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The Delicate Balance of a Sandbox World

The Keen and Graev Community has been enjoying quite a run in a UO shard called “UO Forever”.   Playing fresh has been a real treat, and an experience I never thought I would have again.  No, there’s not a ‘but’ coming.  I’m genuinely enjoying 90% of the stuff I do in-game.  I love the economics side of the game: Building a shop, selling my goods, competing for market share, accumulating wealth — building myself up.  Others in my group like hunting monsters, finding treasures, sailing ships to find treasure, collecting rares, and even a few enjoy PvPing. I won’t quit until my friends stop playing.

Traditionally, UO has been a game to support all of those play-styles.  I can’t say that throughout its history there has always been a perfect balance (in fact it has swung back and forth, one side to the other), but there is something inherently more to UO than mindless killing or completely supporting only one style of play.  That’s where many other “sandboxes” fall short.  Take Darkfall, for example.  Darkfall is technically a “sandbox” but the focus of the game is, at all times, in all ways, focused on combat; more specifically, killing players.  I enjoy the balance in UO, and I’m saddened when I see that balance being disrupted by nothing but talk of combat, killing other players, and altering the game on that premise.

That was a really long introduction to an issue I want to bring up about UO Forever which I will use as an example of a point I’ll probably make in one sentence at the end.  The UOF server is being mismanaged because the admins have altered the game to support their preferred style of play.  Instead of preserving the (unstable) balance of play-styles, they’ve made changed and plan to make changes that are going to cause the server to crash and burn. It’s not my intention to understate or overstate any issues, but let me explain a few particular problems that should illuminate what’s going on.

The server admin has admitted to hating tamers because they killed his Mage on previous servers.  As a result, according to a tamer friend, taming is the slowest skill to raise, some of the stronger pets were removed, some take more space, pets move slower, and do less damage.  Many melee special abilities have been disabled.  Mounts have unlimited stamina making it easy for someone to ranged kite, and mages have been known to paralyze and explosion kite with impunity.  Raising magic resist has been ridiculously slow if not impossible to raise.  A poll went up today asking if people would like explosions (mage spell) to stack, essentially making it even easier for mages to nuke people to death — when the poll started to look like it was going to fail, one of the server staff made a comment saying maybe “mobocracy” (asking for opinions) wasn’t a good idea.  So obviously the staff love their mages.

Then there’s the hindrance to crafters.  Up until yesterday, for the past two weeks there has been a 40% penalty for crafting in a town, and a 25% penalty (my numbers might be slightly off) for crafting in a house.  The goal was to force crafters into danger because, according to the admin when I slammed him with questions, it wasn’t fair for crafters to be able to make things and be safe.   I haven’t been able to wrap my head around that one.

Another friend who enjoys sailing a ship to find treasure reports that a nerf is coming to the quality/quantity of loot on treasure maps. Add that to the fact that boats were set at 10x their normal cost. I remember reading something about the server admin finding that type of gameplay boring.  Furthermore, magic items rain from the sky like candy inside dungeons, making crafted gear harder to market to other players.  I assume the reason for this is to get people into dungeons where the mages can PK them.  I’m spinning that one big time, but can you blame me given what’s already been said?  Okay, maybe it would have been more fair to say the magic item drop rate is high so the mages can farm dungeons easier than anyone else and make the most money.

What lessons can we learn from this?  Obviously, and sadly, this comes with the territory on a free/private server; you get what you pay for.  My point isn’t to besmirch the name of the UO Forever administration — they’re accomplishing that on their own.  My point is to highlight how easily, and quickly, one of the best sandbox games can be altered in such a way that it begins to play (and fail) like games today.  It doesn’t take much to offset the delicate balance.  Losing sight of the mark for a second is all it takes.

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Comments

  1. As you say, when you play on someone else’s server, you play by their rules. Wether that’s a private server like UO Forever, or the official UO servers, that is always the case.

    As you know, there are other free servers out there. I discovered RunUO some time ago because I was interested in seeing what a MMORPG server looked like from the source code level. The link is runuo.com. It’s fully supported with forums and the like.

    You can always switch to one of their servers, I understand the Demise shard has quite a large community.

    And there is always the option of hosting your own shard. It’s a lot more work of course, but at least you can set the rules to run the world exactly the way you want it to run.

  2. @Stropp: We’ve played on other shards. The appeal of a new, fresh start is what lured us to UOF. We have other plans already should this one fail. We hope it doesn’t, because we’ve put in a lot of work. There’s still fun to be had, and hopefully they fix things for the good of everyone instead of catering to the few.

