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.
Elder Scrolls Online announces new chapter and three DLC, including Dragon Bones, for 2018: ‘We are not slowing down at all’
“You can expect three more DLCs and a full new Chapter for ESO in 2018,” ZeniMax’s Matt Firor writes today in an address to players ahead of the holiday. “We’re not slowing down, at all. There’s so much to do and explore in Tamriel, and we are very excited to take you to some highly-requested areas next year. We’ll officially announce the first DLC of 2018 just after the first of the year, but here’s a small preview: It’s a dungeon-based DLC called The Elder Scrolls Online: Dragon Bones. As the name implies, it is Nord-based in theme, with each of the two dungeons expanding upon the lore of that region.”
The Skyrim-y update will also include quality-of-life tweaks, “including at least one long-awaited feature that everyone who cares about their characters’ appearance will love and the Homestead storage items.” Expect it on the PTS “early (very early) next year.”
We’re streaming ESO’s wintertime events tonight, so join us live on OPTV at 9 p.m. EST!
In a new interview with MCV, Game Director Matt Firor explains how the team pushed past the disappointing launch and helped to propel the game forward. The move to console and the appeal to a wider spectrum of gamers were key factors, he noted. This year’s pattern of strong quarterly releases and one large expansion is something that the team wants to continue going into 2018.
“We have two years, at least, of things I know are going in and then we have ideas for after that,” Firor said. “Regular content, keeping players happy, that’s all we’re doing. ESO is very much a game-as-a-service, which is a term we don’t use a lot but it really is a service at this point, and so we want to make sure that it works and keep a lot of new stuff coming in.”
I would like to say that when I was a kid playing my first MMORPGs, I was impervious to the grind, that I embraced taking many months to level a skill or hit a level cap. But that would be a lie. I stuck a rock on my keyboard to AFK macro overnight in Ultima Online, and a friend of mine would log into my EverQuest account sometimes while I slept to catch me up in levels. I hated it. I have always hated it. Oh, I’d spend hours per day in those early games, but I wanted to chill with friends, make stuff, run dungeons with people without worrying about level discrepancies and gear and all the obnoxious mechanics designed so transparently to slow me down and make me pay to grind. And I’ve felt this way for 20 years.
This is why a recent tweet of Raph Koster’s, quoting Elder Scrolls Online’s Matt Firor, resonated with me:
“Removing levels as a gameplay factor was the best decision for retention ever made in Elder Scrolls Online.” -Matt Firor
It’s affirmation that I’m not alone: A huge portion of the MMORPG playerbase will pay for content that pushes us together by invalidating level grinds rather than keeps us apart. Is it not time? Can we just be done with the old canard that people “need” leveling make-work to feel achievement or investment in a game, when metrics prove otherwise? Should MMOs get rid of levels?
Over the last couple of days, I have been spending my time on the public test server for Elder Scrolls Online where ZeniMax Online Studios has dropped its latest DLC: Clockwork City. This isn’t the first time we’ve been to the Clockwork City, but this DLC will be the first time that we are allowed to freely explore this creation of the god Sotha Sil.
There is no way that I am going to be able to sum up the hours of gameplay that Clockwork City has to offer in just a few hundred words, but let me hit on a few things that were the most important to me: aesthetics, storytelling, exploration, and gameplay.
Specifically, he means the megaserver structure of MMORPGs that allow thousands of players to more or less game together. “We have an interesting server structure in ESO that is unique in this generation of online game. What we do is we have what we call megaservers, where we instance all of our zones,” he explains. “Once you’re on the North American server, you never pick another server. The game kinda figures out how many instances of each zone to spin up, and which one to put you in….those are the kind of cool things that are happening behind the scenes, in game development, where it takes all of the decision-making out of the player’s hands.”
Someone could probably contest the “unique” part, given how many MMORPGs have employed versions of layered instancing and megaservers over the years, including modern ones, but I wouldn’t argue at all with “cool” — it still seems bizarre to me that any MMORPGs in 2017 are still stranding gamers on smaller servers, to the detriment of the game itself. So: What MMORPG needs megaserver tech the most but still doesn’t have it?
“In the old days, what we did is we brought out an expansion, and the only people that bought it were experienced players because you had to be X level in order to buy it an enjoy it,” Firor explains. “That’s the difference between Morrowind and those days. Anyone can just jump in and have fun.”
He also touches on the differences between the era of Dark Age of Camelot and Elder Scrolls Online (hint: It’s about grind). It’s a long stream but worth it for Firor’s commentary.
When it comes to text-based MMOs created in the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s, the sheer number of them would blot out the sky. There are certainly more multi-user dungeons (MUDs) than I’ve ever been able to get a handle on when I’ve tried creating lists of the most important to know, but I will say that there are a few that seem to pop up more than others. The original MUD1, created by Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw, was certainly a watershed moment for online roleplaying games. Learning about DikuMUD is pretty essential, considering its impact on graphical MMORPGs that we still play today.
But there’s another title that often goes unnoticed, unless you keep an eye out for it. It’s a MUD that keeps popping up when you look into the history of the MMORPG genre, one with ties to key players and design concepts that are still active today.
It’s the MUD that shaped the MMO industry, and it was called Sceptre of Goth.
“Once in a while we have to do some extended work to our datacenter, and sometimes it takes longer than it should due to unintended consequences,” Matt Firor wrote via Bethsoft’s Gina Bruno this afternoon. “Today’s downtime was required to upgrade parts of the datacenter in preparation for Morrowind’s launch. It took longer than we thought because we ran into a couple issues relating to network security that was preventing different parts of the network from talking to each other. It’s never fun for anyone when we have extended downtime like this, but it’s always for a good reason. We try to schedule downtime at the least populated time for the game (remembering that ESO is worldwide and downtime will always inconvenience some players, no matter when it happens). We always strive to get everything back up and running quickly and do everything we can to keep maintenance windows as short as possible.”
The explanation hasn’t stopped EU players from pointing out that because EU maintenance is done on ZeniMax’s NA schedule, even a regular-length downtime can creep into prime-time for some EU players.
By now, I hope you’ve seen the Blur Studio trailer for the Morrowind chapter. The Redguard with the giant bear in that trailer represents the Warden. He shows off many of the abilities that are specific to the Warden, including the bear pet. But of course, there’s much more to the class than a fuzzy friend, so when I spoke to Game Director Matt Firor and Creative Director Richard Lambert in person, I asked them all about our new class and the role it plays in the expansion.
During my visit, Lambert and Firor gave a presentation about Morrowind story, the new Warden class, and battlegrounds. Later this morning, I’ll have articles about the Warden and battlegrounds, but in this piece, we’re tackling the Morrowind story and what’s happening on Vvardenfell some 700 years before The Elder Scrolls III.
Firor says that Elder Scrolls Online currently counts 8.5 million players across all platforms. This number reflects unique players, not concurrent subscribers (the game is buy-to-play with an optional sub). It does not count beta players or free weekend players, just people who’ve purchased the game outright, so it might more properly be termed “boxes sold.”
Massively OP’s ESO columnist, Larry Everett, was on hand at the event to clarify that the number is an update to the 7M number released last year.