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PC Games (Games) Role Playing (Games) Entertainment Games

Ultima X Odyssey - Wisdom In Cancellation? 43

Posted by simoniker
from the second-time's-a-charm dept.
Thanks to Corpnews.com for its discussion of the history of the Ultima MMO franchise in the content of the recent cancellation of MMO title Ultima X: Odyssey. The author argues of the cancellation: "This isn't a surprise. No, really. More fundamentally, all this points to the fact that somebody in EA's headcheese department is scared stiff of potentially sapping subscribers from the only truly successful title [Ultima Online] to come out of the company's development sweatshops." He claims: "Furthermore, all this comes at a time when the amount of 'surefire bets' in the industry seems to be dropping exponentially. Miniscule subscription bases for former hot-ticket games like Horizons and Shadowbane, coupled with disappointing numbers for Star Wars Galaxies - at last count, the game widely predicted to crack the MMO industry open and bring in a new rush of players... make it easier than ever for suits to pull the plug on projects which require millions of dollars to even hit the shallow waters of beta." Where does EA go from here with the online Ultima franchise, given that this is the second cancelled online Ultima title?
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Ultima X Odyssey - Wisdom In Cancellation?

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  • by TreyBastian (791395) <trey@b-realm.com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @12:31AM (#9618702) Homepage
    Being an old Ultima Online Vet I have to say it was cancelled for good reasons. Ultima Online was once a Great Game that turned into Diablo II with the Age of Shadows Expansion Pack. What it apears to me is that the developers are trying to revive this once great game. The new publich coming out even prooves the effort by balancing the Player vs Player system.
    • How is this modded as funny? It's true.
      I quit playing Ultima Online because Age of Shadows completely fucked up PVP. Essentially, if you wanted to be able to compete at all, you had to have lots of gold. Something that simply wasn't true before AoS. With AoS it ceased to be player vs player and became item vs item.

      I took about a year off from UO then started playing on free servers. I HIGHLY recommend any and all disgruntled UO players looking for a free and better alternative check out UOGateway [uogateway.com] which wil
  • Madden? (Score:5, Funny)

    by the_skywise (189793) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @12:46AM (#9618791)
    What about EA's sports franchise? Isn't that still a profit center for EA? Or is that losing money as well?
  • by bluemeep (669505) <bluemeep AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @01:12AM (#9618923) Homepage
    They've tried generic fantasy ganes, generic sci-fi games and completely off-the-wall longshots. Only one of them even remotely pulls it's weight and that's because it's one of the major milestones of the industry. Just save us all a lot of grief and quit hemorrhaging money on MMOs already.

    Hell, give up on online play completely. Throw some cash at a few promising single player games! They still exist, after all. All of these project cancellations have really hurt my already shaky opinion of EA -- to the point where I might just make a concious effort to avoid their titles. But if some of the developers under their wing can cook up something really outstanding with their full support (and negligable meddling), it'd go a long way towards turning that opinion around.

    I'm sure there's a Madden Online joke in there somewhere...

    • The point is, in much of their offline content, you're just looking at playing against AI, that bugbear of the sequels press release. People are so blase about 'improved AI' being stamped on games that the only realistic alternative is to use real people. I don't speak from experience but rather from reading stories here, that most MMORPGs have fundamental flaws, and the genre is very much still in its infancy. Unfortunately due to the cost model involved, you really don't get that many chances to do it rig
      • AI alone isn't the be-all-end-all of offline play, though. I'll remember a game that had an incredible story far longer than a game that has baddies that run for cover slightly more intelligently.
  • by hoferbr (707935) <fabiomNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @01:18AM (#9618949)
    Are the companys finally realizing that there aren't enought hardcore gamers to sustain all MMORPG titles?
    Half of the MMORPG currently in development are doomed to vanish after six months of relative success.
  • Obvious really. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheLink (130905) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @02:04AM (#9619176) Journal
    They still can have new games and they should before the old stuff gets "real old". But what they need is a new game that enhances the "network effects"- more and more players playing the "same game".

