ULTIMA ONLINE Spent 3 Years Developing A System That Was Destroyed By Players

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Ultima Online, one of the founding MMO’s from many a childhood, has an interesting secret that not many players know about. For those who played back in the day, it was an amazing experience going into a new world with friends and companions, slaying monsters, ravenous creatures, and even simple animals like deer and rabbits.

In the game, you had the option of slaying different animals for pelts and hides for sale. At the time when 3D graphics cards were new, jumping into a virtual world and killing these animals was a thrill. So much so that players apparently destroyed the “natural” ecology the developers spent three years creating. The creators of the game had no idea that the player base would love to kill, not just the evil creatures like bears and wolves, but also the innocent creatures.

The system in its essence was simple. Carnivores eat herbivores and herbivores eat plants. The way players fit into this equation was that the they would embark on quests to kill the carnivorous animals and the pelts that they gained from those quests would be worth more than those gained from the herbivores. The problem was that the player base population was so large that the server was wiped clean of all furry inhabitants.

Players ran over the world like a swarm of ants, that consumed every living thing as fast as it was possible to spawn it. They killed every creature. So as soon  as a deer or a rabbit or a wolf showed up on the map, the nearest person to it killed it, skinned it, took it’s meat, and took it’s hide instantaneously.
— Richard Garriott- creator of Ultima Online
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The developers worked on solutions for this problem for months, and it seemed as though they were lost. Players killed and massacred anything and everything that moved. This problem is also what spawned multiple instances of servers (or as they called them, “shards”) that people know and recognize from most MMOs today. The developers thought that by spreading the player base out into multiple instances of the game they could try and control the furry creature population. While this helped curb some of the mass killing, it still did not solve the problem.

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After months of attempting to balance the ecology, The developers had to rip all the code out of the game. Most players who played the game, had no idea that the ecology existed in the first place.

 

Source: 7 minute documentary at Ars Technica