With any game, you want to make sure that your money is well spent. This is especially true with a MMO. Are your hard-earned dollars being put to good use? If the game requires a subscription the costs can add up quickly. Free to Play doesn’t technically exist when you think about it, either. Sure the game may be free to download and start up, but so much content is hidden behind a pay-gate that you’ll inevitably purchase something to get past it, thus making it a “pay-to-play” game at that point.
I’ll admit, when I first heard that The Elder Scrolls Online would have a subscription model, I decided not to buy the game. I was in the beta and not enjoying it like I thought I would. You all know I have since changed my mind on this, and have decided to pay the sub to play this game. I can finally detail exactly why that has happened.
If you look at your launcher (if you’ve played the Beta) you’ll see an option for the “PTS” or “Play Test Server.” I have been apart of that server for a couple of months now and have been able to witness first hand how Zenimax uses player feedback to truly formulate the game. This fact is nothing new. You’ve undoubtedly heard all of us rail on Zenimax’s first build of the game including an awful mini-map. The map was practically unusable and just simply did not fit the Elder Scrolls feel to a lot of players. It felt too MMO-ish. After a few tests of Zenimax hearing the cacophony of testers recommending something different, a beta happened that started to change my outlook on the game. The map was gone. In its place was a compass reminiscent of what we saw in Skyrim. I was excited! The compass handled (and still does) as we expected from the previous Elder Scrolls title.
First Person is another addition that you could directly correlate back to feedback and the community. While Zenimax probably had it in mind to have First Person with Hands in the game from launch, this simply shows another example of the developers listening to the players in the game. For the game to truly feel Elder Scrolls, this addition was a must.
We saw yet another example of Zenimax willing to shape their game to the feedback of the community. In quite possibly the biggest change yet, Zenimax has made the Starter Islands optional. This means once you are free of Coldharbour, you will be put in the first city of your alliance and be let loose into the world to do whatever you wish. Some will pick a direction and run, others will go seek out the starter islands to experience the story and collect the skill points from the Skyshards left there. The choice to play the way you want here is truly yours to make. No more hand holding, no more confined areas: full reign to go explore Tamriel.
This is a huge change and should not be taken lightly. An area that was fully crafted into the game, a formative area that is put there to guide players, as well as the impact those quests have on the story-line of your faction has been removed from its normal place in the game. A month before launch. If that doesn’t take the cake, let my fill you in on this: NPC collision detection has also been added, thus countering another piece of feedback from the press weekends. Throughout many an article you see the word “floaty” being tossed about regarding the combat in ESO. NPC collision detection directly counters this issue by making your character and the enemy feel more solid. The fact you can no longer run through your enemies simply makes each attack feel more solid and you no longer feel as though your attacks are just hitting “air.” (Virtual air, but air nonetheless.)
It’s not the changes themselves that has me won over, it is the fact that the changes themselves occurred. A lot of game studios could say “We’re too close to launch to make such drastic changes to our game,” but Zenimax took the risk and addressed some of the biggest points of contention with the game amongst the community. A month out from launch. The developer is so determined to give the players the game they will feeling to spend their hard earned money on that no matter the feedback, Zenimax will take an active look into how to improve on that issue.
For those of you wondering, this bodes well for the game after launch. A developer who is this proactive in changing and tweaking the game to make the game better is the same developer who will make sure that we regularly have great content being released after launch. This will be the same developer reading every bit of feedback from the players and coming up with ways to patch the game and make it better. This is the developer who will, after the game launches will put every bit of effort into making the game as they did leading up to release.
So why has Zenimax won me over? Their willingness to completely change aspects of their game to suit the community. No one can deny that they have done so if they simply look at the examples given. The Starter Island change was a direct result of the feedback saying “the game starts too slow” or “it really opens up when you hit level 10.” The NPC collision detection solves the problem of the combat being “floaty.” The compass is more Elder Scrolls in feel, and is a change that was directly influenced by player feedback. I could go on and on about the subtle changes they have made since my time on the PTS started, but the fact remain: Zenimax listens and they act.
I know we’ve been accused of being Zenimax cheerleaders before. We’ve even been accused of being paid by Zenimax for our opinions. I have been critical of Zenimax when it needed to be done, but it’s hard to not be a fan of a developer who takes our feedback and opinions to heart as much as ZOS does. The proof is in the game right now. A multitude of changes and tweaks for the better, some so minor it’s hard to tell; and some so major it stares you in the face. I have utter faith that this trend will continue for years to come, and Zenimax will vault The Elder Scrolls Online to being not only one of the best games on the market, to being one of the best run games and communities out there as well. All simply because they listen, and care about what we say.
And that can go a long way.