Unrestricted: A Dead Feature

Imagine, if you will, that you live in Medellin, Columbia. Not only that, but imagine Medellin is the only city, and you have no other choice but to live there. You are forced to deal with the daily life of terrorists, drug lords, bombings, kidnappings, and random muggings and shootings. The government does nothing about these murders, because they don’t have the resources, and may be in the pockets of some of these drug lords. The leaders may be manipulating data to make the records sounds better than they are. Now imagine a new city forms, where there is still a little crime here and there, but it’s more along the lines of littering, with violence much, much lower and a government that cares. Would you (We’re disregarding financial issues here) move to this new city? Of course you would!

The reason for this analogy is to focus on the point that anything looks more popular when people have no choice. In this analogy, Ultima Online was Medellin, Columbia. I’ve always referred to Ultima Online as the Wise Granddaddy of MMOs, that other titles should take wisdom from and learn from both the good times and the bad. Ultima Online was the first mainstream MMO, and the release version was also insanely unapologetic and unforgiving; but there was no competition. When Everquest was released two years later, players began flocking out of Ultima Online, and resulted in Origin pulling what I’ve dubbed the Trammel Effect, bringing major changes to the game’s pvp aspects.

Full PvP is a dead feature, and I intent to explain exactly why.

1.1 Griefer’s Paradise

When Ultima Online launched in 1997, it originally had almost no restrictions on what players could do. If you could think it, you could do it, and virtually none of it was against the rules (sans abusing a bug or an exploit). In theory, this is a roleplayer’s paradise: You can be who you want, when you want, where you want, and how you want. If you want to be a swordsman who fishes by dawn, cooks by day, and fights by night, you can go ahead. If you want to hide in the bushes and ambush caravans, you can be your own Robin Hood.

Ultima Online features an incredibly indepth economy, that allowed for major player run businesses. No game before allowed this kind of player freedom, and no MMO since Ultima Online has created a similar world.

Unfortunately, as you give players more freedom, you open up new doors for griefing and exploitation.

In Roma Victor, griefers are crucified.

1.2 Someone Your Own Size

It isn’t that much of a surprise that a people will look for the least threat possible that they can kill, if anything for the ego boost or for the points allotted. In World of Warcraft, it isn’t uncommon on pvp realms for high levels to go to low level areas to gank players. There isn’t any competition between a level 15 player, and a level 80, and the level 80 does not receive any points, and the factions cannot talk to one another. So the level 80 is doing it for the reason that, in his mind, he knows that someone is getting pissed at their PCs.

Games like Darkfall and Ultima Online, that have no levels, have no level restrictions on who can fight who, and currently Darkfall has no restriction on where players can fight one another. When I subscribed to Darkfall for one month, I found the game to be a griefer’s paradise. Roving gangs of high leveled players, with the best gear, on the best mounts, heading to starter areas and ganking new players carrying nothing more than the starter weapon, no armor, who are killing goblins.

The old Ultima took this a step further by making your player owned house just as susceptible as your player. Your house is non-instanced, and placed on the game world. To get into your house, you had to carry around a key, that you would unlock the door and walk inside. If someone killed you, they could (in essence) repossess your house, taking the house and everything inside of it. Even if you were careless enough to leave your door open or unlocked, someone could run in and steal everything.

Unrestricted PvP in real life

Ultima Online in real life

1.3 You Stupid Newb

Ask around, and you’re bound to get the same sentiment from griefers in Darkfall, Ultima, WoW, and other similar titles: “Suck it up, you stupid newb.” If you are ganked, you deserved it. If you are scammed, it is your fault.

The term Carebear surfaced as, essentially, a description for people who either 1.) Did not want to be ganked/scammed or 2.) Did not want to gank/scam. Blaming the victim, as the term goes.

Runescape is an MMO that is prevalent in the blame the victim routine. Players make a habit of routinely criticizing any aspects that increase account security or make it more difficult to scam players. When Jagex implemented an update two years ago that restricted trade, although the updates were directed to combat real world trading, they also helped combat most forms of scamming by creating a market price for items. Some players responded to the restriction with the claim that “If someone is stupid enough to be scammed, they deserve it.” or “If someone is stupid enough to lose their password, they deserve it.”

The ban button.

The ban button.

1.4 The Trammel Effect

Players know of the Trammel Effect as the NGE effect, named after Star Wars Galaxies, but the description is the same: A massive change in response to dwindling subscriber numbers. I call it the Trammel Effect because, in all fairness, Ultima Online did it first. Trammel was added in an expansion pack, and was a similar replica of the original facet, but with no non-consensual pvp. Housing received updates as well, making keys “blessed” and undroppable on death. Players are also able to lock down items placed in their home, making them impossible to steal, and eventually ownership of a house went beyond a mere key. It was also made possible to bless items, making them undroppable and immune from theft.

Despite the backlash from the community about carebears, the population flocked to Trammel, and the original facet became a ghostland.

Richard Garriot is famously ganked in his own game

Richard Garriot is famously ganked at the end of the Ultima Online Beta

1.5 And Then There Was One

Players don’t want to pay a monthly fee to be the “stupid newb”, the target, or the punching bag. As if being killed by someone twenty times out of your league wasn’t bad enough, that new player would expect to face verbal abuse on top of everything else. “You suck”, “Gf noob”, etc. Unlike my Columbian analogy earlier, players can leave their situation in as easy as a mouse click, and they will. Ultima Online saw players leaving in droves after they were given a choice. What was once mainstream is now a tiny niche. When a game caters to gankers and griefers, eventually only those two player groups will remain, and those two groups are small enough that they cannot sustain a title, resulting in inevitable death.

Shadowbane, one of the few remaining MMOs with full non consensual pvp, launched in 2003 as a paid service, yet never caught on with more than a niche population. In an effort to grab more customers, the title went free to play in 2006, supported by video advertisements speckled at various intervals (Death, opening, closing). In 2008, Shadowbane launched a “reboot”, a complete relaunch that deleted all existing characters, while fixing long standing performance issues. Just last month, July, Shadowbane shut down.

Two other titles I’d like to mention release this year: Darkfall and Mortal Online. Darkfall launched in February, and to many players, was the second coming of Ultima Christ. The game features unrestricted PvP, albeit with a system that advocates against killing racial allies. Since the release of the North American servers and the game’s first major patch (By patch, I in no way intend to diminish the company’s idea of what constitutes an “expansion”), Darkfall players report that the game has grown slightly, but it still desolate in most places except for roving gankers. Aventurine has been silent, owing the silence to the employees being on rotating vacations, leading some to speculate that by “vacation”, Aventurine is sending a message not unlike when your dog went to “live on a farm.” I of course in no way intend to imply that Aventurine took their employees out back and shot them. The fact that Darkfall is a full priced pc title with no trial doesn’t help the matter.

Mortal Online is still sitting behind the veil of a Nondisclosure Agreement.

2.0 What We Learned Today

Ultima Online capitalized the MMO genre with a mechanic that, when given other options, proved to be unpopular and, overall, a poor business mechanic. While Ultima Online has virtually abandoned the idea, several MMOs have come along with the same approach and are either dead (Shadowbane) or never got that far off the ground to begin with (Darkfall). Despite what the fans of unrestricted PvP may claim, the idea is not a popular one, and a company that encourages its players to actively seek out and ruin the game for others will not be raking in very much money, if enough to stay afloat. This type of gameplay encourages a blame the victim routine that only serves to alienate even more players, and the resulting factor is death, massive changes, or acknowledgment of a fanbase smaller than those who still play Runescape Classic.

-Omali “The Stupid Newb”

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