As this weekend draws to a close, I find myself troubled more than ever about the future of the virtual world I have called home for the last 9 years. I remember starting on Europa with the philosophy that I'd only ever use what my own characters could make, and the only two guilds I've ever run, the Lonesome Individuals Fellowship then the Solitary Professionals Alliance, probably sum up my philosophy. For many years, I ran vendors at the Chaos Shrine, before and after Trammel. I loved selling what I made, I had all kinds of craftsmen, and I still do. Sales began to die off when Red Healers arrived, guess that liberated my captive audience *grins* Back when I started, there wasn't much in the game that people would pay real life money for. Housing was always for sale for real life money because it was so damned rare, especially before Trammel. Accounts with fully-worked up characters of the difficult kind, thieves, tamers and tanks, sold for decent money. Folks used to pay a little for wood or ingots, and even for UO Gold though there was little you could do with millions of gp back then except buy a house! The key thing that strikes me about back then was that the things people paid real money for were finite; it was not about rarity, it was about there being a cap in the game of how many of them were possible. Housing was limited by the space on the servers, and accounts of fully-trained tamers etc. were constrained by how long it took to make the characters. You couldn't dupe a house or a character! Most everything else could be made by a good crafter, and the items that dropped from monster hunting weren't so uber compared to what crafters could make, so there wasn't a substantial real life money market for them. All that changed with artifacts and BOD rewards, which introduced items which were quite easily saleable for real life money, which were outstandingly powerful compared to the stuff a crafter could make, but were not physically capped. Yes, theoretically, they were capped by the frequency with which they could be spawned, but unlike housing or characters, they could, if someone found a way, be duped to an infinite degree without ever reaching some kind of server "cap". Capitalism being what it is, or for whatever other tragic socio-economic or human reason, people have found ways of doing this, and we end up where we are today. Every year or so, EA have a very public go at getting this under control, banning the dupers, and each time their actions get more drastic. I can only suppose that is because the dupers own actions are becoming more drastic, but the consequences of this vicious cycle feel, to me, as if they are becoming ever more damaging not just to the people involved but to the whole UO community. In times gone by, people's accounts would be banned, their property impounded pending an investigation, then if their guilt was upheld, deleted. If the ban was withdrawn, property would be returned. Last round, that turned into burning houses. This time, it has turned into instant deletions of houses and property, apparently with no hope of restitution even if the accused were ever acquitted. It troubles me in the same way the death penalty does; there is no way of undoing it if a mistake is discovered. But the impact on us is more insidious; these boards are full of people living in fear of buying anything! I am sure that is an overreaction, but what is it coming to when even a minority of the innocent fear to live their normal in-game lives? Living in a semi-irrational fear of authority has all the makings of life in a police state or an old Eastern Bloc state being watched by the Stasi! So how do we and EA jointly overcome this degeneration into paranoia? To me, the solution seems relatively simple. We have to reduce the reasons for dupers to try and cheat, by reducing the value of the dupeable wares in the game. I don't mind having houses that sell for $400, houses are capped. But artifacts are not. We can't ban real life money sales, every game that has tried has proved unable to enforce it. But we can devalue the items to the point where they are not worth paying real life money for, just as the majority of in-game stuff wasn't 9 years ago. If there is a way for reasonable casual players, not 24x7 scripters, to craft goods of artifact-quality, then the real life money market for duped goods would vanish almost overnight. I don't believe we can wipe out all the uber-items that have been introduced since the radical Age of Shadows changes, but we can certainly make it "affordable" by making it properly craftable, and in doing so remove its real life money value. We have to break the cycle of ever-more-abusive duping and ever-more-draconian punishment, and I just can't bring myself to believe the current methods are the most likely to succeed. It feels like a turf war between two gangs, the "progs" and the "dupes", and the remaining 99% of us are stuck in the crossfire. How strange all this would have seemed to the innocent young miner I first created in August 1999, running his mule convoy from the Britain mines to the blacksmith... These are tough times for UO. We will survive, but I doubt we will prosper until this is resolved. It is more than coincidental that this melancholy comes just two weeks after my daughter received her email saying they were finally closing down The Sims Online. I remember her leaving her UO account behind to play TSO, and telling me TSO would be so much bigger than UO because the Sims franchise was bigger than the Ultima franchise. Whilst she was wrong, in the end, it serves as proof that EA is willing to close down games that are either not profitable or have run their course. Touch wood such a fate does not face us. Take care. See you in Sosaria, whilst it is still there.