It was 20 years ago today, Origin Systems put a new world on the Internet, and pressed play: Lead designer Raph Koster just published a collection of posts he's written about Ultima Online since the influential MMO's launch -- on September 24, 1997, to be exact. The world is still online (having gone through several corporate owners in the interim), and still influential. In fact, it's difficult to imagine what contemporary MMOs would look like without UO.
"I am fairly sure that were it not for the presence of crafting in UO, there wouldn’t have been crafting in most of the later, combat-centric games," Raph tells me, when I asked him about the world's most influential feature. "It’s not a natural fit with the DikuMUD-derived worlds, which are just combat classes."
What's the most important lesson that Raph and his team learned from developing UO which most current MMOs are missing?
UO screenshot via Giant Bomb
"It is probably the idea that every different way to play the game is equally valid," he answers. "That playing as a roleplayer, or as a crafter, or as an economic agent, or whatever, is just as valid a way to play, and therefore should be valued by the game. Meaning, given recognition, experience, levels, whatever it is that your game does. Players do what we incentivize. Those varied roles matter to the overall game society, but we often don’t actually give players any rewards for all that super important activity."
As for Ultima Online itself, the world has been evolving for many years beyond his influence:
"I started work on it in 1995. I stopped work on it around 1998, maybe 1999. I last logged in sometime in the early 2000s. The game has changed a lot from what I remember, and while it still retains a definite UO-ness that makes it unique, there’s a lot that doesn’t fit with my rose-tinted idealized picture any more. I probably still have a comped account buried in the database somewhere though."