The Elder Scrolls Online faces fierce competition and a changing MMO market. Does Bethesda have something up its sleeve?
On word that Skyrim won’t get the DLC treatment anymore, expect an outpouring of eulogies telling the many stories shared and endeared by in The Elder Scrolls‘ fifth official time around. I first meant to write such a feature, but after careful thinking, the last thing Holygrenade should be is redundant–a word rarely associated with a game that branched off in several directions and proved once again that Bethesda’s titles have tremendous staying power.
Instead, I wanted to focus on The Elder Scrolls legacy moving forward, past Skyrim, past any more games bound provincially, to the next chapter in the windy road of Tamriel: The Elder Scrolls Online. Attempts to upload the twenty minutes of leaked gameplay have mostly been squashed by Bethesda, though for context I’ll include a link below. If that footage is taken down, just search YouTube for “Elder Scrolls Online 20 minutes”.
The Elder Scrolls Online is an experiment. Transforming a beloved franchise into something new and rich is challenging in itself, but then to make that appealing to MMO players and series’ fans hinges on much more than simply Bethesda’s execution. The genre is inundated monthly with new names and promising variations of basic mechanics, together looking to break into the potential void left by World of Warcraft‘s supposed decline. Bethesda’s take is only separated from the herd because of its name–and that alone won’t win hearts.
And that is true for all MMOs these days: offer something new. Business now comes from enticing players, and from a genre with its share of offerings, innovation is vital. One draw used to be free-to-play with an in-game store; except now that’s standard, therefore making the next few years a fluctuating era. Early gameplay shown for The Elder Scrolls Online shows a game drifting aimlessly, without some thought or innovation behind its legendary name. Though, the 20 minute gameplay leak has pop-in textures and slowly loaded enemies, thus it’s possibly a previous build.
If Bethesda wants a winner, surprisingly, they can’t go the way of The Old Republic. BioWare’s take on Star Wars cost nearly $200 million to make, with some estimates reaching as high as $500 million. It imploded after players realized it was nothing more than a reskinned World of Warcraft in space. Electronic Arts’ costliest investment to date went free-to-play as a result, potentially losing on millions of revenue.
The MMO business is in disarray because subscription models don’t work anymore. Only WoW and EVE Online have working models, but both have a decade on The Elder Scrolls Online. Bethesda has to launch TES as a free-to-play title, though there is belief that they will offer a subscription model for extra content. Many weary players won’t go for that and may even abandon the game out of principle, even if it turns out to be well-made, because they are so staunchly critical of pay-to-play as a concept. It’s time versus value.
Personally, I vehemently wish Bethesda sees some success. It’s new territory for the people of Tamriel to conquer, and should they do so, it would set the stage for a battle of huge names in the market: Blizzard, BioWare and Bethesda. Blizzard leads but that could disappear quickly, and BioWare seems to be fading. But anything can change–and regardless, it’s fun to watch.
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