Tamriel Infinium: Three things MMORPGs could learn from Elder Scrolls Online

Looking at the title, you might think that I believe Elder Scrolls Online is the perfect MMO, and in that case, you’d be incorrect. Elder Scrolls Online might have won the Massively OP MMORPG-of-the-Year award, but if you read my post in that article, you will notice that ESO won my vote for that award from me because it didn’t have any major blunders – not because it did everything the best way possible.

That being said, there are a lot of things that other MMOs can do to rise to the level of competency where ESO currently sits. I would like to spend a few moments here at the beginning of a new year to talk about the things that ESO consistently gets right and that other MMOs can learn from.

Be consistent with content

When Elder Scrolls Online launched, the developers made a promise to launch a major update once every three months, and they have kept that up. That hasn’t been more noticeable than it has these last couple of years, starting with Orsinium and through the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood. This year started with Homestead (which got my vote for best housing in an MMO), Morrowind, Horns of the Reach, then Clockwork City rounded out the year. And ZeniMax has promised to do that again this year, and right now it has the next update already on the test server.

If I were to give a performance review of ESO based on productivity, it would be “meets expectations.” Under the current management, when ZeniMax says it will do something, it does. That is more than I can say of any other MMO except maybe DC Universe Online, which is somehow flying under the radar.

Fans like to have something they can count on. Star Wars: The Old Republic tried this with chapter releases after the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion, but it turned out to be too much for the developer. However, once every three months is more than doable. It works for ESO, and with most of the content being DLC, there are options for how players want to receive the content.

Cater to your core

I think catering to your core audience goes a couple of different ways. Many movies and other entertainment media pull from nostalgia, and games should be no exception. The Elder Scrolls Online also has a nice-sized group of players who have been playing for a long time and love some of the nuanced parts of the game. These guys need to be catered to, as well.

Unfortunately, not every game has an IP that can contribute to the nostalgia factor, but many do, and those that don’t could possibly pull from pop culture to pull on player’s emotions. It is possible to overdo it, where you run into the ‘member-berry syndrome. Morrowind is a good example of how to pay homage to the past game but at the same time give us enough differences to make the experience completely unique.

I am sure that the number of players who regularly play the animal races is really low. You might see the occasional Argonian running through the Ebonhart Pact, but most players in that faction are Nord or Dunmer because they are the most human. However, the items sold in the Crown Store still include Argonian and Kajiit cosmetic items, and ESO devs continue to add to them. But if we look at Star Wars: The Old Republic, for example, Twi’leks are still running around with the same cosmetic options they have always had. Remembering the people who stick with the game by remembering the less popular classes or races or venues can go a long way toward making the whole game experience feel better.

Do not over hype

Most people who are leaders in the gaming industry are very vocal. They like to talk about their game to everyone they meet. The previous creative director of ESO did a lot of this. It’s not that ESO wouldn’t eventually live up to the promises that he made, but he was not on the same page as his audience; he was months in advance. This gave the players the impression that the things he was talking about were right around the corner when the truth was that players wouldn’t see the changes for six months or a year down the road. That’s a level of hype that will not keep people logged in day to day.

Rich Lambert, on the other hand, likes to talk about his game but is much more reserved. He makes no promises even if he knows they will happen soon. I could be completely wrong about him, but my impression is that he’s not in this for the drama or the attention. He talks to people about his game because he’s excited about it, and he actually plays it himself, even when he’s not testing it. He appears grounded in that way allows him to understand the audience expectations, and I also believe that helps him hold back information when he knows that it will be too much.

Matt Firor, the producer of ESO, is the same way and maybe even more reserved. Even the language he uses during his letters to the community reflect this attitude of wanting to make the current game the best it can be while not overstating that there is something to look forward to the future. The only thing he publicly said about the 2018 updates is that there will be three DLC and one chapter. And other than saying that the next DLC is called Dragon Bones, he talked mostly about the quality-of-life features. Is there such thing as underhyping something? I think Firor did just that.

What are your three?

Now, let’s turn this over to you. A solid half of you voted for Elder Scrolls Online as the MMO of 2017 (and 2016, for that matter). What are the features and policies of ZeniMax Online Studios that should be translated to other MMORPG studios? I know there are more than just the three that I named; I would like to read your thoughts in the comments.

Traverse the troubled land of Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls Online. Larry Everett will be your guide here in Tamriel Infinium every other week as you explore together the land created by ZeniMax and Bethesda. If you have any burning questions, send them his way via email or via Twitter.
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51 Comments on "Tamriel Infinium: Three things MMORPGs could learn from Elder Scrolls Online"

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Castagere Shaikura

No Auction house
No freedom to play any build you want for group content.
You either play a magic build or stamina not both.
The whole idea of freedom like in a TES game is a lie.

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Crowe

4. Enjoy laggy combat!

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Shaggy C

Biggest disappointment in ESO is simply not feeling like an elder scrolls game. I get in and I feel like I’m playing LOTRO not TES. Interactions and movement just feel right. It’s constraining. Can’t really explain it, but as much as I want to like ESO it isn’t even on the same level as the other games. I mean, as an MMO it’s great, but not as an Elder Scrolls game.

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Jonny Sage

1. Fully voiced Quests
2. Meaningful questing
3. Set Design

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Anthony Clark

If only they hadn’t added lootboxes.

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Knox Harrington

What’s even more troubling is that the game was doing very well financially. They looked at lootboxes from a position of strength and decided they wanted to make even more money. They proved that an MMO can survive and thrive without lootboxes, and then they went and added lootboxes. If this is the direction the industry is going to keep going in, I’m going to end up pursuing another hobby.

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Jokerchyld

ESO in its current form and trajectory is (for all intent and purposes) the perfect MMO… well at least for me. Yes I said it.

