- What happened from my perspective.
- What happened from the perspective of what might have been going on at Electronic Arts.
- What my visitors told me once I had removed the game from my site.
Here's what I know. One day I got an email from somebody who told me that they could no longer play my Ultima 4 game on my website. I had been working some pretty LONG hours on CityVille at the time, so I really couldn't follow up with 'server issues', but then it became apparent that this was not a case of my ISP being down. I got an "cease and desist" email (CND) notifying me that my website was being suspended for
Now I HAD to get involved. As I mentioned before, I worked at Electronic Arts for more than 7 years. I thought that if I ever had problems with my previous employer, that I could hopefully give my old department heads a call and we could "sort stuff out". But that didn't work out so well. First, I let my ISP know what was going on, that I was planning on appealling the cease and desist. It turned out that the guy at my ISP I spoke with was a fan of the original game. He thought it was pretty cool that I had taken it upon myself to rebuild the game in Flash, but rules are rules. So long as nobody could play the game on my site, then my Phi Psi Software website could run just fine. So I quickly pulled down the game from the main HTML page, which resulted in a broken link. That was good enough for my ISP so my website was reinstated. It was amazing to get the responses that I did with the broken link webpage. Many players sent me emails telling me that something was "wrong" with the Ultima 4 game, and wanted to know when I would fix it so that they could continue playing my game... more on that later.
Eventually, I called the number for the lawyer who had sent the CND email (strictly speaking Jean my wife made the call), and tried to explain why the Ultima 4 game had been such a passion for me. I reiterated that I had made absolutely NO MONEY from the creation of my version of the game, and how there were a couple thousand people who were visiting me every month to play on my website. (I had done VERY LITTLE to promote my game. In fact, my traffic didn't go crazy until PC Gamer published a web-article on my project: PC Gamer Article) The lawyer told me that I could appeal the CND, but ultimately I was too busy working on CityVille, and I let the matter slide. A few days later I posted the follow-up notice on my website. This prompted many wonderful responses from the people who had played my version of Ultima4.
Behind the Scenes
What happened from within EA? Well I can only guess. I have managed to glean a few details over the past year, but nothing is 100% certain. So anything I say in this section could easily be mistaken... but as far as I know this is what happened. But if anybody knows differently then please let me know.
First of all, Electronic Arts is apparently working on an MMO based on the Ultima Britannia world. That's kinda cool! From what I've heard (unknown source), the developers working on the project knew about my version; moreover, they were impressed with what I had been able to accomplish by myself in such a short timespan. My passion for the game was clearly evident, as is true for anybody who plays my game who knew the original. Granted the combat and monster encounters could use a little rebalancing... (yeah I'm look'n at you crpgnut! Try casting protection spells why don't ya?!? Heh! Just kidding!) but that stuff is pretty easy to tweak, given that I rewrote all of the original data in XML. But even with the development of a new Ultima MMO, how would my little application pose a threat? The answer is that it doesn't. If anything, my version would help promote the new version by providing free and readily accessible access to the original game.
Second possibility.. well this is where we venture into speculation and rumours. Again, I don't know FOR SURE what happened but these are the events as I know them. A few months after my site came down, a pretty cool offer was made by Great Old Games (GOG.com) where with a standard subscription to their site, and you could download the original Ultima 4 game. This is the original game that you could run on a PC with an emulator (DOSBox), which is fairly straightforward but does require a 'bit' of configuration. Whereas with my version, all you need to do is use a browser to get to my game: no other plug-ins are required except a Flash player, which is pervasive technology. Here is the question that I have to consider from this timeline: was there some kind of the deal between GOG and EA that resulted in sites like my Ultima 4 being shut down? In this way, GOG would not have to compete with the convenience of my site. (I'm guessing on this point.) Because Great Old Games wanted to offer the "official" version of Ultima 4, my site could not be active to compete with their version. I find it absurd that it is still possible to 'compete' over a game that is 25 years old with pixelated sprite graphics. Another absurdity, that my name/web-site would have been mentioned in a contract saying that you EA are required to crush this fan project in order for this business deal to be completed. Wow! This shows quite the spirit for Good Old Games.
Response from Players and Others
Ok, let's get back to what the response was from the people who played the game. Many people were VERY HAPPY to have found my version. A group of people wanted to send me a donation for all of my work and attention in recreating the original game. One person described the moment that he stumbled across my site as "paradise found". Some people got a real kick out of the fact that I made players go back and have to talk to people rather than just 'auto-finding' the hidden objects in the game. One high-school teacher used Ultima 4 in his honours class to teach quest motifs to his students. He found my site invaluable for getting his students to play through the game (especially with my embedded documentation). There was one woman who had played the game when she was younger, but now suffered from Parkinson's Disease. She no longer had the motor skills to play modern CRPG games, but when her son discovered my site, she remembered happier times in her past and was able to complete the game with her son. Almost universally, people were appreciative of the MEMORIES that my version had rekindled. Ultima 4 is such a BELOVED game for so many people. I can't tell you the number of people who said that they played the original Ultima4, and were now sharing it with their children.
Perhaps the best response came from the original creator himself: Richard Garriott (a.k.a. Lord British). At one point I was so despondant that the project that I had loved and worked with so much effort was being shut down. I tweeted to Mr. Garriott asking him if he knew about the recent crackdowns by EA over the fan versions of his game. He tweeted me back (paraphasing from 140 characters): we can't control what EA does with the license, but that his team would most likely be the ones to carry on the "true legacy" of the Ultima name.
So now what? Well I still believe that Ultima 4 is a game that DESERVES to be played. This is a seminal work in the development of the computer role-playing genre. My version of Ultima 4 allowed thousands of people to play the original game with little or no technical difficulty. This is a game that has been in existence for more than 25 years--a virtual eternity in the field of game technology. No major case has yet to be made in terms of how or when the copyright on electronic entertainment software expires.
So that's the gist and I'm done here... I've written my two blogs about what happened to me over the past year, and now given the inside details on why my game got pulled down. Going forwards, I want to write a few blogs looking at the current state of the CRPG genre (Skyrim for example), and talk about the new directions I'd like to see the genre develop.
Cya in a bit,