Everything about research online I learned playing a game

It took me a while to notice that I come back to same experience every time I think about researching things online. Also took a while to put this together in coherent story.

So years ago I was playing Ultima Online MMORPG. I was playing for some time, I had multiple established characters in many areas of game’s experience. I wanted to try something more interesting. I was going to learn how to get artifacts.

Pick a task

Artifacts were interesting topic. Reward for fighting most challenging boss monsters at the most challenging dungeon. Or so game developers put it. Reality was – a crowd of players lured by promise of artifacts, beating poor monsters by outnumbering and then being disappointed for getting no artifacts.

The artifacts were awesome topic to research because it was both challenging and emotional. The best research is one you need or want (also known as you-think-you-need).

Expect a challenge

Most of UO is extremely well documented by fans. Artifacts were not. Either developers had been too tight lipped about mechanics or those mechanics were too broken and obscure to explain. The more months you spent in Doom, the more you thought latter.

The facts were that getting artifact is statistically rare but there are likely individual factors that can influence probability. If latter factors were widely known – they were worthless. If they existed and could be discovered and reliably used – they would be precious.

When you pick topic that is worth something – that worth comes from lack of accurate information, not abundance of it.

Select right parts

Hours into finding, considering and discarding information I came upon large old forum post, that compiled ton of info on artifacts. Some of it seemed mythical and bogus, some overly precise and backed out by numbers I hadn’t encountered elsewhere and had little reason to trust.

With no way to know if information is accurate you can only rely on logic.

I came back to that post again and again until I cut it down to minimum specific theses:

  • fighting strongest boss is better chance to get artifact;
  • dealing most damage to strongest boss improves your chances to get artifact.

First was logical. It is reasonable that stronger foe has better reward factored in.

Latter was weaker. But feedback on artifacts was always polarized – there was bulk of players who never got any and some players that boasted infrequent but stable artifacts drops. There was difference and this very well might have been it.

Verify in practice

So I had information, but it wasn’t recipe for riches yet. Information needs to used.

I needed a character, capable of fighting, surviving and dealing extreme amounts of damage to one of the strongest monsters. Several months of testing, training and three changes of skill set later I had a wicked necromancer/fighter that took two things to the extreme – survive and kill Dark Fathers.

I still hadn’t got a single artifact.

Look for an edge

Information is not an edge by itself. If you cannot apply information properly then it is useless.

There had been a lot of characters in Doom, just as strong as mine. They may not acted on same theories as I did, but they were on same level. I was close to the top but I needed to be better than best. I needed something to be step ahead.

There was curious and verifiable fact that Dark Father belonged to two monster types at the same time. Weapons with properties against either dealt additional damage (as usual). Weapons with properties against both dealt massive additional damage. Only they were as common as snowflakes in hell (except from quest-given large and slow archer bows).

It took weeks and 35 (thirty five) millions of gold, more than most of artifacts themselves were worth, to secure extremely rare melee weapon with two slayer properties. Relic of the previous years that could no longer be crafted.

In few days I got first artifact. Next week I got two in one evening. And again. And again. Results that took years for most players took me mere days.

Don’t believe crowd by default

Now that I gathered, verified and applied my information I suddenly realized how much of information around was bogus and ritualistic, yet faithfully applied.

For example the common crowd cheerfully spent most of the time spawning and dealing with crowds of lesser bosses. Fun, but opposite of what you needed to really get artifacts.

Information can lose value in a second

Several weeks later and getting artifacts becoming habit rather than holiday there was a patch to the game. In their infinite wisdom developers had given top bosses spell that was initially developed for players. And when spells gets casted at dozens times of intended level of power… Result were not fun.

The worst – it almost exclusively targeted fighters. The worst of the worst – fighters doing most damage suffered from spell the most.

The dumb effort to increase challenge destroyed balance and emptied the dungeon.

It was extremely harsh lesson that the most solid and valuable information doesn’t stay that way for long.


Shortly after my artifact days were over I started to lose interest in the game. Now those artifacts gather dust in the bank box of my long unpaid account.

But the lessons, learned over those eight months, stayed with me for life. There is always some task to research, even if it doesn’t have 30000 hit points and claws.

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  • Relequestual #

    You know, I was thinking about writing an article JUST like this the other day. Seems like yo beat me to it. Although, I have an "edge" as I will be focusing on one game for this. Could be fun! =]
  • Rarst #

    @Relequestual Don't know if that means games are really educational or we spent way too many years in them. :) Not sure what you mean by one game? This post is entirely about Ultima Online, not multiple games.
  • Relequestual #

    @Rarst hehe. Damn, I should learn to read rather than skim! =D