WOW:TBC – Tom Chilton’s AoS all over again?
Tom Chilton (also known as Kalgan or Evocare) might feel a little bit of deja vu these days. Maybe it’s just the time of year, the weather, or the music they play on the radio on his way to work, but more likely it’s an uneasy feeling that something that’s dismissed internally might have repercussions externally.
February 28, 2003, is a day to remember. That very day Ultima Online died. First it was just a more or less subdued roar, then a cry, and then … the once mighty empire of Electronic Arts’ leading MMORP came a-crashing down. Others took its place, players moved into Asheron’s Call and EQ only to be absorbed by World of Warcraft. Such is the nature of migrating societies, such is the course of the entertainment industry.
If today feels familiar to Tom Chilton, it is very likely because of his latest project, The Burning Crusade.
Chilton’s first brain child, Age of Shadows, was Ultima Online’s fifth expansion pack. It saw two new classes, a new continent, new items, new spells, and … resistances to most of the changes since their announcement. The weapons, argued the player base, were too anime-y, too wieldy, too colorful, to be truly worthy of UO. The PvP system, they claimed, was being skewed towards specific roles and classes and did not allow skill to overcome gear differences.
EA, Origin, and Chilton dismissed most of the criticism, stating how exciting and new it all would be. Shortly thereafter the exodus began. Slowly, first, then more and more, an avalanche. Origin never again developed a game the size of AoS, Chilton left the sinking boat to join Blizzard and develop the much-criticised PvP system (which, again, emphasizes gear over skill) and, today, World of Warcraft, The Burning Cusade.
The once mighty UO, leader of the MOG pack, today sports less than half its player base, most of which are located outside the US.
The similarities are striking. As with AoS, TBC introduces two new class/race combinations by giving Paladins and Shamans to either faction. It also introduces new races, a new continent, a new PvP system, and brightly colored weapons and anime-y characters.
The criticisms sound vaguely familiar as well. While hand-wavingly dismissed as a small fringe group of complainers, the percentage of those unhappy with the Blood Elf addition of “cute” characters into the Horde, the sharing of Paladin and Shaman classes between factions, the – still broken – Druid class, the still immense reliance on gear in PvP vs. skill, and more, is about the same as that of UOs “whining detractors”.
Does Tom Chilton feel the similarities? Not likely. Does the Burning Crusade spell the downfall of WoW? Again, not likely. But to all those arguing “small numbers” and WoW’s monopoly in the MOG world, the history of UO might serve as a reminder that once before a monopoly tripped and fell.