Tamriel Infinium: Unpacking the Elder Scrolls Online presentation at E3

Elder Scrolls Online is obviously a huge draw for MMORPG players, but it’s far from an exciting title for the vast majority of gamers attending E3, so I was surprised to see Game Director Matt Firor on the stage at all during the Bethesda presentation. It’s not to say that ESO isn’t a great game; it’s just been around awhile, and the hypetrain is hardly running at full speed right now.

During his presentation, Firor mentioned a lot of things worth considering. He had a very short time to not only tell existing fans what was happening in the game this year, but he also had to remind people of how great ESO is right now. Of course, he was hoping to get new players interested in the game. He knew that ESO wasn’t always well-received, but he had to show how far the game has come. Here’s how he did it.

Best MMO of the year

When Firor first took the stage he mentioned that ESO was awarded Best MMO of the Year three years in a row. Given how many gaming publications there are in the world, it’s not impossible at all, but ESO was hardly a new MMO even three years ago. It’d be an odd thing for a game that age to actually be awarded Best MMO for one year let alone three years in a row well after its initial release. So statement is actually true, but you have to look at multiple different sources to make it so.

For example, at the end of 2017, the staff here awarded Elder Scrolls Online the MMORPG of the Year based on our impressions of the game. “ZeniMax isn’t just doing the minimum to get by; it feels as if the game is on an upward trajectory with plenty of substance being added,” our article said. Overwhelmingly, our readers agreed with us. Prior to that, however, ESO was in the running for MMO of the Year, but it was ultimately granted to Black Desert Online by the staff. And the Massively OP readers disagreed. In fact, our readers agreed that Elder Scrolls Online was the MMO of the Year in in 2016 and 2015, too.

In other words, even if all you did was read Massively OP, you could legitimately assert that the game had been called MMO of the year three years in a row – and obviously, Massively OP is not the only site that dishes out MMO awards every December.

How many players does ESO actually have?

Firor said that ESO counts 11 million players, and if you’ve been playing games for any length of time, you know that can be a bit misleading. So what would be the less misleading way to present that number? And how many people actually play ESO? I guess that depends a lot on how you break down that information.

We know that new people are buying the game all the time. With multiple releases of the game, it’s difficult to track. Summerset and Morrowind both count as independent sales because they aren’t just an expansion. They include the base game. Then One Tamriel and the launch version of ESO have different external sales numbers, too. Not everyone who bought the expansion created a different account. We have to assume that Firor’s number of 11 million is correct. But as we know, that didn’t happen in a single year.

As of February 2017, we know that ESO boasted 8.5 million players, which can be assumed to be boxes sold or accounts made since they coincide so closely. That is a million and a half more players than was reported the year before that. Then at E3 last year (only a couple of months after the February announcement), ZeniMax released a Morrowind trailer reaction video that said it had “10 million heroes,” which likely meant “accounts made,” each one of which constituted at least one box sale. That means over the last year we did see a bit of a slow down in new people buying the game, but does that mean that fewer people are playing it?

There is no real source for the number of concurrent players that will give us an accurate measure of the number of players across all platforms, but there is one source that gives us data on the number of players on its platform: Steam.

Steam Charts gives us the number of peak players per month since the launch of ESO on Steam in July of 2014. There is a shocking spike of Steam players, from 6,653 peak players in October 2016 to 29,305 peak players in November 2016. This coincides with the launch of One Tamriel. From there, we see peaks and valleys, but it’s never been as low as it was before One Tamriel and it’s only been higher once. The average peak players on Steam has been 18,000 over the last 19 months.

Of course, that’s just Steam – it doesn’t count PC players off Steam, and it doesn’t count players on console at all. If the other platforms have experienced similar results, then ESO is surely one of the most healthy MMORPGs on the market.

