Deliberating TESO

The beginning of a new year is a time for predictions good and bad. Gamers look forward to their most wanted launches of the year in enthusiastic or more reluctant anticipation. As for mainstream media, it’s an opportunity to be sensationalist and snide because nothing brings more hits than condemning yet-to-be-released titles or already revealing the GOTYs of 2014 in January. January.

I have no MMO predictions to share for 2014 and even if I did, I’d like to keep them positive. Whatever feeling one might have about upcoming AAA-titles, 2014 will be a year of new releases – of buzz and growth and lots of discussion. The genre is moving forward or at the very least, it’s moving and new games will infuse our conversations. For this reason, 2014 is already the better year for MMOs in my book than 2013 ever was. There’s no real failure for this genre as long as new games keep coming out. Once they stop being developed that’s when we’re in trouble.

sadponie

What do you mean, no more MMOs? [belen02 @ deviantart.com]

Condemning TESO – A brief Chronology

So, what happened? A few days ago in good old Kotaku stunt manner, a member of said news site declared publicly on twitter that The Elder Scrolls Online “apparently has a price tag of $200 million”, only to delete the tweet soon after because it’s bad journalism to make claims without any fact to back them up. However, that’s exactly how effective internet rumors start and that brief tweet was enough to set the gaming community completely ablaze over a simple, uncorroborated figure.

As if that wasn’t silly enough, Zenimax’ own Matt Firor then added more fuel to the fire by making very unfortunate, sarcastic remarks on how TESO could never ever have cost nearly that much because hey, look at our game – it’s crap! (just to paraphrase mildly). Now, I do somewhat appreciate the obvious eyeroll from Firor but it wasn’t the greatest way to address the budget question and infuse trust and enthusiasm in your anxious player base.

After all of that commotion had already spawned myriads of sub-tweets, message board threads and blog posts, Forbes (yes, they do video game journalism) ventured forth to declare TESO the “Greatest Videogame Disaster of 2014” two days ago. The article is essentially a summary of old news and concerns long debated among MMO players, but since the rest of the world needs time to catch up with us, it has gone viral not least thanks to its sensationalist headline.

All the while, I am scratching my head a little over what exactly has caused some of the vocal TESO malady in the wake of this budget rumor. Mainly, I have three questions regarding the most popular concerns (in the Forbes article and elsewhere) that I just can’t seem to figure out:

1) What does $200 millions even mean?
Maybe the person holding authority over efficient MMO budgeting could please come forth and enlighten the rest of us what TESO at its current state should legitimately have cost. Of course nobody knows similar figures for AAA-ventures Wildstar or Everquest Next and it seems the best course of action to make sure your numbers never get out lest you not be met with omg-SWTOR-hysteria. By the way, wasn’t it $300 millions for SWTOR? Or $500? If you really want to bore google, you can find them all. In truth, I’ve never found an MMO player nor videogame journalist who had an inkling of all the costs related to a particular MMO development (they tend not be public!) but now that we know (not) that TESO cost 200 MILLIONS….that changes everything!

2) How is it news that this is “just a Skyrim Online”?
It’s been clear from the beginning that an ES MMO wasn’t going to re-invent the genre wheel. When TESO was finally officially confirmed in 2012, the game had been in development for several years, which also means prior to Skyrim’s success and during an era of still solid WoW rulership. You can bet a franchise as traditional as Elder Scrolls dipping their first toe into MMO territory, was going to keep things conservative under these circumstances. There is also the ES fanbase to consider which doesn’t necessarily consist of online players. So yes, of course an ES MMO will essentially boil down to something like “Morrowind/Oblivion/Skyrim Online”. What else would it be? One doesn’t turn to TESO for big MMO innovations in 2014. Duh?

skymmo3) Nobody ever wanted an ES MMO. Really?
Considering TESO’s imminent launch this April 2014, it’s not only a grossly cynical statement that nobody ever wanted an Elder Scrolls MMO, it is also simply untrue. For every new installment be it Oblivion, Morrowind or Skyrim, fans have debated and fervently hypothesized up and down social networks how awesome an online Elder Scrolls or at least coop function for Skyrim could have been. I myself addressed this topic after Skyrim on this blog, preferring a coop option to the MMO. Of course TESO was already being developed then but the general MMO discussion for Elder Scrolls games is a thing among gamers and an old thing at that. To say the developers has no legitimate reason to believe such a project might be of interest to their fans, as the Forbes article has done, is bogus. If anything, that interest has increased over the last few years.

From where I personally stand nothing has changed in terms of looking forward to TESO this 2014. I trust all the beta testers who have told me that it’s essentially “just Skyrim Online” and all those who have mixed feelings about the game’s polish or long-term appeal. It’s more or less what I am expecting. Of course, there is the subscription concern and a free-to-play switch is probably in the books for TESO as is the case for so many MMOs nowadays.

No doubt, TESO is going to be the traditionalist among 2014 MMO releases and it will need to charm franchise fans. Pre-condemning the title for these reasons however, seems rather oblivious to the fact that many players still like traditional MMOs and that we’re living in times where switching to free-to-play is not a failure but proven business model. Either way, I’ll be playing TESO with or without a sub and I will make final judgements after all the big contenders of 2014 have had their fair shot. For now, my MMO sky is still lit with promise and lots of opportunity!

masky

Holding a torch for MMOs until proven otherwise.

17 comments

  1. The one thing Forbes is wrong about is it wasn’t the sub that killed SWTOR it was the crappy game play. I wish they would stop blaming pricing models for failures and not the truth of rushed games to make quick buck. That said TESO will be a big failure and not because of sub model.

