12 Topics That Would Make a Proper Producer’s Letter

In no particular order, the following is a list of questions I’d like to see the UO/Ultima Franchise Producer answer. To me, the following questions would provide an excellent producer’s letter, not the watered down producer’s letters that we get in reality. You know, the ones that pass through layers of bureacracy and only reveal a handful of new things that could be handled in one, and at most, two publishes.

Answers to them would provide us more of an insight to the future of UO than what we currently get.

You maybe surprised, but I’m not going to get into in-game mechanics or other aspects related directly to the game, although some of the topics below certainly tie into it. I’m trying to look at the bigger picture, and not what’s in the next publish or two.

I’m not even going to mention the high resolution artwork update. Well, I just did, but I believe it’s happening and I believe Jeff Skalski when he says it’s important to UO’s future, so I don’t have much to say, other than it sounds like they need more artists/developers to help.

#1 Community Relations
If you can request a half a dozen Event Moderators from the UO community to put in 20 hours a month, why can’t you request half a dozen UO players to put in 20 hours a month putting together stories for the UO Herald/UO.com?

If you can ask for people to run in-game events, you can ask for people to contribute to the Herald/UO.com. I would shut down this website or give it to somebody else, and gladly work on the Herald/UO.com, highlighting player resources, community news, fixing broken links, etc., and I know I’m not the only one.

Boosting community relations is one of the cheapest and most effective things a company can do for a game. Twitter, Facebook, these are tools to supplement, not replace, community relations. Third party websites are things that supplement, not replace, official community relations as well. Like it or not, it’s also a sign of how well a game is supported. Right now, UO’s community relations and website would not instill much confidence in new or returning players.

#2 BioWare’s Public Dedication to UO (or lack thereof)
If BioWare is as dedicated to UO as they claim, why haven’t we seen a new hire or two or why don’t we see more public support from BioWare for UO? It’s quite clear from where I sit that UO could use more resources. You would barely know UO exists from looking at BioWare.com. An Electronic Arts Vice President, the man who is over BioWAre and other EA labels, claimed that UO was “widely profitable”. The man who runs BioWare Mythic claims that he’s proud to be head of the studio that runs UO.

These people are in a position to do something to help UO out. If UO is “widely profitable” and if the head of BioWare Mythic is so proud of UO, then why don’t things reflect that? Why aren’t the profits being plugged back into UO to make it a better game and bring in more players? Why is UO barely even mentioned on BioWare.com?

#3 Why Doesn’t BioWare Help UO out?
In a follow up to #2, why is it that BioWare seems to have a massive amount of resources devoted to its other games, including games that aren’t yet launched and won’t be for some time, but seems unwilling to help UO, at least that we can see? Surely EA/BioWare is in a better position than they were in 2009 when a bunch of people were laid off, including on the UO team. And as I said, UO is “widely profitable”. EA/BioWare announced that they sold 2 million copies of Star Wars: The Old Republic, and have 1.7 million subscribers (most of whom would have passed the 30-day free trial limit by now and are paying). 2 million copies means $100 million or thereabouts, and even when you take out everything but what EA gets out of that $100 million or so, they are clearly on the path to recouping their costs, especially since SWTOR would be profitable with just 500,000 subscribers, according to a statement made by an EA executive last year.

Take the UO website for instance. There are at most a few people who manage it, and it really appears to be only one, and that person or persons is shared with DAOC, WAR, and the WAR spinoff game. They clearly do not have the time to post even simple stories that would be of wide interest to players. BioWare has a large web development team, and UO’s website runs on the same software as Star Wars: The Old Republic. Can they really not spare a single day for BioWare’s web team to work on a new UO.com?

#4 Why Does UltimaForever.com Look Nice While UO Herald is still neglected?
It’s been 8 months since UltimaForever.com launched. If somebody could work on UltimaForever, why couldn’t that person(s) be asked to work on UOHerald.com or UO.com? UltimaForever looks like it was done by somebody who wanted to generate interest in the Ultima franchise. UO Herald looks like somebody spent $15 on a shitty Drupal template that turned up in a Google search for “dark fantasy Druapl template” and called it a day.

I won’t even get into the dumbass decision to re-brand a very recognized and iconic domain, UO.com, into UOHerald.com. That reeks of some corporate idiot with an MBA who wanted to have this “Herald” branding for UO, DAOC, and WAR. I’m just grateful that EA didn’t let UO.com’s registration lapse, like they did with Origin.com. Somebody in BioWare Mythic finally woke up and is trying to move Dark Age of Camelot away from the Camelot Herald stuff. It needs to happen to UO. I know Jeff specifically mentioned UO.com coming back, but see #6 below.

#5 Speaking of UO.com Part #1…MyUO.
When is the MyUO stuff coming back? It’s quite clear from comments I’ve been sent, that were posted on the official Warhammer forums, yes Warhammer has official forums while UO does not, that the people in charge of UO’s website do not have the technical know-how to make MyUO.com or anything related to it happen. Both WAR and DAOC have had functionality reduced. I don’t care about why that functionality was removed, but it was a step back. Companies should work to add functionality to their support websites, not remove it.

