Judgment Day for Ultima Online

Lord British and company take a beating from readers who feel Ultima Online's bugs, lag, and server crashes aren't worth the bucks.

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Buyers of Ultima Online certainly benefited from Origin's gracious offer to let them play the title for free for the first month.

But what did UO players do when confronted with the moment of truth: subscribe in earnest and pay a US$9.95 monthly fee for unlimited play, or pass?

Our reader's poll sought responses from readers who have been there, at that fork in the road where the decision is made to either continue or hang up the keyboard.

Surprisingly, of the approximately 250 responses received through Tuesday morning, 70 percent of respondents said they had declined to become paying customers when their free month expired. One writer explained: "Bugs, lag, bugs, warping, bugs, busy signals, bugs, stupid design mistakes, bugs, getting booted off of servers, bugs, zero customer service, bugs, $55 cover charge plus monthly rate? No way this game justifies $9.95 a month. No way."

One thing we noticed about the responses was the detail contained in almost every e-mail message. Granted, Ultima Online is no ordinary title, but 500 words to tell us how you feel about the validity of paying ten bucks a month? (If you think we're paying by the word for these responses, well, we're not!)

Also obvious was the depth of feelings the game has generated in readers. Most readers bought the title with the highest of hopes and in most cases equally high expectations. Some players - in spite of the problems - felt it was worth it. "Ultima Online is the kind of game that is a way of life; you hate it, but you can't bear to survive without thriving upon it.... What would life be without UO?" one reader volunteered.

The financial commitment is serious. And therein lies the rub. The demand for value from Ultima Online exceeds the usual expectation attached to other PC titles. And everyone draws the line somewhere: "My patience ran out as soon as my free month did," said a hopeful gamer.

"I came to that fork in the road far faster than I had liked, and when it came down to the wire I had to cancel my account," said another.

Given the unscientific methods of research here, it is hard to say whether this small pool of GameSpot readers is indicative of broader sentiment. And even though the numbers indicate substantial dissatisfaction, there was always the voice of the truly loyal bracketing the notes of complaint. As one gamer who decided to keep his subscription put it, "I think that UO will continue to grow into one of the best games ever made, and I don't want to miss any of it."

Here are few of the response we received. Thanks to all of you who responded to our news poll.

The link at the bottom of this page will take you to the first group of letters.

So what'll be. Pay the toll? Or bail?LETTER #1: STICKING AROUND

Hail and well met!

In one simple word, yes. I'd happily pay twice the price. The reason that I state that is because I am an avid role-player. UO gives a context in which I can truly exercise my mind, where I can meet challenges of the imagination, and where I can meet dozens, if not hundreds, of like minded people from all walks of life and many different countries.

Ultima Online is an experiment; there hasn't been anything quite like it before. If you take the approach that it's just a richer Diablo, or a massive Quake, (both of which I also play from time to time) then it's a failure. Since it was never intended as such.

Yes, there are still bugs, there are still performance issues, and the game mechanics system has a number of flaws. I tend to ignore them, since the object for me is not to "win the game." I did that the first time I played. For those that approach the game thinking that the purpose is to have the highest "strength," or the biggest collection of "armor," or kill the most players, I feel they've been cheated. Not by OSI, but by its own experiences, or lack thereof.

There is nothing impressive about having a faster computer, or a better Internet connection, or even being able to figure out the fastest way to kill another player. UO is a virtual society, where respect is earned by actions, or by speech, or a combination of both. It is not a Diablo, where the only object in the game was to kill.

Fare travelling, and good luck to thee.Mark, a.k.a. Elawyn of YewLETTER #2: CANCEL

In answer to your poll, I chose to cancel. It killed me, but I did it, and my reasons were myriad. For a start, I'd been with Ultima Online since the beta, back when the system requirements were MUCH lower. I went from a Pentium 75 (my original machine), to a Pentium 124MMX (my original machine with an Overdrive processor), to a Pentium 233MMX (an entirely new machine), and still was getting miserable game performance. I'd even upgraded to a K56Flex modem and 4 meg video card for good measure.

I know my ISP isn't to blame, because all my other friends whom I'd persuaded to join UO (and I now apologize profusely to them) were experiencing the exact same lag, latency, and crash problems with their own providers. One of my gaming pals uses a cable modem on a P2-300MMX and STILL can't beat the lag. So $1000 and four months later, all my efforts just left me broke and frustrated.

My other reason for canceling was Origin's horrendous customer support. After e-mailing in countless bugs and play issues I'd experienced during my fruitless time in Britannia, only ONE of my messages elicited a response - a form letter, which addressed none of my concerns. Add to that Lord British's smug letter to the UO community ("Our servers are fine. What's wrong withyou?") and the AGONIZINGLY poor in-game support, and you wind up with a corporate mess almost as tedious and gnarled as UO's beleaguered, oft-patched code.

