A reader who will remain anonymous until he says he really wants his name here (so he can be recognized by the 5 people who read this page) sent in this clipped-out image from BritFest ’99, claiming it to be an accurate photographic representation of the former GM of the hour. He apparently gave himself away via a subtle clue (the name tag that said “GM Darwin”), and gave a short speech on why recalling into banks on Great Lakes had been temporarily disabled before dark-clad bodyguards hurried him into a waiting limo. Can this be real estate tycoon and ex-red-robed deity known only as “Darwin”? We may never know, but i still laugh when I look at those GM pictures, so I figured I’d post it. The presence of a cheesy red arrow just makes me laugh more.

Who could tell? Staring into those angelic, cherubic, angst-ridden faces, who knows which one might be hiding dark secrets and darker plots yet unhatched behind those innocent eyes? Could it be…

Or maybe… YOU??!!
Hmm… possible. Girls can get away with a lot more in UO…
… nah, too obvious. He has a rap sheet already.

One thing’s for sure… it ain’t the poor porky guy on the right. Look at this sap! Working at a LOOM. Sucker! Enjoy your “player-run virtual economy” there, buddy. I’ll be watching my bids go up on eBay.

All in all, an image of GM Darwin, accurate or not, is basically pretty meaningless. It’s doubtful I’ll ever run into the guy in the supermarket and recognize him, and it seems fairly unlikely I’d run into him in UO (besides the fact he no longer works for OSI, I almost never log in). In fact, most of this particular melodrama really has little direct bearing on most of us saps who still have UO accounts. Most of us didn’t get 2 million gold or a castle from him. Few of us have had any direct dealings with his GM persona in-game. I’ll bet almost none of us know him personally. So why the hell is everyone so into this story, to the point that we’d even go read a kid glove interview with they guy’s wife?

The reason is simple… this incident allows us to put a face on the feelings that we have basically been crapped on by Ultima Online support for most of our playing history. While idly chatting with people about the incident, they tend to bring up other incidents which were never really handled to anyone’s satisfaction. “Friggin’ GM deleted my backpack when all I needed was to claim a damn boat…” “Some bastard calling me a homo spic and I get sent to jail for paging too much…” “3 counselors and a seer standing there watching the guy delete a vendor and no GM in 4 hours…” “OSI was billing me for the last 8 months after I cancelled my account for their piece of shit game…” Maybe I just know a grumpy bunch of players who happen to share rare experiences of bad support. I must also randomly run into these people through playing, in IRC, and email a whole lot. Somehow I doubt it though.

Is it unfair to concentrate all of our displaced anger on Darwin, to use him as the Judas goat for all of OSI’s sins against us? Maybe. (I bet no Judas goat walked away from his ordeal with a nice lump of cash, though.) Would we do it again? You bet your ass. It’s okay to make a mistake in business, such as bad support. It’s NOT okay to make yourself unaccountable through aliases and godlike powers for your bitter support waifs, poor availability to deal with customer problems, and just flat-out runarounds. Richie Garriott is always off in his real-life castle #2 or some expensive strip club, pausing occasionally to make some sort of generalized luncheon speech about how great his next game is going to be, so you’d better fork out again losers. LadyMOI is a public relations interference runner, expected to improve relations with the players without actually being able to do anything. Raph Koster and Sunsword do reply to messages in the newsgroups sometimes, and they seem to be nice guys, but nice guys can lie through their teeth as well. Who remembers necromancy? The good/evil system? All the issues they waffled back and forth on continuously, sometimes with different OSI authorities spouting contradictory statements at the same time? Can SOMEONE please claim responsibility for all this crap? (Okay, maybe a few people… there’s too much that’s broken with Uo at this point for any one human being.) If only someone would say, “Guys, we really messed up in a lot of ways and screwed you a lot, and we’re sorry,” I would be moved enough to think about logging in again.

Here’s a dumb thought which just occurred to my sleep-deprived brain: how about the abolition of the GM system. It was a cute idea, making the support staff integrated with the game, except they shouldn’t be integrated with the game. When I’m in trouble with the product, I want someone with a telephone headset and low-level admin authority on the server to be working on my problem. I don’t want some chump in a Superman costume getting around to me when he feels like it, then take some time to decide whether I’m worth helping or if I should be banned for daring to disturb his castle-duping exercises. I think most UO players would give up the chance to take a screenshot of “me adn gm nubikilla” they’d only fail to post correctly on the UO Stratics picture forum, for the chance of getting a more professional level of support. I’d trade just about anything for the feeling that I was being helped by a professional person with a name, and a supervisor I could talk to if push came to shove, whose job it was to help clients who \were having problems.

And don’t even start with the “red robed GM’s help the immersive roleplaying aspect” thing. Nothing breaks that illusion like a bunch of eBay jokes being told around the training dummies.

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