    1. THIS! a sub isn’t why games fail. At the moment it does tend to cause a slower start while a title builds hype after release but it isn’t the extreme death people claim

      1. I think mainstream media are simply lagging behind in understanding this. blaming pricing models or crying fail at f2p is so yesterday.

  2. Here here!! I don’t have especially high hopes for ESO, but I fully expect to play and enjoy it for at least the initial month if not more. Cannot be arsed with people condemning something before it’s even seen the light of day, it’s negative, stupid, annoying.. just.. arg.

    1. Hehe jep, I think I’ll have some fun exploring the world if nothing else. it’s supposedly huge. anything extra will be a welcome surprise.

  3. ESO is going to be a traditional MMO? Really? With proper auto-attack, hot bar combat and stand-to-cast? If that’s true then color me interested after all. One of the main reasons I’ve been avoiding it is that I thought it was going to have some version of the miserable, dismal “action” combat I last experienced in Morrowind and determined to avoid ever after.

    On the cost of MMOs, could a proper investigative journalist not at least come up with a baseline figure by finding out how many people have been working on the project, for how long and what their job description is? Seems like the kind of information that one might find publicly listed on company records and peoples’ LinkedIn profiles, maybe? Once you know that you could just use industry average pay-rates to come up with a ball-park figure on human resources costs at least. One imagines that’s where the bulk of development costs go.

    I’m pretty sure that this sort of thing would be routine in other areas of journalism.

    1. Maybe, although I don’t think it’s nearly as straight forward to calculate costs of a multi-year game development. it’s not just wages after all – it’s location and infrastructure, post-production and related costs (voice actors, music etc.), advertisement and marketing, licensing, manufacturing and distribution etc. etc…and a load of outsourced services on top of everything else that may depend on what you have inhouse and what not. seems a difficult calculation to me. also, just ‘cost’ is an empty figure. what does cost mean? is it net cost, gross? is it effective, well budgeted cost or not? blah. :) I see no value whatsoever in discussing such complex numbers with end product consumers.

      As for ESO, I’m no expert on the combat but as far as I’ve read it’s a hybrid between classic MMO combat and action. I don’t expect much ‘new’ from TESO other than the translation of an Elder Scrolls game to online. it will have its classic combat, it will have the holy trinity, it will have classic partying up for dungeons full of classic encounters. Wildstar will bring the wildly tactical combat, bartle paths and amazing housing features. EQN will do all sorts of things with dynamic events, player created structures and whatnot – but TESO? TESO is the traditionalist in my book. I am also fairly certain it will fall behind the other two in terms of polish. ;)

  4. bah… been wanting to do a series of eso posts to round up mechanics and some opinions but have been too lazy and this might be the push to do it.

    I honestly think ESO will be fine. From what I’ve read there is a lot of misinformation circulating about what it is and this seems to be contributing to the negative thoughts on the title. Once it comes out this will be cleared up but until then I think we aare going to get more posts like that ridiculous forbes one that have no idea aout the game, the interests of players or how the industry functions

    1. Myeah, I am confident TESO will find its spot as well. it seems to cater to its own audience that is distinct from the crowd WS is going for, at least (and EQN is f2p, so it’s not competing for a sub). pulling off the sub longterm will be impossible but who says they’re counting on that, anyway?

  5. I won’t write it off until it ships, but I do get why there is preexisting disappointment for it. I think many of us know on some level that BECAUSE there is so much money being sunk into this we won’t get what we truly want which is a solid multiplayer component for Skyrim. Sad part is making that prolly would have only cost a million or 2.

    There are just so many things that are required for an MMO that at odds with what make the elder scrolls games shine that it is really hard to imagine them being able to pull off anything that really captures the feel. Kill any enemy permanently in the world? Do any quest as soon as you are done with the tutorial? Build houses anywhere? Have the world level up with the player? It’s the level of freedom and player agency that makes these games shine, not the lore, combat or mechanics which all tend to be mediocre.

    We’ll see how it does. Perhaps they really know what they are doing and can do something something surprising and fresh in the MMO arena. If so it will be super exciting to jump on board and have an exciting MMO next year.

    1. Well, it’s not a “multiplayer component for Skyrim” though and they never said it was gonna be anything other than an MMO. and MMOs have big budgets. I guess some franchise fans really misunderstood the intention and are only getting this now? unfortunately many of the things that you listed and probably hope for won’t be possible in an MMO, not in that same way anyway.

  6. At times like this I wonder whether some internet rumors get planted by opposing development houses. If they screw around with release dates just to stomp competition, why not plant a few rumors too?

  7. I don’t think any games have actually failed, nor have they had crappy play or bad story. People have played the heck out of all the new MMOs that have come out, then moved on because there are a lot of options out there. The sheer number of hours put rapidly into games indicates to me that they are good. The die off happens because we consume content like locusts and then move on.
    In that sense, maybe a game based on a world that people love to explore fully and slowly will not get consumed into desolation as quickly. It has to be coupled with solid UI and game mechanics IMO or the nay sayers will whine it to death. Worry about polish during a Beta never phases me too much, so that aspect of people breaking NDA to complain doesn’t doom the game in my mind. If people who loved Elder Scrolls were complaining that ESO broke lore or didn’t feel familiar to them, that would be worrying. But that isn’t what they complain about. The biggest concern I’d have is those saying it might get old/boring too quickly. In our current environment, that is what causes problems for every new game that gets release. We demand high quality but move on to the next shiny thing after playing marathon sessions and devouring each new game.

    1. That’s very true – the things TESO will suffer from are factors all upcoming MMOs have to deal with. players tend to switch games more often for the variety on offer on today’s market. it doesn’t worry me though; some people called GW2 a “three-monther” as well and the game has in fact been very successful to this day, selling over 3mio copies. subs will no doubt drop for TESO after the first 2-3 months but that’s not a death sentence in the times we live in.

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