Companion

Senior Companion Blastfire, Lake Superior

Companions were player volunteers in Ultima Online. Unlike counselors, companions were solely aimed at young players. The official patch description for the "Companion System" was as follows:

Player volunteers called "Companions" are available for new players. When a player from a new account logs on for the first time, a Companion will be paged to welcome them. [1]

Companions filled a role that is currently occupied by automated new player help systems and quests. Where most customer support encounters last for minutes at best, companions would interact with a single player for far longer. In one interview, a former companion speaks of assisting a young player for more than an hour, while explaining, "everything he needed to know about his profession." [2]

Training

Prospective companions were required to participate in special training classes. Such classess were conducted both in-game as well as via Internet Relay Chat, or IRC. Special commands accompanied the position and needed to be explained and tested.

Non-Robed Companions

Companions, unlike other sections of the volunteer program, were not issued robed avatars; they were given access to Companion commands on one of their regular player characters, allowing them to teleport to a random young player in order to offer advice and mentorship, as well as to teleport to and from the island of Haven at will.

Robed Companions

While the vast majority of Companions were regular player characters, there was a hierarchy of management to the program. Dedicated members of the program were sometimes selected for promotion to various stages of management:

  • Senior Companions wore a yellow Game Master robe, and served as the primary point of contact between standard Companions and the rest of the program. Assigned to a single shard, they oversaw the training for each new member of the program on their server and assisted Companions with any issues they faced during their duties.
  • Regional Senior Companions also wore a yellow robe, but were assigned to a geographical grouping of servers (the Central shards, Eastern, etc.) and served as a point of contact between Senior Companions and Arch Companions.
  • Arch Companions wore white/silver robes and served as the heads of the program. They had direct contact with the EA / Origin Volunteer Program Coordinator.

Demise of the Companion System

The volunteer programs were closed as a result of a lawsuit initiated by former volunteers who sought compensation. On September 19, 2000, a group of Counselors filed a class action lawsuit in federal district court in Colorado. In their claim, they demanded "damages equal to three times Plaintiffs' unpaid minimum wage, and/or Plaintiffs' unpaid overtime compensation, as the case may be, attorneys' fees and costs, and injunctive relief," claiming that Origin and Electronic Arts were in violation of the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the State of Colorado's Wage Act. [3]

Volunteer Reaction

Player volunteers were informed of the volunteer program's closing the day before it was implemented. While some were informed via email by their responsible Origin/EA-staff, most found out about it by reading the news as posted on uo.com. In short, volunteers were shocked and dismayed.

Former participants lamented the impact on in-game service. Desribed as a "whole system crash," one companion stated that, "OSI hasn't really found a way to bring it back to where it was before... There are simply too many calls for the handful GMs." [4]

Notes

  • While the Companion volunteer program no longer exists, as of April 2012 non-robed Companion characters still have access to their specialized support commands.

See Also

References

  1. UO Live Access Patch. August 26, 1999. http://update.uo.com/design_25.html.
  2. Talazor. "Exclusive Interview with Sundancer: Arch Companion for Europa and Drachenfels." Online Game Trader. Undated. Accessed 4/6/2008. http://www.onlinegametrader.net/index.php?action=disp_news&news_id=173.
  3. Imagine Games Network Staff. "Revolt in Britannia: UO Counselors Sue Origin and EA" IGN News Web Site. September 20, 2000. http://pc.ign.com/articles/085/085264p1.html.
  4. Talazor at 2.