Nerdberg Ahoy: The Elder Scrolls: Offline
I fully admit that I’m conflicted about an Elder Scrolls MMO. Not because I don’t love the property as a whole. Not because I’m the shy one in a huge community. Rather, I’m conflicted because I don’t particularly care to have other people bumbling about in my epic experience where, as the Destroyer of Worlds or the Master Thief, I single-handedly change the fate of a continent. I argue that, while people can find fun in almost any situation, I don’t believe that the Elder Scroll franchise would benefit by going all massive.
At the very heart of all Elder Scrolls iterations is a central character (uh, you) who utterly alters the world. Even the NPC’s that you can
force ask nicely to follow you or command to risk their own lives for your amusement, serve as your patsy and don’t act of their own accord. The crux of the entire exercise is that the player is the entire force behind all events that occur in their adventure.
What kind of game remains if that “against-all-odds” game play framework is lifted and substituted by another where the player becomes one of many? For that player to not discover a story that is uniquely their own, the fundamental essence of Elder Scrolls disappears. Even if game play were expanded to include a four-player co-op (or even whittled down to two), I would argue that game would still uncompromisingly change the atmosphere of TES. This is not to say that I do not think that group play would be an excellent expansion of the series, but it would be a different way of story telling. In that example, instead of playing a MSORPG (the ‘S’ is for singleplayer!) the experience would become more of a traditional D&D dynamic: a band of heroes treks out into the wilderness and witnesses immense stories where they each contribute a measurable amount to the overall outcome.
Take that player uniqueness and compare that to World of Warcraft. What I learned from WoW is that there is nothing that I could or would possibly do that had not been done before: never would I have the best equipment or conquer the worlds progressively stronger bosses. Nor would I ever discover all of the game breaking and unbalancing faults without consulting the Internet at large. In a sense, I was just an unremarkable peon among the unremarkable giants of my particularly unremarkable server.
GameInformer’s interview with Matt Frior paints a somewhat more detailed picture of what the universe is projected to be. Specifically, he focuses on how TES:O differs from “previous generations” of MMO. However, he doesn’t (and understandably in such an early stage) divulge how many people actually play together, instead, he states that there are story sections that can be played 100% solo. To that, I say, “Highlighting how people can play by alone isn’t the best way to sell an MMO.” I imagine the implementation will be similar to how WoW phases players in global areas and instances dungeons, each segregating populations to differing degrees.
(Begin waxing hyperbolic)
Regarding a business model, I have all but abandoned subscription based game play. I paid for 5 years of World of Warcraft and there is no reason for me to opt-in for another monthly charge to my bank account. I made this decision not because there wasn’t more to do (as there is always more) but because of very simple economic factors where the time I commit and the enjoyment I receive is not worth the cost of doing business. When I left WoW, my friends stayed and continued the inexorable trek to “somewhere-near-the-end”, and left my frozen account in the freezer.
After a year-long absence, my friends goaded me (and paid for) my brief return so that I could once again charge into the fray. What I found though (and this is no slight against my friends) is that I was far enough behind that no one wanted to play with me. Now, if I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t have a strong drive to return to content that I had already completed a dozen or more times for myself, friends who didn’t leave or complete strangers. So, I ran through it alone as fast as possible in order to return to my friends.
And that was the problem, ploughing through content that Blizzard had worked on for months, skipping story elements that no longer carried any impact to my understanding of the world, ignoring new and novel abilities that would only serve me towards endgame, etc. ruined any new experiences I was developing. New content was only a means to an end that I wasn’t overly driven to arrive at anyway.
Apply a subscription model to TES:O, ignoring my argument about players being a (small) big fish in an enormous world, I don’t see how Bethesda can deliver enough content to warrant a monthly fee. In fact, in the past two iterations of the TES line, they have gone to great lengths to allow the game to generate it’s own content so that expansions and downloadable content take over the fluff and minutia of world expansion. For Bethsoft to then turn around and demand a fee for what they have been trying to do gratis would be audacious. Instead, I fully expect the Free-to-Play or Freemium models to be the preferred way to go. Previously one had to drop the cash for an encapsulated experience and then opt-in for the new content making it a difficult proposition to get folks on-board for this outing.
I play TES games for a solitary play experience. Matt Firor is betting the group play of TES:O on people wanting to play together. I am absolutely sure that a substantial demographic of players exists who actively want to play with strangers. Matt’s challenge is to win over people like me that don’t want cross-pollination of TES in an MMO realm. More than that, he has to overcome social conditioning of the “Me First, Beat It” variety and encourage people to merrily go about and help one another selflessly for mutual benefit. My understanding is that the build team is trying to incentivize “Good Samaritan” activity with full loot/experience whenever several (unaffiliated even) people participate in the same kill. If successful, I cede that to a degree you become more heroic (if you don’t die), swooping in to help a random stranger and being rewarded.
All of that aside, I do interact with real people during my journeys. I am not totally against the opening of an Elder Scrolls experience to having more than one person at a time. Earlier when I spoke about a D&D-esque experience, to me, that would be the best possible where individuals can contribute in a transparent and essential way to a shared story. But, if random people are off in the distance “interfering” with “my game”, it detracts from a distilled experience. Many times have I told people about my exploits, often at length. Similarly, I have been playing at the same time as friends and we both give play-by-play commentary of what we are doing, where we are going or how hard we are breaking a game. My social is strictly limited to the communication and not the cooperation.
Ultimately, like may things, I’m not forced to participate. I will continue to follow the news but more out of curiosity instead of passion. Zenimax has been making a lot of claims as to how this is a “new generation” of MMO, and in a landscape where Warcraft has been the gold standard of successful implementation and game play, SOMEONE needs to get in there and shake things up.