Yes Virginia, There will be a New Ultima Online, and a New Sims Online

I really wasn’t planning on wading into a lot of commentary on – we are still understaffed for what we want to do, but I’m finding myself drawn into some drama.

I’m posting this now because it’s no longer April Fools day and it’s just after midnight Friday night. I really want to get this out of the way. I have contacted some sites that are running a very misleading story that implies that EA is putting together a new Ultima Online, when the links they are pointing to very clearly show that EA is recruiting for jobs related to The Sims in Redwood, and specifically Sims on the web. I wrote about this a few days ago in my Ultima IV, EA, and a New Ultima Online article. It says it right there in the job description – you can read it for yourself. The fact that it’s in Redwood City should have been the first sign that it had nothing to do with BioWare or UO. The fact that it explicitly states that it is a job related to a web version of the Sims should have been even more obvious that it has nothing to do with BioWare or UO. There are other signs as well, but those two are sufficient.

So why did some websites ignore the fact that it was related to a new version of Sims Online and try to play up an Ultima Online angle instead? There are a lot of reasons that gaming websites do what they do. Sometimes it’s deliberate, sometimes it’s laziness and just copying other websites, sometimes it’s ignorance. It’s definitely not a factor of time spent researching the story – it takes you less than 30 seconds to end up at the actual job link.

What’s interesting to me is that a new Sims Online is a huge story and these gaming sites are completely missing that! They are running with a rumor that has no basis in reality and ignoring the story that is right there in front of them. The Sims Medieval is #1 and #5 on Amazon’s top PC games list and The Sims 3 Deluxe is #10. The Sims Medieval is even beating out Rift. Most of us know somebody who loves the Sims – it’s the best selling game in PC history.

How can you miss one of the biggest MMO stories to come around in a while – EA making another attempt at a Sims Online game, and one that may even have serious Facebook integration? I have to go with them being ignorant and lazy, because deliberately ignoring such a huge story in favor of trying to generate some traffic with some kind of Ultima Online 2 story is very foolish from a business point of view. This site is a small site that is ignored by most, and yet we have received a lot of traffic related to people searching on Sims Online, and here you have these gaming websites totally missing this story.

On to Ultima Online stuff. I’ve gotten a lot of emails about my Ultima IV, EA, and a New Ultima Online commentary. Let me get this out of the way, as simply as I can. If you were to walk away from UO today, and come back after EA finishes the graphics, quest, and new player updates, UO will look like a new Ultima Online. Now EA maybe still supporting the Classic Client for some reason, but if you come back to UO and select the Enhanced Client with the graphics update, it will look and feel like a new UO, maybe even more so than with Kingdom Reborn.

Now before any of you tell me that EA being EA, they might cancel some of these updates, I will agree with you up front, to an extent. I don’t think EA can afford to cancel these updates though, because the MMO industry is slowly shifting. It has nothing to do with subscription numbers or anything like that, although I don’t think things are as rosy for UO as others do. Now in my Ultima IV, EA, and New Ultima Onilne article, I mentioned that EA is going after World of Warcraft with Star Wars: The Old Republic, and I think that is their main avenue of attack. I think it’s a mistake, just as I thought the way they handled Warhammer: Age of Reckoning is a mistake, but that’s their strategy. That also was one reason why I felt there would not be another truly new Ultima Online – they have a lot riding on Star Wars and are probably not in a position to risk another major MMO startup.

With that said, look at some of the larger players in the MMO business, at least from North America and Europe. Sony Online Entertainment has EverQuest, EverQuest 2, PlanetSide, and DC Universe Online, among other MMOs and MMO-like properties. Even with their recently announced layoffs, they made it clear that they are continuing with plans for PlanetSide 2 and EverQuest 3. Turbine, which develops Asheron’s Call, Dungeons and Dragons Online, and Lord of the Rings Online, was bought by Warner Brothers, and they weren’t bought just so they could shut down those MMOs. EVE Online will soon be adding a second MMO to its universe, one that actually integrates within EVE Online. It’s a first-person shooter which will draw in people who might not be interested in EVE’s PvP ship battles.

Let’s talk about World of Warcraft, it’s hard not to. In a recent Gamasutra interview with one of the Blizzard co-founders, Frank Pearce made this telling statement: “For us, I think it’s really important that we recognize that somewhere, sometime it’s likely that someone is going to cannibalize World of Warcraft players…….So it’s better we cannibalize them ourselves than let someone else do that, because if we cannibalize them ourselves, they’re still a Blizzard customer,”

Where am I going with this? The established, older MMO players such as Sony and Warner Brothers/Turbine clearly see the value in offering customers multiple games in the hopes that one of them will draw somebody in, and they are not too concerned with having a WOW killer, since the MMO market is now so large in North America and Europe. I’m not even discussing Asia because of how huge MMOs are over there. Blizzard is aware of that, and Blizzard sees the value of keeping somebody as a customer, even if they are playing a different Blizzard game. My guess is that the efforts being put into UO, and possibly Dark Age of Camelot and even Warhammer are a part of the recognition that EA should be attacking World of Warcraft and other MMOs from all angles, and offering customers multiple choices. I have a feeling that it’s being driven within BioWare and not EA proper, but then you get a story like a web-based Sims that shows that EA is aware that there is more than one type of MMO.

Of course, EA being EA, and UO being UO, there is always the chance that UO players will be let down again.