    So it has to be compatible with the existing game. e.g. even if it's a new world with different rules etc, the players can be migrated between them, (and probably communicate with each other between worlds - pick the right cost- heck link the "Ether resistance" to the CPU/bandwidth usage if you want) e.g. wormhole/teleport or whatever. Let them retain their attributes and some of their stuff (you could force them to leave behind some items- can't take everything back in the old world).

    If you want you could even force them to spend X gp/credits/USD/items etc to travel between the worlds. Or make it a quest or something. Come up with a story.

    Maybe some things become transformed into other things during the transfer (greater risk/chance of arbitrage opportunities if you do that).

    If lots of players move to the new world, then you can retask/reassign the resources for the old world for the new world.

    It is better for you to risk cannibalizing your old game than for SOMEONE ELSE to cannibalize yours.

    Perhaps I totally don't get it coz I'm not an MMORPG player or designer. But I don't see why my idea is any worse than frustrating their _developers_. Good developers/artists want to see their work become reality, bad ones are relieved if it never does :).

    Cancel stuff enough times and they'll make a new game - for a competitor.
  • I've never really liked them, but I got to play Horizons in beta testing, and I hated every second of it. There's absolutely nothing engaging about it, nor is there a desire to progress forward. A lot of us have what you call "jobs" and are unable to dedicate 5+ hours a day to an online world.

    I also beta tested for Planetside, and while it was more enjoyable than Horzions, it still didn't catch my interest.

    I guess I'll never understand how people can tolerate EverQuest. Ugh.
    • Horizons is not exactly a shining example of what an online RPG could/should be.

      In many ways, Everquest isn't, either. It, like Ultima Online, just arrived on the current scene fairly early and got a lot of attention. It was also more polished than games like Meridian 59, The Realm, Dark Sun Online, and some others that aren't coming to mind currently.

      If you ever want to get at the core of what a MMORPG could/should be doing to be fun, find a MUD that you like, if you can. Most MMORPGS are patterned af
  • by servognome (738846) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @02:36AM (#9619300)
    The execs are learning the differences between single player games and MMOs are similar to those of movies and TV shows.
    Single player games are 1-time experiences similar to movies, you play the game, you enjoy it, then the next game with better graphics and physics comes along and you play that. You can have tons of titles co-exist. Far Cry isn't killing the customer base for Doom 3 or half life 2, in fact people look forward to see how can they one-up what far cry did.
    Contrast this with the persistant experience of MMOs. Its more like a TV series like Friends or the Simpsons. People invest lots of time, they form relationships with the characters, they even alter their life to accomadate the schedule. In this scenario there are limited titles that can co-exist. By their nature you can't have a bunch of "hit" MMOs. Once an MMO has claimed a consumer base, its very difficult to convert them.
    Even followups to popular MMOs can fail (much like TV spinoffs) AC2 wasn't able to fully capitalize on the popularity of AC1. I have a number of friends who will quit MMOs altogether, or take a break, when EQ1 gets shutdown. They don't consider EQ2 to be a continuation of their EQ1 experiences.
    Just like every TV exec came up with their own version of Survivor, most of which have been cancelled, most of the MMOs that will come out are doomed to cancellation.
    • Excelent point, too bad I don't have any mod points today :-(

      I'd like to take your insight a few steps further though. Specifically the bit about us being able to invest our time&money (and hence pay for) multiple single-experience titles (like movies or single-player games) but no more than a select few ongoing experiences like TV-series or MMO's, and even that we take a break from or completely quit once we don't have the time to shell out.

      What that amounts to is that the MMO industry is significant
      • Soaps & sitcoms (Score:3, Insightful)

        by LondonLawyer (609870)
        I disagree that MMO is necessary "a bad bad bad business idea". I do think the approach is still wrong.

        It's unrealistic to imagine that a large and complex online environment can be built, provided and maintained for a large player base without costing the developers big bucks. The automatic reaction is to charge players to buy the game and then latch onto them with a monthly fee. Games are pushed out the door early to try to claw back cash from the initial purchasers and suffer because players don't pe
        • Re:Soaps & sitcoms (Score:3, Insightful)

          by 2TecTom (311314)
          Ok, ok enough already. You've made your points. I agree, MMO's are more short-lived. However, I believe the whole concept is being approached the wrong way. I believe the problem isn't in the MMO's, it is in the corporate model.

