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Saturday, February 8, 2014

[ESO] Curbed Enthusiasm

Frustrated as I was with the announcement of ESO's preorder and CE bonuses, I felt it would be unfair to the game and my journalistic integrity* to discount the game purely because of one hitch. After all, I played and loved Skyrim despite numerous critical bugs (Left Eye of the F**KING Falmer) and balance issues. So I did some more research into ESO and sadly all it did was make me less inclined to play. It's disappointing to me that every upcoming game sounds fabulous until I dig a little deeper and the flaws start to become apparent. But if I am going to be so fervently against supporting ESO, I feel it only fair to explain why.

First of all the Elder Scrolls setting holds a special niche in my heart somewhere near the things I hold a childlike fondness for. That same fondness that leads me to forgive certain flaws so long as the underlying idea is sound. It sits among things like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Diablo. Not quite the level of "Mom" and certainly not at the deified status of "Grandma" but you get the idea.

Cash Grabbing

So the report is that ESO thus far has spent 200 million dollars. That's a hefty sunken cost, especially when only a few years about SWTOR spent 150 million and substantially underperformed. That's my first concern, all of these WoW killer type MMOs will talk big and spend big, but ultimately fail to live up to expectations. ESO needs to make up that cash, and its already been shown that they fully intend to try and get every dollar out of the customer. There will be the box fee, subscription fee, a cash shop, and of course the CE/pre-order bonuses. That is to say, it is clear that more than most developers their first goal is to get every cent they can out of the player.

Let me reiterate on the pre-order/CE topic briefly. Imperials are a race you've been able to play since at least Morrowind. To me that would be like WoW 2 coming out and expecting you to buy the Collector's Edition to play an orc. Yes, there are other races of human in the game, but they are different peoples with different cultures. Furthermore, the developers have stated that the Imperials will have a unique skill line that they will try to balance. The keyword is "try." Eight years and World of Warcraft still encounters bumps on the road of balancing its races. Which brings me to my next point...

New to a crowded block

Zenimax is a new company, and while it is certainly made up of experienced developers it is a new entity that has never been tested. Companies with much stronger pedigrees like Square and Bioware have entered the MMO market and met with mixed success and failure. Zenimax has not given me any reason to think they will succeed where their predecessors failed. Just like SWTOR it's a well established IP with a long history but that's already proven not to carry much weight when the two ton pandaren in the room still has the floor.

To make matters worse ESO is coming out at a time when the market is about to explode with new MMOs. Dudebros of Fratmore Warlords of Draenor is just over the horizon, Wildstar is in closed beta, and EQN is close alpha. That is not even counting the games already on the market such as SWTOR, GW2, and Neverwinter. ESO is going to release into a crowded market. Now perhaps they are hoping that it is a market saturated and stagnant, but I doubt that will be the case because while all their competitors have their own flaws, they are all going to at least make a splash when they do release.

Not ambitious enough

I'll briefly succumb to the lure of cliche and note that, as in any industry, in the MMO market it is "Go big or go home." While ESO is trying a somewhat more engaging combat and leveling system, it isn't a revolution on what is already found in the market. Boil it down to its component parts and it's a theme park MMO with quest hubs and conquerable areas. Nothing it is doing is especially "new" it's just somewhat polished and set in a well established setting. The thing is I don't think that is enough in this day and age. If you are going to release an MMO it has to be different, it has to stand out, and it has to be interesting enough to get people to break the social and time-investment bonds they have already made in your competitor's games and move to yours.

At the end of the day, I do genuinely hope I am wrong about ESO. A large part of me would love to watch me eat those words as ESO blows the industry out of the water, but the way I see it the cards are not falling that way.

* I have none


  1. "Not ambitious enough"

    I hate having to agree with that, but it seems to be true. Despite the ambitions of recreating the Elder Scrolls world in a MMO space or replicating some of the glory of a breakout game like Skyrim, TESO seems to be playing it incredibly safe. It is more of the same, with some Elder Scrolls influence.

    For the cost both to make and to own, that's honestly inexcusable. They should've skipped out on the MM part and just made a co-op Elder Scrolls ORPG with a heavy emphasis on more cooperative gameplay than its competitors (Diablo, Path of Exile).

    Creating online Skyrim was hard enough, but bring along all the baggage of the MMO genre? It's like being handed a gun to shoot yourself in the foot with and then asking for something bigger.

  2. My enthusiasm has been curbed since the first screenshots I saw. It's just got mediocre written all over.

    I'm also going to very slightly disagree with your closing paragraph about "go big or go home". Quite the contrary is the truth, I think. If we look at the most successful MMOs to date they have just one or two things present: clearly defined core mechanics and a high degree of polish on said mechanics that makes gameplay accessible to the player. I think if we look at current MMOs (and I could be wrong, but I'm going to speculate the details a bit) with mixed success we will find a few things "wrong" : there is no core, game-defining mechanic and/or it's poorly executed; and they are less accessible than their more successful counterparts. To my mind The Secret World fit this bill, SWTOR and now Elder Scrolls. I think Rift showed us, though, that you can execute those things well but if there's already a game on the market which has beat you to that same punch, your days are sill numbered.

    It's a difficult genre to be successful in and it's got something to do with the time investment/loyalty of players to their games. I find it surprising that they think they will do well spending this much on game development, but I'm going to bet they will do poorly when the financials come in and will do a SWTOR move. The game as it stands is completely bland, uninteresting, and redundant. I can't imagine how they're going to sell this thing to a large enough crowd to recoup their money on schedule. This is one of those titles, like TSW before it, which was supposed to be marketed to a very niche market in order to optimize success. As it stands, they are throwing themselves in the same category as Blizzard or Sony in thinking they can grab millions of subscribers. They're so very mistaken. Take me to the bank on that. I'd love to be wrong (I've been dwelling in Tamriel since Morrowind so Id' love nothing more than to be utterly wrong).