Electronic Arts is the current owner of the Ultima trademark.
History with Origin
In 1984, Origin was in need of a distributor for the upcoming Ultima IV, since it was beyond their abilities to do all the work themselves. So they signed a deal with EA, that they would do the distribution in the USA, while in Europe, Mindscape was the contractor.
However, as early as 1988, the relationship between these companies was strained, as proven in Ultima V, where one curse word was "Electronic Arts." Richard Garriott felt that EA's policies were destructive, and the relationship worsened over time.
1990, Origin openly based several bloodthirsty pirates in Ultima VI on senior EA employees Trip Hawkins (Captain Hawkins), Joe Ybarra (Old Ybarra), Bing Gordon (Alastor Gordon) and Steward Bonn (Bonn). Richard Garriott also named a morgue after Hawkins. The practice continued in Ultima VII wherein three generators formed the EA logo, the initials of the "bad guys" Elizabeth and Abraham were "EA," and the Guardian was the "Destroyer of Worlds" (Origin's motto was "We Create Worlds"). Richard Garriott eventually settled upon Electronic Arts because he felt they were the ones with the best vision about the way videogames were about to evolve. The fact that Trip Hawkins also left EA one year prior to form the 3DO Company reportedly influenced this decision as well.
For the first few years, Origin benefited from a fruitful relationship with Electronic Arts, resulting in the company expanding and being able to start development on many new games with a more comfortable budget. However, inexperience on Origin's part led to mismanagement of many of these products, which in turn led Electronic Arts to take a firmer hand with Origin, gradually assuming more direct control over them.
Ultima VIII was one of the first games to suffer from this new management, which enforced strict deadlines and schedules, and thus suffered from numerous plot elements getting axed. The Lost Vale expansion for Pagan, despite being finished, ended up being scrapped by EA as well.
In spite of this change in company culture, Origin still remained one of EA's main development studios, and the company continued to release successful games over the years, such as the blockbuster Wing Commander series and the Jane's Combat Simulations brand, which was developed at the newly formed Origin Skunkworks.
But the situation changed drastically with the release and unexpected success of Ultima Online in 1997. Originally seen as a pointless endeavour by EA -- who wanted Origin to focus on Ultima IX -- things took a different turn after UO's beta test drew over 50,000 volunteers, which made EA insist that Garriott cease development of Ultima IX for the time being to focus on finishing UO.
The game became such a success that EA decided to shift Origin toward being a purely online-game company, and cancelled all of its ongoing single -player games in order to create online spinoffs of Origin's core licenses. According to Andy Hollis, Ultima IX was ironically the only single-player game not cancelled, because EA felt that since it was tied to Ultima Online, it could help bring more people to UO.
As such, the development of Ultima IX suffered under very strict deadlines, with EA finally setting a "ship or kill" for Thanksgiving 1999. This led to the release of a game that was extremely buggy, after already having had its original design scaled back significantly.
Richard Garriott left shortly after when it became clear that EA had no interest in his other game ideas, and only wanted him to work on Ultima Online 2. Origin continued to work on multiple online games such as Privateer Online and Harry Potter Online, but they ultimately all ended up being cancelled as EA finally turned Origin into a purely UO company.
Ultima Online 2 was ultimately cancelled in 2001 when EA realized it might compete with its own Ultima Online. This eventually lead to the development of Ultima X, a very different kind of online game that would cater to a different crowd than UO. Ultima X was meant to be released in March 2004, after roughly a year of active development. The reason for this quick release became apparent when it appeared that EA intended to close down Origin in April 2004 to relocate them to EA Redwood in California, as they had done with many other studios before, such as Westwood.
While EA was intent on the time at complementing Ultima X, their inability to find a proper development team to take over the project after the closure of Origin lead to the ultimate cancellation of the project. Ironically, Ultima Online remained the only online game release by Origin in spite of the company's later years fully online policy.
EA continues to hold the Ultima trademark to this day, having recently used it with their browser-based strategy game Lord of Ultima.
- Electronic Arts on Wikipedia.