, EMs, and GMs turning into game answering machines instead of interactive members of their shard communities.

If UO wants to stand out from other online games, the interaction between Mythic and UO players must be more open. I understand, that the dev team and community representatives are very busy, they work hard at their job, they want the best for this game, and that they do listen.

The problem, is that the players do not recognize that they are listening. They don't understand that they're working hard on the game. This must be remedied.

The reason why UHall folk are a bit testy, is because they feel alienated.

Even if you can't provide any information, say something like, "I don't have a response at this time, but I'll get back to you soon on this."

I see this sometimes, but not often enough.

Remember to interact with your community. You also don't need to be an answering machine. Talk with them about other things. Heck, make a post about that Tuna melt you had for lunch, what you like about UO, talk about the work that went behind something cool you put into the game, or something silly you saw on the Internet. You don't need to wait for someone to interview you. Show us that you are a person just like the rest of us!

It was refreshing to read the fairly recent post from Robert Mull. Even though it didn't answer questions that we'd frequently ask about the game, it was funny and amusing, and answered our internal questions about some of the people behind the game. It shows that they are human beings like us, and that they have passion for the game.

UO is COMMUNITY. Remember that, and use that to your advantage.


I particularly like his thoughts on sandbox play style. I think this is what has been missing for some time now from all the recent expansions and patches. We need more systems that allow us to create things ourselves. Not simply linear systems, although they have their place.

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