An anonymous source sent me this news squib which is supposedly due to be posted on Gamespot. Take it as you well, although it seems authentic to me (and really is nothing all that new other than the title, although it is pretty interesting nonetheless.)

I have to tread carefully here, because the slightest misplaced rumour will have thousands of strident Ultima Online (UO) fans besieging the Origin offices and pelting my mailbox with fruit. It’s that kind of game.

Plans are afoot for a major overhaul of UO for February of next year, with the working title of Ultima Online Platinum. It’ll be all download, unlike the recent Second Age. Before you ask, this should give you a clue that it will not be a new game engine thing. You’ll never get the UO team to admit that it looks even the slightest bit dated and with the numbers on their side it’s a tough point to argue. There are 134,000 players now, with new servers starting up all over the globe (a huge success in Korea, apparently). Origin’s main goal is to reach the 200,000-player mark. You might get them to talk officially about a next-generation UO after that.

So what changes should the February update bring?

Housing has become one of the defining issues of UO. Garriott likens it to the American land rushes and admits they were all taken hugely by surprise. As your local estate agent will tell you “location is everything”, and people are paying hundreds and thousands of dollars on Ebay.com for the right bit of property in online Brittania. Origin hopes to double the land mass in one hit by mirroring the existing lands, providing more breathing and building space for all concerned.

This may come as a bit of a shock to veterans of the rough ‘n’ ready UO world, but Origin is also considering making this second land mass non-PvP (Player versus Player), with a geography that gradually phases into the free-for-all that is the rest of Brittania.

That is all part of a drive to make the game more accessible to new players, and Origin also hopes to provide a sealed “newbie haven” with more moderator support to make the first few hours a little less traumatic for first-timers.

Other changes you can expect, over and above the usual server tweaks and so forth, are improved window management (including a default arrangement for new players), and a toughened monster AI to encourage group hunting by experienced players. There will also be changes to the skills system so that you can mark certain skills as capped if they are not something you want or need to progress in, and thus gain more in other areas.

All this is direct from the horse’s mouth, as it were, but Origin is quick to point out that at the time of writing none of this information is cast in stone and it is still working on a number of ideas. So please, no irate emails from virtual estate agents just yet!