-David B.LETTER #3: OUTTA HERE

I bailed out on UO. I played for about six straight weeks, and while I think I got my money's worth as far as time spent playing, I still walk away feeling ripped off. I built my character up to Grandmaster Swordsman, but after that, there was nothing to do. After the "fixing" of player killing, it only made the player killers find legal ways to kill. And so the cycle goes.

The lag became unbearable after a time as well, and compared to a well-designed Internet game (Diablo, for example), it soon became ridiculous. I realized that I was wasting my life playing a bad, slow game with no story, and had to quit. I hope the next online RPG that comes along can build on what UO has begun, but for now, I can only say I'm disappointed.

-Kody D.

LETTER #4: LUV YA LB

Is Ultima Online Worth Paying for?Yes. Lord, Yes.Please understand, UO is not for wimps. It is the hardest computer RPG I have ever played, and my history goes back to the days of the Apple II+. But it's fun. A lot of fun. Bugs and all.

-Robert V.LETTER #5: NEGATIVO

Well, I actually bought the Charter Edition of the game and therefore had three free months of play time. I cancelled after my second month. To sum it up, Ultima Online isn't a game, It is a virtual world, with its own laws and rules. This simulation (I won't call it a game, it isn't even near) had perfectly replicated the rules of a police state. It's hard not to feel as if someone is watching over you. If you thought the U.S. justice system was a joke just wait until you experience Britannia's! Instant death to anyone who commits an action seen as anti-productive to the tyrannical Richard Garriott. Even following the rules that OSI has set for the players doesn't mean safety. I can recall many times that the Game Masters summoned guards to remote places (Including Buccaneers Den, a place supposedly guard free) to kill my character. This shows me how much OSI cares about customer service, not at all. It is also quite disturbing to see posts by one of their lead designers (DD) calling you a jerk.

-Negative a.k.a. Nick FieldsLETTER #6: AFFIRMATIVE

Yes, it is worth it.

There aren't many games out there that give you chills when you're fighting a hard monster, shakes when you've successfully killed the evil person who attacked you, intrigue as you figure out the mystery of the Maze.

There are many bugs, and seemingly more with every patch - but with every patch they fix many bugs. I would relate this to poor testing - not poor development. They are working on enhancements already when they should be working on getting bug fixes done, but I would relate this to poor management, not poor development.

Bottom line is, they have a long ways to go. But they are far, far closer than anyone else. It's fun, and it's worth the 10 dollars.

-Chris S.

LETTER #7: NO WAY

I bought it and signed up to pay from the beginning and have sorely regretted it, the game on the back of the box is awesome, perhaps better than Final Fantasy VII, but the game I installed and since canceled is only for one who can live on a computer - mostly for lag. -ParadoxLETTER #8: SORRY LB

When I first entered the world of Sosaria I fell in love. It soon became apparent that this game had me hooked like no other game since Bards Tale. What terrific fun being in a world of fellow gamers (and lamers) and interacting with them. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.

But the experience quickly became frustrating. Lag reduced the game to a two-step tango making death while frozen an all too common occurrence. Pk's ruled the land when I first started playing back in August, making it very hard to earn a living and survive to the higher character levels.

After three months of solid gameplay I was finally a Great Lord Grand Master Warrior, the highest title in the game, unfortunately it only lasted a few days. Some of my fellow lamers found a notoriety bug and exploited it to become over night great lords, so OSI decided the best way to rectify the situation was to wipe everyone's notoriety and start all over. Ahhhhhhh, three months down the drain.

The worst was yet to come, shortly after the notoriety wipe I equipped a magic Viking sword, which did the opposite of what it's supposed to do, lowering my tactics skill from 100 to 85, Ahhhhhhhhh, three months down the drain. I was now a neutral adept warrior due to two very nasty bugs. That was the final straw for me, I worked very hard to create a powerful "lawful good" character who survived stinky liches, wicked air elementals and even a 15 minute battle with a drake, he survived onslaughts by hoards of pk's and lame magic arrow bug cheaters only to be weakened by bugs.

It was fun while it lasted but enough is enough; the entire experience has turned me off from any further Origin products much as Outpost soured me to Sierra. Sure a game of this magnitude and originality is expected to have a few problems but this is ridiculous. Since I've quit the lamers I have found a way to "dupe" items creating instant riches for anyone who tries it.

Diablo was a great experience ruined by dupers and cheaters; UO is right in line with Diablo except with more bugs and lag than you've ever imagined possible.