Summary

Many times, when people hop up on the stage of a giant game convention — especially when they know their words are going to be forever broadcast over the internet — they will fudge the numbers they give so that they look good for the press, their shareholders, and over course, their boss. I wouldn’t exactly blame anyone for wanting to make the game look better than it is, but based on the numbers I found, it doesn’t look like look as if Firor was exaggerating.

Of course, Firor had to give the biggest number he could so that everything looks gigantic, and we know that MMO numbers are never going to look as impressive as single-player numbers unless they account for the long-haul – which is what MMOs should be made for.

I admit that I jumped into this research assuming I’d find ZeniMax exaggerating its numbers or giving us numbers that had little practical meaning, but I am glad to find out that I was wrong. What are your thoughts? Do you think that ZeniMax is still fudging the numbers? What evidence have you found that supports or discredits Firor’s statements? Let me know 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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Jeremy Barnes

Where was the unpacking? This just talked about how many people are playing..

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borghive

It is a good game hindered by one of the worst combat systems I have seen in a modern MMO.
The animations are just terrible, I feel like I’m swinging a nerf bat when I use a 2 hander.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

I played ESO from beta on to a few weeks into launch and never got out of the newbie areas. Even so, the game was packed with bots. In a public dungeon you literally had 30-50 bots all banging into one another at the boss spawn point. I logged off for several years.

Shortly before One Tamriel, I tried again. Game was fairly deserted. Then came the big change and as you state, wow. The population popped.

Now I log in regularly and even the most out of the way areas have other players.

I play ESO because at the moment it’s the most bang for the buck, has lots of the QoL things I like. But I just have a hard time falling for it. I often suspect it’s the console controls and design, which create a static and inflexible environment. If fails to flow because operations are compartmentalized onto screens you can only look at one at a time. You can’t have more than one window open at a time. So you can’t look at your inventory and your character screen at the same time. And you can’t move screens to where you want them in your view. Again, static. You don’t have a recipe screen. You have to go to a crafting station to see what you have or what it takes to make something, or you tab out to the internet and look it up on a website. All that takes you out of the game because it doesn’t flow with your thought process. Rather than the game flowing with you as you want to go, you’re brought up short. It’s subtle, but I think this is the reason I’m not totally in love with ESO.

Anyway, there’s no doubt that a great deal more people are playing ESO than a few years back. And more start playing every DLC or expansion that comes out. But I don’t wonder if it isn’t just that ESO doesn’t have any real competition or any coming soon, the default option rather than the option of choice.

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Paragon Lost

Yeah that interface leaves a lot to be desired. I know it bothered my wife and I enough that we really just never got into ESO though we wanted to. :/

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Jokerchyld

All your critiques were spot on and valid. Playing an MMORPG on a console baffles me (its not meant for that in my eyes), but on the PC there are many add-ons that can help with those issues. Some of which I now can’t play without.

What I love about MMORPGs (or other video game formats) is the evolution over time. Zeni has done a good job growing what they have in an organic fashion that invites exploration. Though it is easy to also see it as “more of the same”

But sometimes, that’s all I really need…

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Jokerchyld

Honestly? Who cares about the numbers. Its funny, when I was growing up none of my gamer friends came over and said “Hey, Do you know how much money Mega Man made?” “How many people are playing right now?” We.. didnt… care. We just enjoyed the game for what it was. Wish we could go back to that.

I’ve been playing MMOs for awhile and (for Me), ESO is the best one on the market. Of course this varies gamer to gamer based on what they value. But for me the One Tamriel was a game changer. Finally a MMO where I didn’t have to run through gated content to play, or have to “rush” to catch up to my friends who play everyday, or focus SOLELY on raiding and running dungeons over and over. They have created an amazing world that is fun to explore. I love WoW and my 110 Rogue, but recently tried leveling a new goblin Warrior with 7.3.5 and while it was fun, it started to wear on me by the time I got level 60. Yes I can finally choose an expansion (read: I can skip BC entirely!), but I still had to play old ass expansion. Why can’t I just go to Pandaria or directly to Legion and do my thing there? Why FORCE me to go through this “funnel” Its one of the most fustrating aspects of WoW that has unfortunately been copied far too often.

