The Elder Scrolls Online is going to fail.
At least that’s the general feeling that Paul Tassi conveys in his article posted on Forbes.com on January 2. I disagree, and it’s not just because I write for a site devoted to the franchise, but because I genuinely believe he’s wrong.
I’m sure Paul’s a great guy and genuinely has concerns about the game. I’d love to actually sit down so we could hash this all out together, but this article is my attempt to counter his thoughts and calm the waters that an article like his can stir up.
Play the Game First
There’s an overwhelmingly loud minority out there shouting that Zenimax Online Studios’ upcoming MMORPG stinks, but it is largely coming from people who haven’t played it yet. Negative or doubtful articles like Paul’s – even if they are well structured and articulated – give people who already hate the game or franchise, for whatever reason, something to point to and say, “See! Even the experts think it sucks!”
Unfortunately, bashing ESO is the “in thing” to do at the moment, but like I said, many of these people haven’t even played the game. I’m sure Paul has played it here and there at press events and the like – just like I have. But he and I have very different feelings about the game’s potential in 2014.
This Is Not the Flop You’re Looking For
In his piece, Paul compared The Elder Scrolls Online to Star Wars: The Old Republic, which is another big franchise that many people view as having “failed” (though I disagree, and still enjoy playing it from time to time) because it went free-to-play and the subscriber numbers couldn’t beat World of Warcraft. But I believe that anyone who played it will agree that the leveling process in SWTOR is probably one of the greatest gameplay and storytelling experiences we’ve ever seen.
SWTOR’s problem was that once you finished all that leveling you ran out of things to do. PvP was lackluster, PvE endgame content was handled poorly, and many people left the game after feeling like they’d seen and done all the game could offer. Let’s compare this to what we know of ESO.
In ESO, once you level up your character to 50 (which by the way, is not designed to be a linear, run from quest to quest experience, but an open world encouraging exploration and curiosity, just like single player Elder Scrolls titles), you open up access to “level 50+ and 50++ content.” This means that once you’ve played through the quests for your faction, you can then (through a yet-to-be-revealed story mechanic) switch to another faction and play through all those quests. You can do the same thing with the third faction. You’re looking at hundreds of hours of gameplay, and that’s before you even begin to talk about endgame “raiding”, large scale PvE content, Adventure Zones, or PvP (which by the way, sounds like it has the potential to be a gripping experience). Additionally, the developers have said that you can re-enter dungeons you’ve already cleared and get a different experience, complete with a unique dungeon layout and new story, a second time.
Go Big or Go Home
Paul mentioned the rumor that the game cost $200 million to make, and while there’s no way to know for certain if that is true, even if it is… who cares? Didn’t Bioshock Infinite cost an ungodly amount, too? And ESO will have a subscription fee on top of it, essentially providing a steady source of income to help make back the money spent in design. And besides, what would you rather a game developer do: spend $200 million on a game that looks and plays amazing and has incredible lasting appeal? Or a make game that only cost $500,000 and is terrible and has no development staff after it launches to make it any better?
Speaking of the Subscription Fee…
Paul said the fee will keep many console players away from the game, and while this is certainly possible, how do we know for sure? Virtually no one wanted to pay or could even fathom the idea of paying a monthly subscription fee until World of Warcraft came along. Console gamers just haven’t had a good enough reason to be willing to plunk down a monthly fee yet, and who’s to say that ESO is not it?
Zenimax Online Studio Manager Matt Firor and the game’s developers have consistently said the game will be receiving regular DLC-sized content updates, not just small bug-fixing patches. These updates will add new quests, buildings, dungeons, regions, characters, guilds, items, and much more. For $15 a month gamers will be getting a game that is constantly changing and evolving – and in meaningful ways.
But Paul does pose a legitimate question when he asks, “Who ever even asked for an Elder Scrolls MMO?” Well I’ll tell you who. Many of the readers of this site, that’s who! I know that the podcast crew was regularly receiving emails back in the Skyrim Off the Record days about how much fun Skyrim would be with a co-op mode, or asking if we ever thought Bethesda would patch in a multiplayer mode. We got those emails regularly, and I guarantee our fan base was not the only place having these discussions.
While an Elder Scrolls MMO is obviously quite different from creating Elder Scrolls VI and having a co-op mode, it IS a logical idea. MMOs are massively popular, and these days everyone is looking for the next big thing. If one of the most popular single-player RPG franchises can be turned into an online game that supports both solo and group play, as they have said numerous times that it does, why not go for it? There’s money to be made in this genre, and there are many MMO fans looking for the next great MMO. Hats off to Bethesda and Zenimax for giving it a shot. I definitely think they know their audience.
News Flash! Forum Trolls Call ESO Generally Average.
Paul mentioned that the general opinions he’s seeing from players on message boards who have participated in the beta are “generally average”, but so what? Most of the people who say anything on message boards are those who have complaints, connection issues, or generally hate the game or the people behind it. Have you ever tried going online to defend a game you love only to be called a fan-boy or accused endlessly for being “paid” to say such things? It’s enough to make you never want to post on a forum ever again, and it happens all the time.
At this point in time, there is no way to judge whether the game is worth $15 per month. Until the game is in our hands and we have played it ourselves, none of us can say that. But with the promised aggressive stream of new content being added throughout the year, what sounds like an exciting PvP campaign, and the classic single-player Elder Scrolls experience built in, there are many people clamoring for this game, and they will buy it up without a second thought the minute it launches.
Launch Issues ARE A Concern
I do agree with Paul in one area. I also worry about a launch day/week/month meltdown, similar to Final Fantasy XIV, SimCity, Diablo III, Battlefield 4, etc. But not because of Bethesda’s track record of releasing buggy single player games. This is a different beast altogether. Bugs won’t be what hurts the experience on day one. My fear is potential connection issues with the “megaserver.” I fear with the massive interest in this game, as well as the incredibly large amount of people who simply can’t wait to see this game fail, that even a slight launch day issue could cripple the game’s momentum coming out of the gate.
No Hard Feelings, I Hope?
Paul, I appreciate your concerns for this game and if nothing else, I hope Zenimax has thought about them and has a plan for dealing with anything that may not go smoothly. I believe they have thought this all through and have a formula gamers will like. I believe subscriptions will be strong throughout the year, and while I doubt they (or anyone) will ever take down WoW, that’s not the point. The point is that one of our industry’s favorite IPs is finally making its way into a space where we can play with our friends, explore Tamriel like never before, and forge our own adventures in a lore-filled world that has captured the imagination of millions.
April 4 is not that far away, and we’ll soon know whether the risks, calculated or otherwise, will pay off for Zenimax. However it goes, The Elder Scrolls Online will be one of 2014’s biggest stories, and I can’t wait to be along for the ride.