  3. @Stropp

    It’s true that on official and private servers you are playing by others’ rules. There’s a big difference though. One needs to keep all its customers happy or it risks losing their money, so creating a balanced game for everyone is in their best interest. The other has their own motivations and is beholden to no one.

  4. That just sounds incredibly immature on their part. I messed around for a bit on the server before the official launch but due to a crazy schedule at work decided to not roll a character and join you… and after reading this I am very glad I did not.

    Anyone that runs their own server, especially for free for players and at their own expense, has every right to alter things anyway they choose but this is just not something I would want to be a part of. It is like doing some table top RPG games with a GM that keeps changing rules as time progresses… just no fun after awhile.

  5. “My point isn’t to besmirch the name of the UO Forever administration — they’re accomplishing that on their own”

    That’s for sure. I would never even consider playing UO on this server after reading this blog post. No way.

  6. Gankatron says:

    “No, there’s not a ‘but’ coming.”

    …but,

    “That was a really long introduction to an issue I want to bring up about UO Forever…”

    :)

  7. Bringing up an issue is a better ‘but’ than an “I quit” ‘but’! Like I said, I’m staying until my friends quit. I’m having a blast doing my vendor thing.

  8. Gankatron says:

    I don’t have a problem with an opinion piece, as a matter of fact I like big buts and I cannot lie…

  9. Except for magic item drops those seem like good changes to me. And when was UO balanced anyway? :) I would just roll a mage and go roflstomp for some lootz

    This is one of the troubles with real sandbox it is either REALLY pvp heavy or everyone sits in safe zones and pvp that exists might as well be in another game since both communities are not connected in any real way.

  10. Howdy Doody says:

    Damnit Gank, If I have that song stuck in my head all day……

  11. Gankatron says:

    Me too. I actually went back and watched the video; it has a surprisingly strong vegan theme. :)

  12. Well, rather obviously, “his” server, “his” rules. While I’m here, replace server with forum, blog, game, shop, ship, anything.

    I won’t bother commenting on the admin’s actions, no point – it sucks, agreed, end of.

    This I’ll comment on though..

    \quote
    My point is to highlight how easily, and quickly, one of the best sandbox games can be altered in such a way that it begins to play (and fail) like games today.
    \endquote

    That implied attitude of “it dunt wokr like I want it, so phail”.. Keen – you of all people ought to be above that, n’est-ce pas?

  13. Dunno if it’s pure coincidence, but after I read this blog post, I stumbled upon an admin advertising their shard on reddit, claiming, “Are you tired of playing shards full of bugs and imbalanced systems? Poorly managed shards with owners that simply don’t care or don’t understand the game? Sick of lying and greedy admins? UOI is the shard for you!”

    Might be worth checking out:
    http://www.reddit.com/r/MMORPG/comments/17xetf/uo_immortalis_official_launch_22313_with_a/

  14. Unfortunately with private servers there are a few people at the top who can make sweeping decisions that would normally be in the hands of an entire team of individuals with a publisher to answer to. It’s a classic mistake that it sounds like the UO Forever admin is making – content and gameplay decisions should be for the benefit of your users, fulfilling their needs, not just satisfying your own needs. It seems that they’ve lost perspective on what you need to do to maintain a community. It almost sounds like they don’t want a community!

    Ultimately UO Forever will probably pay for this in their user base numbers, as people migrate elsewhere (and people such as yourself highlight the issue). It’s just a shame that when they were getting the mix just right, they mess it up. But that’s human nature for ya!

  15. Yeah, you’re kind of whining about something that is for the greater good. If you start a server and make taming and tradeskills easy to raise, the economy is destroyed in weeks. No UO shard has had a good way of dealing with inflation, and thus far UOF has done the best job I’ve seen. Boats are also appropriately prices (maybe 10%-20% high based on faction control) for the era.

    Stop over-thinking it because it clearly doesn’t suit you.

  16. Camelot Unchained by Mark Jacobs

  17. wufiavelli says:

    UO gamer ran really good UO shards back in the day and will rewrite rule sets and relaunch them from time to time.

  18. wufiavelli says:

    ALso try Age of Wushu, granted it has had some store problems but Jesus Christ its a breath of fresh air.