To me, ESO is the closest feeling to Everquest that I’ve had, where I feel like I can have a true adventure, with each day I hang out in Alidor thinking where I want to go. Maybe today I’ll improve dark brotherhood? Or maybe I’ll go to Cyrodil and hunt some Skyshards? Or perhaps I will work on my crafting.

Add on to that, a decent cadence of content that has so far been consistent and you have a quality experience on your hands. I only see it getting better.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

WoW is dying on the vine, weighted down by its own history and “consequence”. The coming expansion is another all gates all the time expansion, with everything on rails. The problem for them is that they’ve treated each expansion as a reinvention of the game so that there’s no cohesion throughout Azeroth. You won’t be finding Azerite outside of the designated BfA zones. In effect, every single expansion since Pandaria is a small MMO within an MMO and none of them carry over to any of the other expansion zones. Making the game fractured and pretty pointless until level cap unless you’re an achievement hunter.

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Jokerchyld

Cant agree with you more. I thoroughly enjoyed Legion and that expansion brought me back fulltime to WoW. It really was amazing. The idea of losing my Dreadblades after spending nearly two years cultivating its growth is tough.

What I think would help WoW is extending the 7.3.5 or a rendition of it throughout Azeroth coupled with creation of content that take you through old zones.

I always thought Azeroth as a world was a beautiful place to explore, but Blizz waste’s that opportunity by pretty much forgetting what they did before in order to give you something new. But perhaps thats what WoW players expect and love.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

You may be right about the expectations and they certainly have the raider niche sewn up. Oh well, I’ll probably be retired before they figure this out. Oh, wait. I already am retired.

borghive
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borghive

I think BFA might be the final nail in the coffin for WoW. Sure, I ton of people will buy it and play it, but from what I’m seeing on beta, this expansion is looking like WoD 2.0. I don’t think the diehards left playing the game will weather through another crap expansion like WoD.

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Jokerchyld

Haven’t you learned over the last decade? you can’t kill WoW. It just sleeps peacefully in the corner until its ready to roar again.

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Weilan

That only applies to single player games. It doesn’t matter how many people play it, even if you are the only one, as long as you’re having fun it’s all good.

But this is an online-only game and it’s important how many people play it, because if they are too little, it will be shut down and if they aren’t enough the game can’t be experienced to its fullest capacity.

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Rottenrotny

I’m still playing, my GF bought me the Summerset physical collector’s edition, but I can’t find much motivation to spend much time in ESO. My main character is 250something DK and the open world content is so faceroll easy that it just turns me off from wanting to play it. My character’s skills and gear is exactly the same as the last expansion. I don’t need to change a thing. It’s just boring. The quest line stories along are not enough to keep me going.

it’s a pretty game with interesting story and character progression system hindered by a forced level scaling system that neuters the challenge in open world content.

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Jokerchyld

Removing the forced level scaling would neuter the game. If I had a choice I’d take the former as well. But totally understand your point. Hope you find something new to play that you enjoy!

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Tandor

I played a character in Khenarthi’s Roost, one of the traditional newbie zones, today – and was amazed at the vast number of other players around. In many other established MMOs I’d expect to see no more than half a dozen if that, often none at all, yet here there were dozens running around. This wasn’t peak time, by the way, rather it was a mid-week afternoon on PC EU.

Then again, the other night I passed by a couple of dolmens in different zones and they were so packed it was impossible to get any kills in before everyone else.

I’m delighted the game is doing so well, and the evidence from my own observations as I run around Tamriel leave me in no doubt that it is indeed doing extremely well, and I can well believe Matt Firor’s claims.

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Alex Willis

I love that I can do starter zones on veteran toons who started in different areas and still get meaningful rewards for the content.

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Alex Willis

I don’t play on Steam, so I’m among that “mystery” group.

hurbster
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hurbster

Yup, me too.