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May 14, 2001

EA: Melantus on Community

The following was posted to the Team Comments page on the Ultima Online Web site:

Melantus on Community

Hello all,

I am Dwight Spaulding, a.k.a. “Melantus”. As you may know already, I’m the Community Coordinator for Ultima Online.

The past few months have been strange, difficult, hopeful and ultimately inspirational. There is a lot of desire behind the scenes here to improve UO, and to press forward even harder to make Ultima Online great. This is due in no small part to the relationship we have with our players, and the relationships of the players with each other. Though at times a bit of a bumpy road, our communication with the players has helped to directly shape UO and influence our way of thinking over the past months and years. Of course, that is all dependent on information flowing into our ears from you, and out of our mouths to you. And this is something I’d like to talk about more: communication.

Communication is perhaps one of the more difficult aspects of an online game. How players see the game and the company that runs it affects not only their willingness to continue to play (and pay for) the game, but also how they feel about future games that a particular company might release. Of course, there are hundreds of thousands of players in today’s online games, and pleasing all of them all of the time is impossible. So at any point in time, someone will be hating (or loving) the game they play and whoever operates it.

One question that players have asked of me is why we aren’t more open with them with our ideas or our plans. To some degree we are, but this is an area that has unfortunately been the source of trouble in the past. We certainly like to talk to the players about UO, and listen to their ideas about the direction the game should take.

But about “wishlist” discussions, or even regular updates… why are they worded like “political” talk? Well, we can’t talk about systems off the top of our head that we haven’t thought out, or done initial design documentation on, or at least considered in a balancing regard, because what we say winds up getting taken literally, or even somewhat misquoted at times. Also, if we sound positive about a system or design, we’d better be working on it, because players that like the idea will be expecting it to get actual attention and progress. Even for just a brainstorm session idea, you say? Surely not! I have had feedback from players telling me that they can easily distinguish between something that’s just an idea and something that’s been promised. And I’m sure that concerning those people, that may be true. However, we have a very large community, and even just this week there have been two examples of our words being misinterpreted. So what difference does it make if we talk about something that is just an idea? Who cares if some people mistakenly assume that this conversation about the idea is a promise to deliver?

Well, I care... because it means the integrity of our word. Whether we can deliver what we talk about is much more important than one might realize. Do we have a lot of fanciful ideas but no delivery? I would rather us take an idea - even if it’s based on the many great discussions on the UO Boards - and put a bit of necessary thought and research into it before openly talking about it with the players. Does this mean we don’t or won’t talk to the players about our ideas and the great potential for UO? No, we do a lot of talking with the players, and will continue to strive for that, but there is a need to be careful of what is said. In perhaps no other business besides politics is the words/information said looked over and examined so closely by the public. This is a good thing overall, because it definitely shows high interest. It also shows an unwillingness on the players’ part to just “take whatever is given” by the dev team, which is something I consider healthy for the industry. It means responsible communication by us, with the understanding that we need to not be so tight-lipped that our players feel we’re off in an ivory tower. I would rather we be respected for being able to deliver what we promise. I also want to try and minimize misunderstanding of what we say by posting clear information.

Players still do get input into our changes and the direction of UO - more than they perhaps realize. Changes go into testing before release, where players can try the change out and give us feedback. We are open to the feedback, and have made many changes to upcoming systems based purely on that feedback. We also watch the boards, and see all of the “wouldn’t it be cool if...” posts. All of this affects UO’s direction. So players are involved to varying degrees, some of those degrees being quite involved. Being more open with the players is something I’d like to work on, as long as there is no compromise of our integrity.

Dwight “Melantus” Spaulding
Community Coordinator
Ultima Online

Posted by Nobody at May 14, 2001 6:34 PM

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