More Housing!!
Part of what players like about Ultima Online is its flexibility allowing players to build a character as they see fit, to place a house, to run a store etc.. As time passed, however, all of the spots filled up for player housing. So OSI cloned the worlds and prepared to open that area up for housing for players. After 3 months of trying, OSI finally got housing going there. But the road to that goal was a long, painful and treacherous one.

The first try at housing was so painful, its hard to believe it was tried a second time without any/many changes. The plan was simple: At 10pm EST one Friday night, OSI would toggle a switch on all east coast servers allowing castles to be placed. The resulting lag was horrendous and soon after the server crashed and was reset. Very few even got a castle placed, and no one got to do large houses due to start 2 hours later.

A couple days passed and OSI decided to do it a second time. Again the servers seized up and crashed after horrendous lag and only a few castles getting placed. Again, no larges were able to be placed that day. Again players left mad.

OSI then decided on a new tactic. They would limit which shards could place and they would not do large housing one the same day hoping that players wouldnt get online and that lag would be reduced. So again it was tried.. and again, the server seized up and crashed and again it was all rolled back (although this time more things did get placed).

Finally OSI called a halt to housing and went back to the drawing board. They came up with a new plan. Housing would all be on different days. Only one shard from each timezone would be placing on a given night. And they added some nifty code that was supposed to take players who had no deed on them and move them to the other facet and/or log them to free up lag and resources. In addition they turned off all monster spawns starting 2 hours before the house time.

Sounds great on paper right? Implementation was anything but ideal. After 2 stress tests on a test shard, they were ready to go. Once again Atlantic shard was the guinea pig shard and castle time rolled around. Amazingly things didnt lag too bad and castles start appearing and it looked like it was going on and that the server would save and everyone thought things might work out. The suddenly, after castles were placed, the server started thrashing and telestorming people from the housing lands back to the old lands and to those in the old lands back to towns. It was random and chaotic. One Syndicate member, Hunter, was tossed somewhere, naked, and without his backpack on his paperdoll losing his castle deed completely. OSI, of course, wouldnt reimburse him.

People were pissed but OSI heralded it as a success and the castles stayed placed. 2 nights later it was large housing night and all hell broke lose. Players with deeds, camping spots for hours were thrown into the other world and unable to place. Players minding their own business in the old world were yanked around or kicked off and told they couldnt get back in for 2 hours. Housing went all to hell yet, again, OSI heralded it as a success. Small housing came 2 days later, again with similar results.

There lessons to be taken from all of this. They are:
  • Players want freedoms and they want housing.. give it to them
  • However, ensure that all players can get some form of housing else you risk alienating large portions of your customers.
  • If you put in a patch to help with house lag while they place, ensure it doesnt penalize good players by erasing deeds, poofing them to other worlds so they cant get their spot or logging them out and keeping them out.
Players are forgiving people but alot of that forgiveness was burnt up on UO. Future games wont have the luxury of repeating those mistakes without player uproar.

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