          Actually, I'm surprised that no one here has suggested an open community development effort. Why not create open standards, engines and objects. GPL and copyleft everything. Let Google handle the who's who and rankings. Then stand back and watch the MMO's grow.

          Who knows, maybe that
          • Actually, I'm surprised that no one here has suggested an open community development effort
            These games exist, there's MUDs & MUSHs [mudconnect.com] that are open sourced. The underlying concepts of MMOs are based on what goes on in MUDs/MUSHs.
            Where things get complex is when you throw a 3D world graphics engine, artists, support staff for couple hundred thousand users, and equipment on top of everything.
            The business model the companies have is to gamble and try and get a hit game. If you get one you're in the money
            • I say, let the users develop and support it themselves. Run it democratically. Use distributed computing and peer to peer clients. Involve the academic, W3C and the open source communities.

              Perhaps I'm being idealistic, but I think it's better than being unrealistic. Personally, I think the business model will never really work. After all, no one is ever really happy living in a company town.
        • Re:Soaps & sitcoms (Score:3, Informative)

          by MikShapi (681808)
          Agreed, however I think you're missing the important point here.

          The ENTRY PRICE you pay for a sitcom is a few bucks a month and 45 minutes a week.

          The entry price you pay for an MMO is a few bucks a month and an inconceivably disproportionate amount of time a week. It's the latter element that more and more people realize as the real price of an MMO, and are consequently unwilling to pay it.

          That's why quite a few people I know who played MMO's for a while just quit (and I doubt if they'll be coming back).
          • The entry price you pay for an MMO is a few bucks a month and an inconceivably disproportionate amount of time a week. It's the latter element that more and more people realize as the real price of an MMO, and are consequently unwilling to pay it.

            I understand MMOs to be more than just MMORPGs. Granted many RPGs are heavily skewed towards powergamers but I'm not convinced this holds true for MMO games where skill is more of an issue. Shooters, fight games, racing games, space sims for instance. There ar
    • MMORPGs are just like horror movies: most are derivative of the first one to come out, and have gotten quite stale. Sure, each may bring a neat idea to the table or have a cool bit scene that we like, but the later ones grow stale more quickly.

      Basically, game has been done before.

      -Jeff

      P.S. I do think there's hope: I once told someone if you took the character generation and gameplay of City of Heroes and combined it with the content, world, and economy of FFXI, you'd have a fantastic game. Most games
      • MMORPGs are just like horror movies: most are derivative of the first one to come out, and have gotten quite stale.
        This is exactly like television, everything is derivative to the point of annoyance. How many "multiple choice your way to millionare shows" were there, now we have reality TV on every single channel. There are like 6 shows with hot chick/guy picks who they want to marry out of a group of hot chicks/guys. 10 reality dating shows, one even hosted by a loser in one of those marriage shows! O
  • EA has been dangling its toes in the online market for too long. They've taken a few strange steps in that way, and have not supported sure fire winners (Hello, EA Sports on XBOX LIVE? Cmon, even I'd buy an XBox to play that).

    UO was published by Origin in the right place at the right time, and that sort of success is very hard to mirror. EQ has done it, as has DAoC to some degree. There is also Ragnarok and Lineage (1, not 2) to remember, so don't even begin to suggest that there isnt money out there
  • by pommaq (527441) <straffaren@noSpAm.spray.se> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @05:40AM (#9619820) Homepage
    Why does each and every publisher need to have some grandiose MMORPG in their line-up? It makes no sense - the market is small, the maintenance costs are high, and with the treadmill setup everyone's using there really isn't room for more than one MMORPG (sometimes not even one, since most of them want you to put in at least an hour or two a day) per potential user. Totally senseless, it's been like that since the start, and I can't help but chuckle condescendingly every time a new UO/EQ clone goes down the toilet. Love seeing that herd mentality get punished, even if it probably means tighter budgets and less risk from the EA mooks in the future.

