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While they label it as "The Origin of the MMORPG and More", this new article series on GamersNexus appears to be something of a full Ultima series retrospective and contains commentary from Richard "Lord British" Garriott himself. A bit from this initial entry:
(Prior to Ultima IV, which was called Quest of the Avatar, your character in a game was called your 'character.' With Ultima IV, since it was a game about virtue, I wanted it to be you in the virtual world so I used the Sanskrit word 'avatar.')
Origin Systems is also credited for the creation of MMORPGs in their earliest modern form, given rise in the Ultima Online era. Garriott noted that this also gave way to using the word (shard) as a means to describe isolated server instances of the same world, something we've grown used to with games like Rift or EverQuest (though EQ did not use 'shards,' it referred to them merely as 'servers').
The root of server sharding is actually somewhat humorous. Publisher EA projected that Ultima Online would sell something to the tune of 30,000 units for the lifetime of the product, but Garriott's Origin Systems thought this was wrong, itself projecting for closer to 100,000 units. In light of this, Origin architected a server system that would sustain the game's world in the event of mass sales a million copies in lifetime and built Britannia to hold that many players.
And things did go exceedingly well for the title. The game's beta, a $5 privilege offered by Origin, saw 50,000 sign-ups within a few days of launch. EA and Origin grew worried that not everyone would fit in the game's world, and where most developers would be ecstatic, Garriott although excited was concerned.