Just a few days after it was announced, I am already sick of all the talk surrounding the price model of Elder Scrolls Online. I do not understand the need to force this issue of free-to-pay (not a typo). There is one thing people forget about MMOs when talking about the hype of the price model and it is simple…is the game in question good? Zenimax Online has a much bigger responsibility to meet for its players and that is to build a solid game. That is the real question we should all be asking, and ultimately the payment model will matter less than this important fact.
Gameplay is king. If a game is very strong at its core and crosses new ground in the MMO space then people will play it. Whether it is for $15.00 a month or free, or even throwing over $200.00 a month to a cash shop they will still log in every night and do something in that world. It is not so much about price but more about fun. When a really good game comes out do you remember how much you paid for it? Do you think about how much every dollar you spent equates to your level advancement or skill tree? Probably not. That is where the idea of good solid gameplay comes in.
Depth is a very important feature when focusing on any Elder Scrolls title. Bethesda does an extremely good job of adding layer after layer onto their world in order to keep players exploring and battling into the late hours of the night. It may seem like a no brainer for ESO to have depth, but it is critical to the enjoyment of the gameplay. Each quest and each discovery should have a purpose. I am not just talking about filling in some player journal which no one will ever read. This is what keeps players in an MMO. Star Wars: The Old Republic did a good job of keeping a player engaged in their own personal story. However, they overshot the mark and eventually all the endless voice acting and text just became boring. There needs to be depth in actual activity within the world. Cutscenes won’t "cut" it on this one. The purpose behind one's actions has to come in a form that players can enjoy.
We have mentioned exploration a lot in Elder Scrolls Online and how players can advance through the entire world. There is a technique in Skyrim (and other Bethesda games) that plays on your visual perception of the world. While we all use the map and compass to get around, it really becomes more about the visual impact of the world itself when you explore. I may see the shrine symbol on my compass, but more importantly I see the massive statue to Malacath coming into view as I travel over the mountain. It is this vista that sets all Elder Scrolls games apart. The view is just amazing. Skyrim boasted some amazing views and while many play on their PCs, I played it on my Xbox to get the full visual on my TV. With the new consoles coming into play for ESO, this is a major factor in the polish and graphics of the open world. It has to look like you want to explore every inch of the massive realm and see it in glorious detail.
The third and final point I want to talk about with ESO is building your character. I am not just talking about having a race or class, but once again having a purpose in the world. ESO seems to have a very robust character system which takes into account racial skills, weapon and armor skills, and class powers to unlock a huge variety of builds. This system will lay the groundwork for everything that happens in the elder game. It will dictate PvP in Cyrodiil and also how players equip their gear.
The good thing about this system is that it can forgive player mistakes at the beginning because most classes can be played with all kinds of options. That being said, you still have to choose a class that fits your style. I know there has been talk about a cash shop in the game, another contentious feature. Until we learn more about this one though, and what it actually has in store for us, I'll reserve judgment. Hopefully we'll get some details out of PAX.
More than anything I think these three points really keep players engaged in a solid MMO over a long stretch of time. In a game as large as this one, it really needs to have strong core features. With a huge risk being taken on the revenue model in the current market, Zenimax needs to back it up with solid gameplay and oodles of content. Players will join and stay if you can offer them something worthwhile, no matter the price of admission.
Garrett Fuller / Garrett is the Industry Relations Manager for MMORPG.com and loves to hit things with large blunt objects.
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