    Now, if you really have to make a massively multiplayer game, why not try some new ideas? Raph Koster's word is far from law, games like Puzzle Pirates have shown that level grind isn't the only way of doing things and that it's possible to have a vibrant online community without levels, without requiring you to be unemployed and/or a college student to be successful, and without beards and dwarves. The MMORPG scene consists 99% of me-too games and we really don't need any more of those. So, I'm not crying over Ultima X. Its predecessor was revolutionary in many ways and deserved its success, but honestly - what would this game bring to the table that wasn't already there? Creativity, please!
    • by 0x0d0a (568518) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @07:01AM (#9620102) Journal
      Why does each and every publisher need to have some grandiose MMORPG in their line-up? It makes no sense - the market is small, the maintenance costs are high, and with the treadmill setup everyone's using there really isn't room for more than one MMORPG (sometimes not even one, since most of them want you to put in at least an hour or two a day) per potential user.

      I agree that the market is vastly over-saturated. However, there are reasons why each publisher can be easily convinced that an MMORPG is worth the risks:

      * Very, very good antipiracy protection -- you're selling a service, not really the game.

      * A subscription model. Aside from making more money per year than a per-copy game, it's easy to get people "subscribed".

      * Good, free AIs. Oh, there are disadvantages to having humans running other NPCs (such as out-of-context behavior), but major advantages. People are smart, understand commands in English and can organize tactics. They can become friends (and hence increase the value of the game). If there is competition, there is generally tough competition out there -- in most single-player games, it's possible to beat/out-manuver all the computer AIs.

      * A channel to make more sales. If you have a strong media channel to your customers, you can freely push ads to other products that you're making.

      * A predictable revenue source. If you have sales numbers for each month, you have nice, predictable numbers to work with to show investors and whatnot.

      * Greater freedom from deadlines. If a developer doesn't have to finish all of a game by a deadline -- he can build another country while being paid by revenues from initial sales -- he has the ability to work on a project that is uniquely his for a long period of time.

      * Planned obsolescence. There is now a lot of video game content out there. Every person that is still spending time playing Tetris or Pac-Man or Super Metroid is not buying new games. Unless you can somehow springboard new sales from the old, having people continuing to play your game is *bad* -- it means that your market is less interested in buying your next game. I can play a fifteen-year-old videogame for most systems today. With an MMORPG, once the other players are gone, the game is "gone", and a player has nothing to do but buy the next product from the publisher.

      * Gambling mentality -- the nature of MMORPGs has shown to exploit well addictive personalities. Vendors love addictive types of people -- they will do a marvelous job of shoveling money into the company's pockets forever. MMORPGs generally have no "end", continually have new content, and generally do a good job of forcing people to *start* playing a little bit per time period, making it easy to play a *lot* per time period without an effort of will.
  • It should be pretty obvious that UO is not going to become a better game any time soon. If EA had any truly ambitious plans, they would have photoshopped some screenshots for us by now. The whole "work on UO" think is FUD, I just can't figure out how they've justified not firing people.

    The sapping subscribers argument in this article is pretty dumb though. It should be clear by now that anyone who is playing Ultima Online is either not interested in 3D MMOs or has the cash to be willing to pay for multiple
    • Oops slashdot doesn't like less than signs, the formula was $Z less than $X + 2*$Y, you lose money.
    • Re:pretty obvious (Score:2, Informative)

      by KDR_11k (778916)
      I just can't figure out how they've justified not firing people.

      Easy, they hired other companies (like Liquid Development) to do the work and just told them their contract is over. The company stopped working on UXO and worked on another of the numerous projects they were hired to work on. There's noone who could be fired over this.
    • When they moved from Austin to CA a few months ago, most of the UXO team did not make the move/where not offered the op to move.

      They didn't fire anyone/let anyone go when they announced this because they ALREADY did it.
  • Horizons (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kyrthira (666470)
    Sure, Horizons has lost some of its player base. A new MMORPG -always- loses some of its player base after a few months, as some get bored and move on to other things.

