Today I got a Shadowclan shirt in the mail. The back of it says “Hoowah!”
Shadowclan is, of course, one of those game guilds that crosses over multiple games, and it’s been around since the early days of UO. It got its start after an enterprising roleplayer decided to roleplay being an orc. I don’t think anyone quite knows what happened to that player, but for a while, he captivated roleplayers across the shard with his odd relationship with the players based out of Trinsic. He served as the inspiration for a lot of people becoming orcs, which we helped out unintentionally via orc masks and polymorph spells.
Eventually the Shadowclan was born: a large guild that took over one of the few bits of static content in the game, the Orc Fort, and defended it against human players. They developed a pidgin language all their own, perhaps inspired to some degree by the Warcraft games, which eventually migrated over to EverQuest (no orcs there, but that’s where the trolls got their lingo), DAOC, and thence to SWG (Rodians… odd fit, but you make do), and then to WoW.
This shirt is hardly the only bit of guild memorabilia that I’ve been given. Over the years, players have come up to me and given me all sorts of things. It ends up forming part of the tapestry of how you touch players emotionally, and they touch you back.
So today I thought I’d give you a little tour of just some of these things, and tell you the stories.
It’s hip to bash SWG these days. Lots of folks like to say that it was a deserted disaster from day one. It’s not true, and here’s some of the evidence. This is a mug from the in-game corporation Avian Technology & Trade which at the height of its powers had a few supply companies, a city (Avian City, natch), and well, real world goods. Alas, just this weekend I saw that there was discussion of Areae on their forums, so I went to check it out, only to see on the front page that they have left SWG for good.
But I still have the mug.
AT&T isn’t dead, of course — they just moved on to WoW. This is a common pattern for guilds — when we opened UO in pre-alpha in early 1996, one of the first groups that showed up was refugees from The Realm. Some guilds have been at it a long time, like Shadowclan, hopping from game to game in a highly organized fashion.
These guys are super organized. Real life meet-ups. Polished newsletters. A corporate sponsor (!). You can see the coin there on the front page of the newsletter — I’ve got one of those too, but it’s in a box still packed away from my move from the SOE offices. It’s rather cool. They still use LLTS as their domain name — because they got their start on UO during the pre-alpha, and used LLTS as their guild abbreviation.
The oldest guilds in UO were extraordinary achievements precisely because there was no guild system. In fact, I wrote the guild system in response to the fact that players were spontaneously creating these organizations and creating characters with names with the guild tag in them. In effect, if you joined a guild, you had to start your character over; if you left, you had to wipe the character. That’s commitment. This is why UO’s guild tags were 3 and 4 letter abbreviations even in the system I implemented — that’s what the players had settled on when trying to cram it all into their names.
There was a camaraderie there that is missing for me now. Today Fan Faires are vast affairs, and while they still provide that emotional connection with fellow players, there isn’t quite the sense of being in on a secret anymore. Once upon a time, there were only a few sites you would even go to to discuss MMOs: The Vault network (today swallowed up by IGN, and unrecognizable from its origins); Crossroads, where most of the UO devs hung out for a long time; and Stratics, which is the only one that still resembles its original self… and of course, there were the Rantings of Lum the Mad, the original MMO rant site where invective flowed freely and devs ventured at their peril. Launch poorly, and you might be ridiculed so thoroughly that you might never live it down.
Today, of course, Lum is still around over at Broken Toys, and no doubt many of his readers don’t know where the name of the site comes from, or remember a time when he was an angry player, as opposed to a developer. But once upon a time, it’s true, he showed up at UO fan fests with large boxes full of Happy Fun Balls. They are labeled “Do Not Taunt.” They say “You are in their world now. Run.” on them.
And of course, there were the common black ones, and there were the rares. White Happy Fun Balls.
A few years ago, some of the ex-Lummies emailed me and asked if I had spare Happy Fun Balls; they were trying to put together a set to give to Lum as a gift, to remind him of the Old Days. It was selfish of me, but I held on to mine (hey, one of the black ones is damaged, as you can see. And no way am I giving up the rare). Sorry, Scott.
In a more innocent time, players would send homemade biscotti to the Origin offices, and we would eat them. Innocent naive fools, so trusting! That all ended for me after I got my first anonymous package in the mail — at my home address. Plain brown paper wrapper, no return address. I only opened it because I could see through a ripped corner that it was a book. Inside there was a post-it note reading, “You’re working too hard on UO. Take a break. Enjoy a good book.” Unfortunately, it was one that I had read already.
Not all mysterious packages have to be scary (though there have been death threats upon occasion). Here we see the Holocron sock puppet; one of several sock puppets sent in a care package by SWG players. I wish I remembered exactly where it came from — I believe that Kevin O’Hara (aka Q-3PO) brought the puppet by, one of several that showed up in one shipment, I think. Since Kevin was the community manager, he tended to get this stuff. Another sign of the changes in scale, I suppose — the whole time I was at SOE, I only got a handful of things sent straight to me by players, compared to the amount of stuff that I got when I was on UO.
I don’t know whether the whole “give the public faces for SWG sock puppets” thing was a commentary on how we handled ourselves on forums, or what. After all, the puppet was too cute to be a harsh slam, wasn’t it? At least, I preferred to take it that way.
Sometimes, you got things handed to you right there in person. Hobo was one such — he was pulled out of a shoulder bag by a woman at the UO luncheon at a Renaissance Faire. The intent, of course, was that I would fasten him on my shoulder. He was beautifully made, a rich green and black. She told me, “he’ll tell you his name, that’s what they do.” She also gave me the website of her dragon-making business.
My dog Mika attacked Hobo one day, leaving a gash in his side. I was able to ship Hobo back to her for surgery, and she did it free of charge, despite my trying to pay (she did include a scolding note about how Hobo was too small to play with big dogs). Hobo was obliged to move to a high shelf where the dogs wouldn’t reach. He then survived our house fire, which left his eyes somewhat smoky and his eyelids drooping. He got a little smoky, and a little sooty — but that’s how dragons should be, right?
Hobo outlived Mika. None of our dogs survived the fire, you see. The smoke got them. At this point, I was already off of UO, on an unannounced MMO that never shipped. My departure from the game was a lot like those of the players — you just stop showing up one day, and life goes on. Players didn’t really notice that I wasn’t on the project for a fair while, I think. But when the house fire happened, a note went up on the UO site, because that’s how the community was run.
I got a few letters. They’re pictured here. Luther D’Knock sent a check for $20, and a letter that said “I’ve enjoyed playing UO for two and a half years. I could never repay you for the great times. This isn’t much, but I wanted you to have what I could spare.” An anonymous card with an angel, no signature, no return address, and twenty bucks.
And most startling and touching, a scrawled envelope. Magic marker or Sharpie. From “UO PLAYER, ATLANTIC.” Some of the S’es are backwards. Inside, two dollar bills.
I never cashed the check, never spent the money. It all lives in a small bundle in my sock drawer, so I don’t forget why I do this online game thing.