Ultima Online & Play Money

Last year, there was a fascinating article on the New Yorker PIMPS AND DRAGONS by ELIZABETH KOLBERT. It introduced me to a virtual world invented by designers of the virtual reality on-line game Ultima Online (U.O.). Today, I came across someone who is earning a living (REAL $$) by buying-and-selling “real estate” exists only in U. O., and he has a blog devoted to such transactions! Check it out: Play Money

A few quotes from the New Yorker article:

U.O. took more than two years to design, and, … a great deal of that time went into trying to perfect what was known as the “resource system.” Under this system, both natural and man-made objects were coded according to the imaginary resources that went into them¡ªa sheep, for example, was a couple of units of meat and a couple of units of wool¡ªand the total pool of each resource was fixed, so that there would always be a certain amount of meat in the world and a certain amount of wool. One of the goals of the system was to produce a naturalistic and therefore dynamic environment: the sheep would get eaten by wolves, and as the wolf population grew the sheep would decline.


Even as experienced gamers, Koster and Vogel were taken aback by what happened next. U.O. went live in late September of 1997, and by early October Britannia was on the brink of environmental collapse. “The creatures had all gone extinct, because people had hunted them out completely,” Koster recalled. “The land was completely deforested, so no more wood was growing anywhere. And all the mines had been mined out.” …

Under the resource system, players could gather raw materials, like ore, and make them into finished goods, like armor, which, once used, would begin to break down and reënter the pool as raw materials. Players, it turned out, liked to make things¡ªthey were turning out hundreds, and even thousands, of swords and shields and gauntlets¡ªbut instead of using them, or throwing them out, which would have had the same effect, they hoarded them. One player reportedly had a collection of ten thousand identical shirts. The result was that there were hardly any materials available to replenish the pool, which deepened the environmental crisis.

Interesting, huh? So much for socialists¡¯ ideal where people only take what they need and work when they are able.

Another interesting fact is the four natural categories players automatically fall into¡­

Ever since electronic multi-player role-playing games first appeared, in the form of multi-user dungeons, back in the late seventies, there has been much speculation about what draws people to them. Richard Bartle, an Englishman who might be described as the Claude L¨¦vi-Strauss of the MUD world, once proposed a four-part typology, dividing players into “socializers,” “achievers,” “explorers,” and “killers.” Even though U.O., with a quarter of a million subscribers, is two or three orders of magnitude larger than even the most populous MUD, Bartle’s scheme fits the game pretty well.

As time has passed, community oriented players have introduced into Britannia a wide variety of ordinary, not to say humdrum, social rituals. They organize pet shows and comedy nights, put on amateur theatricals, and regularly hold disco parties in the dungeons. Marriages are commonplace in the game, and when a player dies in real life a funeral is usually held for his avatar; players leave virtual flowers on the virtual grave. In Austin, over and over again I was told stories of friends who meet in the taverns of Vesper and Trinsic to do nothing more remarkable than pretend to drink beer and pretend to play chess.

The game’s achievers, for their part, have managed to produce an overheated, almost Hamptons-esque real-estate market. Buildable lots are scarce¡ªin some areas unobtainable¡ªand such is the demand for mansionettes that it has spilled out of Britannia. On any given day, eBay has a couple of thousand auctions running of U.O. homes and other paraphernalia. Recently, I saw on the auction site an enormous castle for sale in Trammel that had received twenty-two bids and was going for eight hundred dollars.

The killers, meanwhile, have not confined themselves to killing. They’ve organized themselves into murderous factions and extortion rackets. …

4 thoughts on “Ultima Online & Play Money

  1. Similar things happen in China. There are people live on selling points in online game. They are professional player all day play the game and get very high points in an account. When someone short of point and cant live on in the virtual world, they sell points to them to get real money to live in the real life.

  2. Hi Luan Kan – What fascinated me more were the similarities between the virtual world and the real world.

    The human behaviors seem to be more condensed and simplified. The fact that we eat away natural resources at no time, the fact that we are naturally gravitate in becoming either Socializer, Achiver, Explorer, and Killer. It paints a rather bleak picture of our future. So this is how we will behave always?

    A little depressing.

  3. Great find!

    Which ‘REAL $$’ are you talking about. I hope he’s not trading his real estate for American pesos, er, I mean dollars.

  4. Yes. The similarity.
    But the virtual world behavior may take this fator into consideration: people know that’s just virtual world, exagerrated action wont hurt anyone in realarity. They may pay less considerations when use resources. No planning.
    However, in the real world, human is still quite new to this old planet. Some cultivation without knowledge of future harm can be well emulated in this way.
    The porblem is whether the exagerating in virtual world counts just the same as ignorance in real.

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