The game is not perfect, but nothing is perfect so I don’t understand why people say that. But in terms of what they offer in both scale and diversity is consistent, deep and most importantly fun.

I’m not a huge elder scrolls fan, but did love my first foray into Tamriel with Oblivion on Xbox 360. I was blown away by its 3D RPG world and the things I could do in it. ESO scratches that same itch. Somehow (over time) they figured out that sweet, sweet balance between Elder Scrolls RPG and MMO. When I want to “be alone” I can and thoroughly enjoy my alone time. When I want to socialize and climb the ladder I have that option to, making sure there is always something for me to do.

The closest game in the past I played that reminds me of ESO is Everquest. And I NEVER thought I was see another open world, go anywhere, slow progression, custom charactization game of that magnitude again. Not only did ESO nail it they were keen enough to add in the right amount of conveniences to make the experience even better.

I tip my hat to ZOS. You have thoroughly impressed an old (jaded) gamer to have something to look forward to again. Here is to the future with more and better surprises to come (cant wait for dragon bones!)

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Slaasher

I only started playing this game a few weeks ago. I enjoyed the read. And I think for the most part (and the little that I know about the game so far) you seem to be correct in your assessment.
I would like to add that I really appreciate Zeni’s efforts in making so many parts of the game have depth and flavour. I’m thinking particularly about the story/quest lines but the statement can be made about a number of the games features.

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Teala Te'Jir

ESO is a good game…almost great, except for one thing. The developers need to do more to make the game play more like a real TESO game – like Skyrim. Here are some prime examples. Still no manikins to display suits of armor in our homes. No way to display weapons in our homes. Those are two things that need to be addressed. Why are they not expanding on magic in this game? All we get mostly are combat magics. Three whole schools of magic are all but missing in ESO – Illusion, Alteration, and Conjuration. Do with magic what you did for Thieves and Assassins in ESO. Give us a whole DLC built around magic and schools of magic. Give us the Mages College of Winterhold. Where is a real mage light? Were is feather fall?! Where is walk on water?

Second, gives us more barding choices for our mounts. Give us more choices of skins for mounts. Hell I can sit at my computer and with two programs I can edit the skins of horses in Skyrim and have a dozen different ones in two days. How do I know this…because I did it in Skyrim and in a game like Mount and Blade. In all of two days! And I am not even an expert at it. I took the yukky looking mages robes in Skyrim and altered them even. Again I did it in an afternoon with just two programs! So if I can do that in a couple of days…surely the people that do this for a living can knock out more options to give us players.

I would love to see combat revisited and give us new ways to execute more abilities than just half a dozen. Do like Blade and Soul did and allow us to chain attacks to activate a combo, which in turn activates a special attack. OMG that would add so much to this games decent combat and make it even better.

And how come I cannot display all the weapons I am carrying like we can in previous TESO games. If I have a bow and two axes – show them.

And why and the hell as a Sorc can I not hold a sword in one hand and a staff in the other and perform attacks like you can in a normal TESO game? Or even cast a fireball while wielding a sword in combat? Hello ZoS, that is what made TESO games so awesome! It was that we could create our own class and be creative.

And for the love of gaming – stop having us dismount our rides because our horse suddenly gets into ankle deep water! That is so annoying!

Those are just a few things(there are more) that ZoS and Bethesda need to do – they really need to add as many things to ESO that make TESO games what they are. If they do that – more people will flock to their game.

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Dez Tal

I agree with the need for armor and weapons to be displayed in housing. That’s one noticeable thing missing from my house.

They also need to add in jewelry crafting. It seems like they forgot about it.

I bet there are more new classes in the works that they are saving for another paid Expansion like they did with Morrowind

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Jokerchyld

Missing those things don’t make it a non-great game. And I think all of your requests are reasonable and fairly confident they will make it in at some point. The fun of ESO is they don’t rush all the features in at once. At launch, I wish they had one tamriel.. but they didnt and I had to wait. I think the same for these features.

I look forward to magic crafting but don’t know how that would /could affect the balance of the game. I just know it would be fun :)

cambruin
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cambruin

1. Listening to your fanbase.
Housing? Got it! VR revamp? Got it! Not good enough? We’re on it! /nailed it even. We hate RNG!! We want stat X on item Y without having to grind dungeon Z eleventythree times! Here you go! And cosmetics are up next.

2. Enthousiasm!
They show some actual enthousiasm when presenting their game. Have you ever seen Turbine present a content update? Coming from LotRO where devs hardly even bother to be the least be ‘likeable’, seeing ZOS in their vids was a very welcome change.

3. Be bold!
When they made VR account-wide, this would reduce the level grind to the point where it becomes nearly non-existant. The transmutation system allows you to put any researched trait on any item. Once again a massive reduction in grind, in this particular case the gear grind.
Grind is the bread and butter of MMOs. If you remove that, you better have something else to keep your playerbase hooked and ESO has plenty of it.

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nomadmorlock9

You are correct sir. I remember someone saying that Veteran Ranks were here to stay. Glad they were wrong.

That Guy
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That Guy

played this back in 2014 when it was brand new, quit after a mnth. Just picked it up again last week & all I can say is WOW. The amount of content added in the last few years is staggering! Very glad I came back to this game. The one thing that sucks is the housing limitations. I bought a massive house but you can only have a few items in it. You get 600 slots for items but a table and chairs will take up 100 slots. So they charge you $100 REAL MONEY for a huge house that will sit empty due to very poor decoration decisions made on the dev end. However, if you pay the devs for a Decorated house, it will come with 100x the decorations that can actually fit if you buy an unfurnished, Housing in ESO is a Rip-Off designed to make you pay more. Everything else about the game seems great.