Steel MetalEx-Great Lord Grand Master WarriorLETTER #9: YOU KIDDING?

Are you kidding? I deleted the thing off my hard drive after three frustrating hours and cut my losses at the $50 I paid for that horrible game.

Yours, Scott

LETTER #10: EASY DECISION

I felt compelled to write my opinion of Ultima Online since I have just received my first charge on my credit card.

The decision to stay was an easy one. I have been a fan of Ultima for many years (started on my Apple IIc), and Ultima Online has been no exception. Although it has had its share of disappointments - bugs, time warps, player-exploited bugs, cries for help falling on deaf ears, non-role-players, and just plain ol' senseless murders, it has also had its shining moments of glory. I have found some wonderful people online and have made many companions in the world of Britannia.

Although I make my living as a meager carpenter, my heart has always followed the ways of magic and those brief moments where I can save enough to purchase loads of regents or go dungeon crawling with friends, which makes it all worth it in the end. There's always something grander to reach for in Ultima, and it's not always "more spells or better weapons." Often it includes saving a friend from the clutches of doom or sending a wanted player to his or her grave.

I think this is as close as we will get to a virtual interactive life until they fire up the first holodeck. The pendulum swings from grinding and gnashing of teeth at the bugs, to shouts of joy as that last liche falls to dust and one places one's first home. I'm happy to be along for the ride.

-Ardanna of Occlo.LETTER #11: IT'S WORTH IT

I've been playing UO for a few weeks now, and I am looking forward to continue paying and playing. For me it's $9.95 a month that's well spent.

Yes, UO has its problems, lag and server availability chief among them, but I find myself continually amazed at the breadth and depth of things you can do in Britannia. Where else could you go looking for feathers, get chased by an Orc Mage as you try to kill the four chickens near him for said feathers, fletch some arrows, go to town and sell those arrows to other players, buy your character a new dress and have someone dye it her favorite color (light green), get invited to a birthday party near the bank in town, sit down to cake and ale, get drunk, and hang out with a dozen people having lots of laughs?

If a player were to get in the rut of only working to increase stats to get better weapons to kill bigger monsters etc., etc., then IMHO they're missing 95 percent of what UO is about. This is the first computer-based game where I've really felt I have the freedom to fully role-play a character. I'm having a great time just making and selling bows and arrows. At some point I may go off for some more traditional adventuring, but in UO I don't HAVE to. The game is rich enough to give me plenty of other things to do if I'd like.

The UO staff have clearly been working overtime to create this game, and they continue to work their butts off fine-tuning and enhancing it. I for one have no problem sending them a monthly fee to keep UO thriving and growing.

-Oryx the Novice Bowyer (Atlantic Shard)LETTER #12: NO (WE THINK)

My decision regarding paying for Ultima Online can be illustrated in this allegory.

Imagine that you are an earnest young person living in a far off foreign country, and a man comes up to you, and promises opportunity and fun in the far off, almost mythical land "America". To agree, you pay him a big chunk of your savings and go to New York.

You work in a sweatshop, sewing skullcaps and leather goods all day long, and finally on payday, you decide to treat yourself with a good dinner at the Plaza Hotel. You decide to take the shortcut, and walk in Central Park, and get mugged by ten heavily armed thugs and lose all your money.

You start all over again, building up your savings, and at the end of the month, you boss asks you for a "privilege-of-working-for-him" tax. Now please tell me what decision I have made.

-Cie Siyavash Sharp

LETTER #12: NO (WE KNOW)

I cancelled my UO account because the game does not come close to meeting my expectations. Sure the graphics are remarkable but a game requires more than graphics. I thought this would be related to other Ultimas in more than geography. For me, there is no purpose to the game. I am still waiting or OSI to go public with a statement that describes the purpose of the game and then program it into the game. The game is biased towards player killing as a result of the lack of purpose (just experience the inept "notoriety" system and you will see what I mean - you cannot even defend a friend without penalty). I could name many other shortcomings like lag, a continued beta-like environment, rude customer service, etc. BUT the biggest reason I have cancelled my account and will likely never purchase another product from OSI is this:

They have a new rule that would attempt censorship of people who pay for and play the game. If a person posts a "bug" (which is just another word to describe programming errors, which by their very nature may be fixed with competent programming) or even tells another about a game "bug" then that person may have his/her account cancelled.

Well OSI can behave like Nazis if they want to, but I will not ever support any corporation who attempts to threaten and coerce people or to attempt stifling public information. America is a land of freedom, and to tolerate this from a corporation let alone anyone else is appalling to me.

-John J

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