    Some of the recent dropoff was due to the layoffs that occurred in the staff. Now that they've consolidated, they're working a little more on communicating with the players on what they want to see. One of the biggest problems was that the dev's never listened to the players, and they're at least trying to fix that now. There's talk of se
    • You're absolutly right, the horizons dev never listened to the players. They should never have released the game when they did. Every beta tester (myself included) knew that the game wasn't ready, yet it was released anyway. They tried to make statements like "We don't want you to see all the content in the beta" but what they meant was "We'll start making content sometime soon hopefully."
      The result was a game that was wholely uninteresting at launch, save for the mildly amusing dragon class, which qu
      • Now the devs -are- listening. Some of the changes will probably stay -- who's ever completely happy with a game? -- but at least they seem willing to listen and make other changes that we want.

        I got in about two months after release, and I've played since. They've made some pretty serious changes since I joined.

    • I hate to burst your bubble, but Horizons will always be a bottom of the barrel game just scraping by on the margins. More likely, they will tank within a year or two.

      Horizons runs purely off of the Everquest model. Now before you get your panties in a bundle over me calling Horizons Everquest, realize what the Everquest model is. It isn't the silly little features an experienced MMORPG player recognizes. It is the basic and fundimental game play. The fundamental gameplay of Horizons is the same as Ev
      • Get my panties in a bundle? What, like your comments bother me and I'm going to go run in a corner and cry? Everyone's entitled to their opinion. There's no need to be rude about it. I don't really agree that it's like everquest, but I'm sure you're thinking of different aspects than I am. I don't look at hardware and engines and such. I play to craft stuff.

        Maybe the game goes under in a year. Big deal. I've played and enjoyed it, I like it, I'll be sad to see it go if and when it does. Until then
  • Star Wars Galaxies... the game widely predicted to crack the MMO industry open and bring in a new rush of players

    I don't think we've seen that game yet. I think it's coming this year though: World of Warcraft

  • by e.m.rainey (91553) <erik.rainey@name> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @03:03PM (#9625052) Homepage
    Since when was STG suppose to be the big thing?

    Yes I was excited about it until I found out that I couldn't be a Jedi (a 0.002% chance is not good enough for me). And to add insult to injury, once a Jedi dies, it's dead FOREVER!

    FAT CHANCE, buster! My dollars go to City of Heroes and DAoC now.

  • by Doctor Cat (676482) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:11PM (#9625968) Homepage
    I think instead of this "old school" model of "put in millions or tens of millions up front, then ship a boxed product that's real slick and flashy"... The huge risk in this area, coupled with the player's being not only willing to accept continual upgrades of the software with new features and art, but actually wanting it... These two factors suggest to me a model where a publisher makes a number of FAR less expensive prototypes, and then picks out the one or two that players are going nuts over and people are swarming in to play, and decide "THAT is where we're going to add five or ten million bucks worth of art and finish the job".

    Hmmm, I think I need to send some emails to some other people I know in the industry. :X)

  • EA Needs a Good Idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gamerdave (757845) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @04:39PM (#9626288) Homepage
    There will always be failures in an overcrowded market, but for those that get it right, MMOGs can still be very lucrative under the subscriber model. Although people love to hate it, SWG has been very successful and reached a quarter million players much quicker than EQ did, and continues to grow. FFXI and City of Heros are also doing well, and WoW stands a chance of breaking all previous records. I still think MMORPGs have a bright future, but developers will have to think creatively to avoid becoming casualties in what is, at the moment, a sort of gold rush.
  • by startled (144833) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @06:30PM (#9627272)
    "This isn't a surprise. No, really. More fundamentally, all this points to the fact that somebody in EA's headcheese department is scared stiff of potentially sapping subscribers from the only truly successful title [Ultima Online] to come out of the company's development sweatshops."

    Sure, but unfortunately for EA, none of the higher-ups were "scared stiff" of dropping a few million dollars each on TWO separate, canceled UO sequels. Both canceled for the same reason, no less. Way to learn from your mistakes, guys.

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