October 6, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Fans celebrate rebirth of 'dead' online game

The resurrection of the online fantasy game "Uru Live" is already going better than expected.

Some 500 players are participating in a beta of the game, which formally launches this holiday season on Turner Broadcasting's GameTap game network, and 7,000 more are waiting to join them. For them, the rebirth of "Uru Live"--which brought the celebrated "Myst" franchise into the realm of so-called massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMOs)--is a chance to once again immerse themselves in a game about which many feel unusually passionate. The popular game was once left for dead.

Uru Live

"There was a part of me that didn't want to get too excited for fear it would be taken away again," said Keith Lord, a 24-year-old Web and graphic designer from Eastington, England, about the return of "Uru Live." "In the end, I decided to forget that part and just enjoy what we have been given back."

That "Uru Live" has life at all is probably surprising to some. The game had a strong fan base before it was shut down during beta on Feb. 9, 2004 due to a lack of financial resources. Left with no official place to play the game, many players stayed together in an unsupported freeware version of the game called "Until Uru" made available by its developer, Cyan Worlds.

Big game companies like Electronic Arts and Activision should take note: Communities of gamers increasingly say they won't let their favorites go quietly into the night, and small companies like GameTap are trying hard to tie into that fandom, said gamer Eleri Hamilton (her game name). Ultimately, Hamilton said she thinks the re-emergence of "Uru Live" could carve new ground for smaller developers.

"I think it's something the gaming industry in general should take note of," she said. "Here was this game that was killed by a large publisher (and) that the fans kept the torch burning (for) two years until GameTap picked it up. I think what GameTap is planning, with reaching out to the smaller game companies that don't match up to the big publisher bottom lines, is going to shake up the industry."

Now "Uru" fans and developers are looking forward to the comeback.

"There are a number of factors now that I think will help it be successful," said Ron Meiners, who for the last few months has been working as a contract community manager for GameTap. He was an "Uru Live" community manager at Ubisoft, which published the original game. "In many ways, it was ahead of its time. There's more broadband penetration now, and a lot more mainstream understanding of what an MMO is, due to 'World of Warcraft', 'Second Life' and other virtual experiences."

There are also a number of changes to the game. GameTap has implemented a new "physics engine" that governs movements in the game's virtual space and has new sound support for "Uru Live." While there are still bugs in the system, there should be no problems with the scheduled holiday launch plan, Meiners said.

To Josh Draper, 25, a laundromat operator from Conway, Ark., the new "Uru Live" does a good job of replicating the look and feel of the original. He also lauds some of the changes GameTap has made, such as making it easier for newcomers.

"It's become easier and faster to get to interact with other players," Draper said. "In the old version, you had to complete a solo area before you could do that, but now you can start playing with others almost immediately."

Meanwhile, Meiners said GameTap is considering adding all-new elements of user-created content to "Uru Live" and that by doing so, the network is hoping to leverage the creative capabilities of the playing community. Such a move makes sense, since many of today's most popular online games heavily depend on letting users contribute much of the content. That serves two main purposes: It keeps in-world content continually fresh, and it means development costs are lower.

"We're still working out how this will work, but people could create clothing, objects or even entire new worlds," said Meiners. "The 'Myst' games are based on travel to new worlds, and the solving of challenges there. The community created a few of those...Part of the whole mythos was the creation of whole new worlds as an artwork and we're working on enabling the community to engage in that."

That means the new "Uru Live" universe could well be populated with buildings, trees, sculptures, landscapes, oceans and other user-created objects, all of which, GameTap developers hope, will enhance the in-world environment.

"The worlds created for 'Uru' can be quite fantastic, and very beautiful," Meiners said. "So this opens tremendous doors of creativity and challenge."

Meiners said he's heard concerns from some members of the "Uru Live" beta community that the influx of newcomers via the larger GameTap subscriber base could prove an issue in what has been a somewhat insular environment.

"We know we need to grow a lot to be successful," Meiners said. "But some people aren't sure what effect that will have on the community."

Hamilton also downplayed that concern.

"I think it's good to push 'Uru' past the the 'Myst' fan niche market," Hamilton said. "Initially it might be challenging integrating some of the rougher edges of MMO society, but I think that will mellow."

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MYST Online: Uru Live
This is the most exciting thing since... well... just since.

I can't wait to see all the new Ages and be able to meet the people I've interacted with on the forum. I certainly hope that CyanWorlds releases the Age Creation tool soon after Launch.


And just to clear something up: Uru Live will be available outside GameTap to international customers via another way in to the Cyan server.


Oh, and a correction for the article, CyanWorlds, Inc, implemented the new physics engine, not GameTap. GameTap, as far as has been released by Cyan, is not involved in the actual implementation of things on the Uru Live program.
Posted by LegoAddict (1 comment )
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Signing up for Uru Live Beta
You can still sign up for Uru Live Beta - visit the link below:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.urulive.com/betasignup.php" target="_newWindow">http://www.urulive.com/betasignup.php</a>
Posted by Robert The Rebuilder (1 comment )
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Gametap Repeating Marketing Blunder 3 years later
For those not familiar, Gametap will officially launching the "reborn" Uru Live product any day now (February 2007). However in conjunction with this action they are shutting down the member run Until Uru environment which held the loyal Myst/URU community together for the past three years since the original game closing.

The fact that history is repeating itself, on the three year anniversary since the last closing is shocking to the fan base. Even worse the Myst/URU community is strongly international and the new Gametap product is NOT available in all countries. This drives a schism in the community to create those who "have" and those who "have not". It is just a poor marketing move.

Another round of viral bad publicity will come out of this. Why the corporate planners would think any form of bad news would be good around a product launch is just amazing.....

It would be far more prudent to delay this action until 8 months after the launch when they will have much more statistical data as to the product uptake. They will have a better idea how many people are renewing their 1 year subscription by then.
Posted by She_and_Ski (1 comment )
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