#6 Speaking of UO.com Part #2…Reality Check
How will UO.com be relaunched before the 15th Anniversary if the team, and that term is used loosely here, that is responsible is way behind on relaunching Warhammer Online’s website? WAR’s website was listed as being ahead of UO on the list of things to do. Warhammer was supposed to be finished last fall. They are not even finished with the Dark Age of Camelot website redesign and won’t get to Warhammer until that’s finished. WarhammerOnline.com, the official website, still has a story from 2010 as its top story. Excuse me for the lack of confidence.

#7 Speaking of UO.com Part #3…Official Forums
We need official forums. Warhammer Online has official forums on BioWare.com, with volunteer moderators. Star Wars the Old Republic has official forums with volunteer moderators. BioWare has guidelines in place for official forums and recognizes the importance of them. UO and Dark Age of Camelot are part of an incredibly small minority of MMOs that have no official forums. Even MMOs that are developed by fans/unpaid volunteers have forums. BioWare even has forums for some of it’s MSDOS games from what people have told me.

How can 17 year old MSDOS BioWare games have official forums, but a game like UO that still brings in millions, doesn’t? It’s even worse if you stop and think about the fact that Warhammer Online has official forums – UO brings in more money than Warhammer.

#8 Account Management Part 1
When is the _uo bit going to be added to Accounts.EAMythic.com to the help area/information so that people aren’t still going there blind when managing their accounts? How many UO players have wasted how many hours trying to figure out how to log in, and how much money has EA spent on salaries of support personal explaining that to people? We are talking about a line or two of text being added to a website, that would alleviate a lot of frustration for people who are returning. I was told by Jeff that they were looking into this. How many freaking months does it take to get a simple line of text added to a website? Obviously it takes at least 6 months.

#9 Account Management Part 2
When is the 9 account limit and the fact that we have to call up support to link or unlink more than 9 accounts to an email address going to be fixed? I know it’s handled by Origin.com, which is a completely separate entity from BioWare, but what with all of the SWTOR subscriptions, and other EA games coming out this year, you’d think they’d be working hard to make all of this clear. You’d think that information about the 9 account limits would be very clear on Accounts.EAMythic.com. Of course, you’d think that EA cares about making it easier for players to give them money, but that apparently is not the case.

#10 Scripting/Exploiting
It’s been a couple of years since the UO team mentioned they were tracking scripters. There were even scripters who were singled out and reported to the UO team, and they were even mentioned publicly by name on Stratics. They are still there and still doing their thing. I know that some changes were made to make it more difficult, but the fact is, they are still there, in plain sight, and everybody knows it. Do they only get banned when they’ve been scripting for 5 years?

I don’t buy for one moment the conspiracy theories that UO would become unprofitable if those accounts were banned and that it’s in the best (financial) interest of the UO team to not ban those players.

#11 What’s this business with other Ultima games?
I have grown weary of Paul Barnett and his silly little hints. Put up or shut up. I had a serious case of blue balls over this for a while, and then decided it was foolish to waste any more thoughts about it. When hints are dropped about an Ultima project for a certain amount of time, like say for over a year now, and we don’t see any actual information, it becomes clear that it’s one of a long line of Ultima projects that is not going to happen. Or it gives the impression that support for it dried up. Jeff Skalski is the Ultima Franchise Producer. If it’s real, start talking about the Ultima franchise, not just UO, and let us know where UO fits in.

There are people who are worried that this is going to turn into Warhammer: Age of Reckoning where a spinoff of sorts, Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes, now appears to be sucking up all of the development resources. The Warhammer team claims otherwise, but if you ask Warhammer players, the few remaining ones, plenty of them are convinced that Wrath of Heroes is impacting Age of Reckoning in a negative way.

#12 Netdragon
What’s happening with Netdragon, or rather what was supposed to happen? It appears that nothing is happening, because they have changed certain aspects of their business to focus on mobile or social gaming, and UO dropped off their radar and their websites in favor of other franchises, but it would be nice to have heard what might have been. We’re aware that it was not going to have anything to do with our UO and that most of us wouldn’t even be in the proper geographical location to even play it, but a lot of us are always interested in anything to do with Ultima and UO.

Ultima Ultimate Collector’s Book 2012 Edition
I was going to ask why the Ultima Ultimate Collector’s Book 2012 isn’t mentioned prominently on the UO Herald or UltimaForever.com. This is especially bizarre since BioWare wants to celebrate UO’s 15 years and the franchise’s 30+ years, and this book does an ample job of doing just that. However, Jeff said in a twitter message that he’s working on this. Apparently things posted on the Herald have to go through the same bureaucracy that producer’s letters go through.

Some of the things I touched on above are problems that seem to be ingrained within UO going back many years, through different development teams, and under different management. Where those problems or attitudes were created, whether they were created by the original Mythic management that took over UO when EA bought Mythic, or whether it was EA deciding that Origin-related games were no longer important to its bottom line, whether UO/Origin were victims of EA infighting/turf wars, it does not matter any more.

The only thing that matters is that UO is supposed to under new management, Jeff Skalski, and UO is under BioWare.

When is it going to feel like UO is a BioWare game, and when is it going to feel like UO matters to BioWare?