Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Ultima Online celebrates it's 10th birthday, with what they call an amnesty, allowing former players to return to the game for free. Razorwire from Warcry disagrees with that use of the term amnesty. He says it isn't an amnesty, because only players "in good standing" are allowed back, so if you had been banned, you're still not welcome. I'd say that amnesties don't have to be total. In fact it is far more common that amnesties apply only to minor crimes, and not to all criminals.
But if it is an amnesty, then obviously the crime was not paying a monthly fee any more, and the punishment was exile from that particular virtual world. Which is an interesting way to see it. In terms of law enforcement, virtual worlds are a rather harsh place to be. There is only one form of punishment: exile. But you could easily consider permanent exile to be a form of death penalty, not for the player but for the avatar, as the avatar ceases to exist when banned from the virtual world. You can suffer this virtual death penalty for minor crimes like sexual harassment or black market activities, which in the real world would be punishable by only a fine. But fraud, which carries much heavier legal penalties in the real world, is not punished in virtual worlds, which is why there are so many scammers around. Most things you can harm another player with, including "killing" him in PvP, are allowed. Anything that has the potential to hurt the game company is punished with virtual death.
I left Ultima Online "in good standing", so theoretically the amnesty would apply to me. But the last time I played UO was in 2000, and I completely forgot my user name, password, and even the shard I was playing on. Even the e-mail address I used at the time has long since been discontinued, as it didn't have a spam filter. Thus even if I wanted to, I couldn't take EA Mythic up on that offer. Fortunately I'm not interested anyway, UO has aged badly in spite of graphics improvements, still being 2D (with pseudo-3D added on top, EA calls it 2.5D) and all. I don't know whether the gameplay advanced anywhere since 2000, but at the time there weren't even quests except for simple escort missions. And I was never a big fan of the level-less skill system of UO, because I found the 700 point skill cap too restrictive.
EA announced a sequel to Ultima Online twice, and cancelled it twice before release, in 2001 and 2004. Fear of hurting subscription numbers of the original UO was cited as one reason for the cancellation. But I don't expect UO to live another ten years, and a sequel might have been a better option. I just don't see how EA could announce a third attempt at a sequel for UO. And Richard Garriott and Raph Koster are long gone, so I don't even know if EA Mythic has the talent to design a MMORPG which would actually be a sequel to the "worldy" UO, and not just another "gamey" WoW clone. There is a good chance that whatever Raph is developing as game on his new Metaplace will resemble "UO2" more than anything EA Mythic will ever produce, gameplay wise. Meanwhile Richard Garriott apparently has given up on the "worldy" concept, his latest creation Tabula Rasa is even more "gamey" than WoW (and thus managed to fall over the "I'm not paying a monthly fee for that" cliff for most people).