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.