At this kind of distance, it's much easier to see how important Ultima Online is in the history of videogames. It wasn't the first MMOG, but it is perhaps the foundational game for what we'd come to think of as MMOGs, and its influence can be found in everything from the obvious (World of Warcraft and even much more contemporary examples like New World) to edge cases such as Minecraft's crafting system.
Ultima Online is a landmark, and that is most obviously shown in the fact it's still a going concern: servers remain live to this day, and the game receives regular if small updates. This month marks 25 years since the game launched and, alongside a merry in-game celebration (including drinks vouchers and a 'troll kissing booth'), Ultima Online also offers one of the most remarkable in-game collectables you'll see: a shield that reflects a player having spent 25 years playing the game.
- As special recognition for unprecedented support of Britannia, this account-bound shield is available for claim and use by accounts 25 years old or more.
- 30% chance to flame strike a mob on successful parry and a 5% chance to flame strike unsuccessful parry, does not proc against other players or pets.
- Valid destination target for transmogrification potions
- Invalid origin target for transmogrification
- Can be dyed with natural, metallic and promotional dyes
- Can be repaired via blacksmithy
- Will display an informative gump when double clicked
As well as the shield, players with this kind of vintage account can claim the title 'Founding Citizen of Britannia' which, yeah, fair enough.
All players are receiving a 25th anniversary card in-game, and a token which can be traded for various gifts. These include a silver shield bearing a stylised version of the Ultima Online Charter Edition box art, alongside an inscription of the game's launch date on September 24, 1997. There's also a silver anniversary tome which shows a randomised landscape of Britannia and plays a nice tune. Alternatively, sod the shield and books and claim a skull-shaped bottle of intoxicating liquor which promises to "inebriate the imbiber." Well, it is a celebration.
Designer Raph Koster, who was one of the key figures in Ultima Online's development, took to his blog to muse on the 25 years that have passed since Ultima Online's release.
"I note a lack of thinkpieces and articles, this time around," Koster writes. "The fact of the matter is that the most frequently targeted gamer audience wasn’t born when UO came out. A lot of the folks streaming about games weren’t born yet either.
"I saw a post on Reddit yesterday that asked 'how come no other MMOs have done open world housing, besides ArcheAge?' Ah well…."
That's something of an inevitability for a game of this age. The great stories have largely been told (and here's a collection of them), the 10th and 20th anniversaries brought out the tributes, and yet here Ultima Online still is. Not just the game itself but that undeniable through-line.
"In many ways the influence of UO is so pervasive that it isn’t visible," writes Koster. "Whether it’s Runescape, Minecraft, Eve, DayZ or Neopets, those younger folks probably played something that was inspired by UO in some fashion, and don’t realize how big a shift from prior games it represented. These days, when people say they are sick of crafting being in everything—it makes me want to apologize a little bit. Won’t apologize for games that let you sit, decorate a house, or go fishing, though."
"A thing you cannot see in the vid—when at the very start Starr [Long] asks how many people in the room worked on Ultima Online, a lot of people in the room stood up. And when asked who played—it was almost everyone. A nice moment."
The classics, of course, don't always get the universal praise they might deserve. "Ultima Online when it first came out got a pretty mixed reception. Including picking up the 'Coaster of the Year' award (which made more sense when games came on CDs). But it did pick up plenty of awards at the time."