Corporations exist for one purpose. They don’t exist because they want to be your friend, and they don’t exist because they really enjoy seeing people happy using their products. Corporations exist to make money. They don’t care if you like their product or if it accidentally breaks your legs – they just want your cash.
To some extent, the computer entertainment industry is an artistic one. The designers and developers are all players in an epic theatrical production, and part of the reason they have chosen this field is the desire to create something that other people enjoy. As a writer, I can understand it. There is something inside that compels the creative instinct, and it is not a pleasant feeling. It is a deep burning, hunger that gnaws at your spirit and refuses to be fed. It will keep you up at night and it will possess you every waking moment until you reach your wit’s end and wrestle it to the ground and force it to submit, and whisper in it’s ear, “Please for the love of God, tell me what you want.” What it wants is validation – and so we write, we produce, and we create; and we hope that at least one person sits up and takes notice. Money isn’t important, and fame isn’t even a consideration. The reward comes in other forms. For years now, this is the picture we have been given of Origin Systems Incorporated, and I for one believed it. In case you didn’t know it already, you do now: I am a complete idiot.
Ultima Online has been a tremendous success. So great in fact, that it has changed the industry. But all the while, the picture was that of a collective creative force of artisans who were happy to make a profit, but happier to make a product that people enjoyed. The reality is that much like any other company, for Origin Systems, it is not good enough to make money and it is not good enough to make good money. For Origin Systems, it is about making LOTS of money. Recently, they discovered that non-English speaking cultures don’t really play Ultima Online that much. It does well enough to support many shards overseas, but it has only begun to scratch the surface. The barrier was one that sounds rather simple to correct, but has proven to be one of the most devastating changes to ever happen to the game. In Asian Markets, Ultima Online makes money, but it could make more if players didn’t have to speak English in order to play. If somehow Origin could extract English from Ultima Online, think of how much MAD PROFIT it could RAKE IN for OSI. So Maker’s Marks were being altered, and the ability to speak with NPCs in complete sentences was removed entirely. No big deal so far, really. But OSI did not stop there. The next change came with the removal of the tattered Message in a Bottle system. No longer will you get a tattered water soaked message from a shipwrecked sailor – instead you will get a cold lifeless stone slab with all the fun and excitement of a TOMB STONE. And if that doesn’t rub you the wrong way, imagine logging into Ultima Online and clicking on your “massive helm of hardinging and toughness” and finding “a helm [8:10:5:3]*” instead. Doesn’t that just SCREAM role-playing game at you? Yeah, me either. I work with some of the best software engineers in the world, so I thought I’d ask them about this. I asked them, what would be the difference between a system that used “a helm [8:10:5:3]” and a system that used “a helm: massive, hardening, toughness”. The response was the same every time I posed the question – the difference is minimal. Then I asked a second question: What if you already had the first system in place. How hard would it be to change to the second example? It would take some time, but it could be done fairly easily.
So now I am faced with a difficult choice: Either I have to call every developer at OSI an idiot for not doing something “fairly easy” or I have to hate them for not doing the right thing because it might take them some time (and when it comes to pimping out for maximum profits, “some time” translates into “slightly less cash in my pockets”).
So just to get us all out from beneath our rose colored eyeglasses, OSI is not some travelling minstrel show come to entertain and delight you in exchange for charitable donations. It is a corporation that needs your cash dollars like a crack whore needs another fix. It will gladly amputate any and all atmosphere, immersion, and “flavor” in exchange for more money, more money, more money. I wish OSI success in Korea, Japan, and Liechtenstein. I hope they make so much profit in those markets, that they never even notice the reduction in domestic sales and the increase in veteran accounts on EBay.
“A sword [8:9:4:1]” is not a magic weapon. It is a field in a database. And it is not a change done with the best interests of UO or the players in mind. It is a solution that represents the path of least resistance towards localization – or, the fastest way to increase overseas sales and get those big canvas sacks of cash on the way to Austin Texas as quickly as possible WITH THE MINIMAL EFFORT. Welcome to the corporate world, UO fans. In this world, you are not a person, you are a demographic. And your sword of vanquishing is not magic, it is [8:10:8:5].
And OSI is not above doing something STUPID in order to increase sales.
And now a totally hypothetical question for you message board fans. I asked myself, if it meant being able to have magic items that actually TOLD YOU WHAT THEY DID instead of forcing you to look them up ON A WEBSITE, would I be willing to see veteran rewards go by the wayside? In a heartbeat, yes I would. I would rather have “a sword: massive, accurate, feeblemind” than have a banner in my house or a leather dye tub in my backpack.
I’d be curious exactly how alone I am in that opinion.
*numbers are arbitrary for the sake of example.