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EA Cracks Down on Ultima IV Remakes and Distribution – Hinting at Future Release?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 31, 2011

The news amongst Ultima fans this week has combined two events:

#1 – Rumors (and Tweets) from a few weeks ago about Bioware Mythic’s Paul Barnett’s secret project, which point to a web-playable Ultima project.

#2 – EA just issued a Cease & Desist against many sites offering free downloads of Ultima IV, as well two flash-based Ultima IV remakes … including the one by Phi Psi Software which I’ve linked to in the past.

There’s a pretty lengthy analysis available at Ultima Aiera for your perusal describing the situation and history. In a nutshell: Contrary to popular belief, Ultima IV was never truly released as “freeware.” Free distribution rights were granted to a few sites, but EA / Origin never intended to relinquish rights. This clamp-down points to them re-asserting their rights.

Now, they may be doing this as just a matter of housekeeping.  But it has people wondering why they are taking the effort, which goes back to rumor #1.

Could an official,  REAL web-based return to classic old-school Ultima be in the making? If not, the fan enthusiasm over the last few days and weeks over these rumors ought to hit someone in the head over at EA that there’s some real potential there beyond an old MMO and a generic web-based strategy game that was repainted with the “Ultima” logo.

UPDATE: My own personal view:

I’m a little leery of a modern reboot of the franchise, as I wrote in “What if Ultima IV were Written Today.” It’s got potential disaster written all over it.

But then, if we avoided everything that was a potential disaster, we’d never go anywhere. Some of my favorite games probably sounded like crap on paper. So my natural optimism is still gonna win out here. I mean, I’d love to see good ol’ Richard “Lord British” Garriott’s hand in something like this… but then his track record’s not perfect, either.

So… in the end, I hope the rumors are correct, and that we’ll actually see a new, official Ultima single-player RPG. Even as a web game.  Even as a remake of Ultima IV. But I wish they’d allow Phi Psi Software’s original to go back up (maybe as an officially sponsored product, this time?)

Filed Under: News, Retro - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

  • Concerning Ultima 4 | Ultima Aiera said,

    […] Update: Rampant Games comments on the story; welcome, RG readers, and thanks for the link […]

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    It blows my mind that a company can totally ignore something going on with their property for nearly 15 years and then suddenly start sending out the lawyer letters.

    I mean, there is a statute of limitations on theft, which is essentially what those giving away Ultima IV were engaging in. (Whether they knew it or not or lacked malicious intentions in doing so.) It’s like having your property stolen and waiting 15 years to contact the police.

    I agree that in seems likely that EA is gearing up to do something with the Ultima IP. If not . . . well that just looks worse on their part. Like Kotaku mentioned in response to the news, that would mean they must have the slowest moving legal department in existence.

    Finally – why bother with the cease and desist letters for Ultima IV at all, even if they ARE reviving the property? I can’t see it taking away from any new game they might produce. If a 26 year old game can draw an audience away from your brand new title in the same setting, you have done something VERY wrong. If anything, they should plaster links to Ultima IV everywhere and say “Play it! Get psyched up and check out our new game, coming soon!”

    But I’m willing to bet that they are afraid new-comers to the Ultima IP will Google it when the new game is announced, find this free version of an old game in the series, play it, say “Ultima sucks – where’s the shiny?”, and not buy their new game.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I added an update linking to an article I wrote a few years ago.

    I agree, trying to scour the web for free versions of a 25-year-old game sounds… suspect. Though if this was a perfect world, here’s what I’d like to see:

    #1 – A new, OFFICIAL Ultima game, maybe a “reinvented” version with new technology that somehow, miraculously manages to be true to the spirit of the original. And becomes a launch-point for a reboot of the entire franchise, starting with the point where they became awesome.

    #2 – Phi Psi Software’s web-based version becomes an officially sponsored promotional piece – earning the dude a bit of money in the process – which is freely available by EA / Bioware Mythic to promote the new game, earning lotsa goodwill from old-school Ultima fans while new players are left scratching their head wondering what all the fuss was about.

    But again, this could be a lot of hype and hoopla over nothing at all. But if so, I hope it sends a signal to EA that there is some interest … maybe it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    It seems like almost everyone is assuming that if EA is reviving the series it is going to be another MMO.

    Can’t say I’m excited or thrilled by that particular prospect. I don’t play MMOs, or even multiplayer for that matter. Any thing less than another single player entry into the series would make me a sad puppy.

    Another thing I forgot to mention is that IP rights have to be defended or the holder loses those rights. It is a weird and backwards system that explains why companies try and keep the public from using their product name as a verb for an activity – i.e. “I Xeroxed those papers.” “I Photoshopped that picture.” “I Googled how to Xerox Photoshopped pictures.”

    If a term enters “general use” the company loses it. Which is stupid. Because it seems to me exactly what every company should aspire to. But discussing how broken US copyright law is would take a whole book.

  • Adamantyr said,

    I remember reading at some point that while EA owns the Ultima trademark, Garriott still owns his own name and character, Lord British. EA hasn’t shown much interest in placating fans, so I doubt they’ll go to any serious effort to involve him…

    Truthfully, I’d rather see Ultima remain dead than revived by EA. Let it join Starflight until EA is filing chapter 11. Which isn’t so far-fetched; their numbers have been in decline the last few years.

    Besides, they’d probably have Bioware write it. Ugh… just think, potential sex scenes with all the companions!

  • Rob said,

    @LateWhiteRabbit You’re confusing IP with trademarks. Trademarks must be defended or the owner risks losing them. Copyright/intellectual property does not require defending.

  • Concerning Ultima 4 (Or: In Which I Have to Be The Wet Blanket) said,

    […] Update: Rampant Games comments on the story; welcome, RG readers, and thanks for the link […]