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.