[MUD-Dev] (CDMag) Sosaria Cracked: Why OSI's great social experiment is doomed

J C Lawrence claw at under.engr.sgi.com
Mon Oct 12 17:37:19 New Zealand Daylight Time 1998



Sosaria Cracked
Why OSI's great social experiment is doomed 
Posted on 10/03/1998

The idea was a good one. Create a world, populate it with creatures,
with an ecosystem, and with the skeleton of an economy. Then turn it
over to the players to rule as they see fit. That was one of the
basic tenets of the Ultima Online design team. A hands-off policy.

It failed, of course. To be sure UO is still in operation, but the
vibrance is gone from the world and my guess is that, though it is
less than a year old, it is already seeing the twilight of its
existence. Oh, it will survive until one of its serious competitors
(Microsoft's Asheron's Call or Sony's Everquest being the most
likely) drives the final nail in its coffin. And even then, as
Origin Systems Inc. pulls the plug a devout few will fume and curse
at the loss of the world of which they've become so much a part.

It didn't have to be this way. OSI came so close to hitting the mark
that it gave us a glimmer of what could...no, what will be, when
someone gets it right. But they erred in their judgment of us, the
gaming community. They gave us too much credit-assumed that we were
honorable people who would play within the rules set forth, rather
than strive so hard to twist them.

Their first mistake was a cavalier attitude towards exploits, which
allowed house break-ins. "Houses were never intended to be secure." 
was the official policy for a long time. Bug exploiters took this as
a sign of encouragement, and soon enough breaking into a house was
as easy as visiting a "UO Bugs" website and following the steps
given there.

This situation set the tone for things to come. OSI had built in a
system of identifying criminals and such, but since bug exploiters
weren't breaking any coded-in rules, they swaggered about with their
Great Lord titles, sneering at the people they'd robbed. The victims
in this charade had no recourse. If they attacked the Great Lords,
they'd become evil, and thus a target for any notoriety player
killer.  The Game Masters (GMs) would do nothing, citing the above
rule that houses weren't supposed to be secure. Thus were the
victims left with an emotional melange of helplessness and rage.

Eventually, OSI got a clue and revamped the notoriety system of good
vs evil. This helped, for about two hours, until the same kinds of
players who had ruined the first system found ways to exploit this
system as well.

The basis for many of the woes of the Ultima Online world lie in two
areas. The first is that the GMs put the burden of proof on the
victims. Thus a player can enter a town, fling hateful insults
(racial and homophobic slurs ran rampant for a while) at dozens of
players, and when a GM arrives on the scene, he/she will do nothing
since he didn't actually see anything occur. No judgment can be
made.  Although large numbers of witnesses might come forth against
the accused, OSI refuses to take on the role of jury. And nothing is

The second problem lies in asking the players to enforce their own
social strictures within the world, then giving them no more subtle
method of punishment than death. Thus, if a character brazenly
steals 1,000 gold coins from your backpack, and the game logic
doesn't detect the theft, you are without recourse. You can see the
gold vanish, see that the thief is the only one near, even suffer
taunts from the lout, but without the game flagging the theft, the
only option available is to kill the thief (and thereby earn a bad
karma flag for your troubles). There is no way to overpower a
character, to force him to empty his pockets.  If a player is found
guilty of a crime by a jury of his peers, there is no way to
imprison him, to force him to make amends. Justice boils down to
death or nothing. And death isn't that big a deal in this game.

OSI blundered terribly. They refused to act as a judicial system,
yet they refused to give the players the proper tools needed to
enforce their own judicial system (and to be sure, there were many
passionate players who would've leapt at the chance to build the
structure of a law-abiding community, given the chance). We can only
hope that those who are building the next generation of
mega-multiplayer, persistent-world games learn from OSI's mistakes.

But, sadder still, is the fact that ultimately, the blame is
ours. If we, as a community of gamers, brought into these worlds the
same sense of decency that we have outside the game, all would have
been well. But something about the anonymity of online gaming seems
to bring out the worst in many of us. At least, I fervently hope
this is so. The idea that the liars, cheats and mean-spirited beings
of Ultima Online are reflecting the true natures of those playing
them... well, lock your doors at night, folks, because your
neighbors are truly scum.

by Peter Smith


J C Lawrence                               Internet: claw at null.net
(Contractor)                               Internet: coder at ibm.net
---------(*)                     Internet: claw at under.engr.sgi.com
...Honourary Member of Clan McFud -- Teamer's Avenging Monolith...

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