Tobold's Blog
Saturday, March 20, 2010
The end of the Ultima brand

Once upon a time, in a previous millenium, there was a great series of single-player roleplaying games called Ultima. They were relatively open world compared to their competitors, and so it is not surprising that the series culminated in one of the first mass market MMORPGs, Ultima Online. Unfortunately once they acquired the brand, EA didn't treat it all that well. Ultima Online has the dubious honor of being the only MMORPG for which sequels were announced and cancelled TWICE, in spite of the announcements having caused a lot of hype. But the final nail in the coffin of the Ultima brand is EA's latest use of it: Lord of Ultima.

Lord of Ultima is a Free2Play browser strategy game, which plays exactly like thousands of other Free2Play browser strategy games, for example Travian. You build up a city, collect resources like wood, rock, and iron, build an army, and send those armies out to fight the other cities on the map. Lord of Ultima isn't a bad version of that principle, it is pretty enough, and even has some minor new features like the ability to send out your army to plunder a dungeon for a few resources. But it is far from original, and far from being a triple A game. And it suffers from the same problems that all those browser strategy games suffer from: As you become stronger with time, arriving later in the game means you'll never catch up; and a lot of the strategy revolves around repeatedly plundering players that just gave up. There isn't actually much you can do if a superior army decides to attack your city, they'll destroy stuff faster than you can build it up, and unless you are part of an alliance that can bail you out, you just get wiped out.

I was playing Lord of Ultima in the closed beta, with some success. I had a pesky neighbor who kept sending out small armies to attack me, but they didn't cause enough harm to stop me from building up my city. So once I was far ahead in resource production, I built up a far bigger army, did strike back, and even managed to conquer my neighbors city. That sounds dramatic when told in one paragraph, but in reality the whole story took several weeks. And I suspect the reason I won was that my neighbor got so bored that he just gave up. I haven't seen any action from him since I attacked him back.

Now the closed beta ended, and officially the game is in open beta now. The big change from closed to open beta is that there is now a shop. What EA did was to significantly shorten the build queue, so that you can only have 6 build orders queued up, which for most people means long stretches in which they don't build anything, because they are offline at work or sleeping. But for €1.10 per week, or €2.80 per month you can extend that build queue to 16 slots, and even queue up build orders you don't have the resources for yet, which will make your city grow a lot faster. A similar system exists for the army build queue. And you can buy resources directly from the shop.

In summary, Lord of Ultima is a blatant milking of a once-great brand for a mediocre Free2Play browser game with bad RMT. You wonder whether EA really thinks they will make money with that, or whether they just did it to spite Richard Garriott.
All EA need to do now is spam the internet with pictures of scantily clad women waiting to fulfil your "Ultima(te) fantasy Lord".
I suppose EA *knows* it will make money. They are pretty good at that.
@mbp: have you seen the ads yet? They're already 3/4 the way there
I started with Ultima II and then played III and IV. Those were super-fun and addictive games for that time. I remember staying up all night because I knew I would gain some levels and be able to reach some new area that I couldn't get to before. Needing to break the "ability to travel without being killed" barrier seems to be a proven formula for success in an RPG.
So sad. They can't bother anymore to make a real game with the Ultima brand, so they're throwing it in the trash...great work that. Especially since one of my fondest memories of gaming is playing Ultima IV nonstop.
Didn't they do the same thing to the Price of Persia line?

A game was created that burned the brand, allowing the outside company to buy the complete rights to the name for a song, after which phase #2 began: release an awesome game, recieve 100% of the profits.
Yeah, the fall of the Ultima brand (or perhaps Ultima IP is a better way of putting it) is tragic. Those games were AWESOME for their day, especially Ultimas 3, 4, and 5. Ultima Underworlds 1 and 2 were amazing as well. I'm sure others would readily gush about the later Ultimas, too.

What doesn't get said enough, however, is how much Raph Koster helped drive a stake through the heart of the IP way back when. UO was so utterly NOT Ultima and if you actually loved Ultima 4 or 5, you probably hated UO. If they'd made an MMO that was actually true to the nature of the Ultimas and not a PvP sandbox, maybe it wouldn't have fallen so far.

Oops, comment on Ultima turned into an anti-Raph rant.
>strategy game, which plays exactly like thousands of other Free2Play browser strategy games

>There isn't actually much you can do if a superior army decides to attack your city

I wasn't ever into this genre. Can someone tell me why they're called 'strategy' games?
"I wasn't ever into this genre. Can someone tell me why they're called 'strategy' games?"

Heh nice comment.
It's sad to see one of the iconic series from my childhood come to this. Ultima VII and especially Ultima Underworld II, those were RPG to last. Here's hoping they'll be re-released on GoG sometime soon...
I'm pretty sure that someone will create a GreaseMonkey script that allows people to queue more than 6 items...

I spent a few months playing Travian. Was a fun game to play. But I have no need to play it again.
I have never played any of the Ultima games *winces from people preparing their rotten fruit* but from the link the game might interest me.

I am not one for RMT games, the only game I have payed for content is Rock Band.

I might give the beta a whirl as I've been absent a game that really drew me and was quick and easy to access.
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