  19. @Paul: Running an to one’s whims is a mandatory pitfall on the road to learning to admin anything at all. I’m sure people can think of examples of GMs in “proper” MMOs falling into that as well. I would give the guy some slack if this is his 1st/2nd server. (At least I would give him slack if I could be bothered to think whether I would give him slack :p)

    Whether the server will pay in numbers depends entirely on the population %-age that (a) notices the changes and (b) is annoyed.

    @ihatemmorpgs: Whining? I don’t see any whining. Bear in mind most people in KGC UO, incl Keen are already/almost GM crafters, etc.

  20. What Veldron said.

  21. Camelot Unchained – give em a year to crowdsource, a year to get some real investment, a couple years development time. Unless you pack a mother of an oxygen tank at home, I would recommend against starting to hold your breath today.

  22. I played on a different shard once and its these alterations, that make it feel off.
    Not only that but on that particular shard they sold resources and i believe GM skills for money.

    So there was no economy either.. just combat all day long and iconic music was missing.

    basically that killed my enthusiasm for Ultima Online. I still have my memories from back in what? 1998?

    Oh well

  23. I rolled up an archer-mage on UO Forever last week, started playing and immediately started getting turned off, for a number of reasons:

    1) I chose Moonglow, I ended up in Britannia. WTF.

    2) Started with 10 Str (it fits for a mage-y type and was a valid strategy in classic UO, since you could increase it easily enough) only to discover that I couldn’t move due to the huge piles of reagents I’d been gifted with. Had to drop half my stuff and cast spells to use up reagents for a while before I could even go anywhere.

    3) Hordes of random animals — cats, wolves, hinds, bears, horses — on the outskirts of town but nowhere else, all easy-sauce to kill; none aggressive, not even bears. Meh.

    4) Too easy, everything is practically handed out for free: gold, stat improvements, skill improvements… I get that in classic UO it could be slow to get started, but come on. Already tons of houses everywhere after only, what, a month now? This shard is definitely a “3 monther”; everybody will have everything before too long and get bored.

    5) Alluded to in #3: Vast empty spaces without a damn thing going on. Granted, I didn’t explore very much, but that was partly because I got bored.

    It’s all stuff that I’d be willing to cope with, if I knew that the admins were planning on balancing things and creating new content; but from the sounds of it, that ain’t gonna happen. So, meh, whatever… it was fun for a couple hours.

  24. Oops, “Britannia” should be “Britain” of course.

    Oh, one more thing: the music. What’s become of the music? All the proper UO tunes are gone and it just plays that same title screen music over and over ad nauseum. Blah, had to turn it off.

  25. I just wanted to clear a few things up here for ya KEENSTER!

    “The server admin has admitted to hating tamers because they killed his Mage on previous servers. ”

    By this i mean in Hybrid server there are such things as “bola tamers”. Now what these tamers do is go around pking or pvping on a nightmare, they will hit your with a spear for a paralyze blow or stun punch you depending on their template and immediately hit their macro to get off their night mare, “all kill” and click you, followed up by firebreath, magical spells and serious amount of “how the hell do i get away from this” type thoughts before you die…almost everytime… Now if they don’t take that approach they will bola you off your mount before they sick their nightmare on you first. It is basically a guaranteed death for you unfortunately and i believe maybe that is what you were talking about me hating tamers.

    However i just want to note those were not my exact words, I love tamers, i played a tamer on most servers actually. I had all characters, on the previous server i had a trasure hunter, lockpicker, poisoner, fisher, blacksmith, tailor, animal tamer, alchemist, lumberjack and many more templates… I really enjoy them all and have played most templates quite a bit to understand whats good/bad about them. No one killed my mage by any means, if anything i was the one who always did the killing as i am a very good, avid pvper.

    But yes we did make taming excessively hard as it should be like crafting. These are seen as long term investment skills that some players may love, some may not. We try to be open to most players and playstyles but ultimately it is absolutely impossible to please everyone around the board non stop.

    Since your post here i know we have fixed alot of the issues you posted in here. We also appreciate people who bring us good feedback and playerbase via what they do which is one reason you guys got the fence.

    Just remember, with each new patch that we do weekly comes new content, new possibilities, and more smiles. Without going over that spark the keeps your fun and nostalgia in tact.

    I think you would agree at this point exactly a month after our launch day we have done good things all around. More bug fixes and balancing is whwat we will always be working on! Make sure you log in this sunday for the release of Shame: Level 5.

    We are just getting warmed up,
    Shane
    Administrator
    Ultima Online Forever