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Elder Scrolls Online Column: It’s Raining, But the Sky Isn’t Falling

By Christina Gonzalez on April 23, 2014

The sky is falling. Or it isn’t. Depending who you talk to about The Elder Scrolls Online lately, you might get one or the other of those two responses. The game’s first month has been plagued by a few limited, yet sometimes significant exploits and bugs. These have resulted in criticism toward Zenimax, especially when taken in conjunction with things like a payment mistake that resulted in people being charged upfront by surprise when activating their games to get their included first 30 days, and accidental ban sweeps that affected those found to have done no wrong.

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Not surprisingly, some gamers have pounced upon these occurrences to take the company to task in multiple ways, with some taking the opportunity to criticize the subscription in light of these and more minor issues. Yet, on the flip side, the counter argument points to the bumpy track record and bugs as happening to nearly every major MMORPG upon release, and sometimes further down the line. These problems aren’t uncommon, and most MMO veterans will warn that this is often a part of the first month or two, and if you’d like to all but guarantee missing launch issues, you should hold off for a while and not play on release.

Some MMO launches have been on the smoother side, like that of Rift in 2011, but for the most part, we’ve become used to issues to the point of excusing some of them. That said, as anyone that has ever worked in a customer-facing position can tell you, some patience and calm can go a long way toward getting a situation resolved. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be frustrated if affected by bugs or launch issues, and nor does it mean do nothing.

While it appears that these bugs have affected a limited number of overall players, their severity (such as disappearing bank contents) is what seems to be fueling the flames of criticism. As customers, people have every right to request fixes from Zenimax during this time. Signaling your satisfaction or dissatisfaction when it comes to the status of your subscription is one way of responding. Yet a little patience goes a long way when considering Zenimax must be under a small avalanche of incoming support tickets. There’s no denying that some of the recent bugs and mistakes are major, but most people with wide-ranging MMO experience, for better or worse, know that these things are usually worked out to general satisfaction.

As common as these situations tend to be, neither side is wholly right. While issues are common early on, the standard is a bit low if we’re conditioned to simply accept buggy and problematic launches for a service that we are paying for. Yes, the included 30 days of playtime is you as a customer. When affected by a significant bug, seek help for it, but if many others are affected, know that it could take a bit of time. Several claims that these bugs existed for a long time, including during beta, arose. There’s a possibility that they were addressed at some point and then broken again via an update. Software is occasionally a finicky thing. If you’ve ever coded anything, save multiple copies, because one second it can work perfectly, then with a few small changes, you’ve broken it. Multiply that many times over when it comes to MMORPG development. It requires going back over things with a fine-toothed virtual comb, as well as hoping to not break anything else in the meantime.

While most will blame the company for these issues, much of the blame truly lies in those who take advantage of such exploits. Again, many games see some less than honest players get ahead by unintended means, so that is brought up often. In this case, it’s a reasonable response. MMO developers are fighting the dishonest players, but are also constantly needing to take care of the player base as a whole, which includes continuous balance. When people exploit, they usually do so silently until they can gain maximum advantage, telling few people until each of them does the same in turn without repercussions. Sadly, some people do like their advantages more than they like a fairer playing field. Not that Zenimax isn’t responsible for patching these holes, since it is, but blame rests more on the shoulders of those who utilize them.

Coincidentally, The Elder Scrolls Online’s unique economy might have helped in blunting some of the impact of these recent problems. Without an auction house to flood, no central seller, and stores limited to guilds over a certain size for their members or a handful of keeps in Cyrodiil, fewer duped items and less gold likely inflated the economy than might have if everything were on automated insta-buy. That isn’t to say that the economy isn’t feeling an impact, but the setup seems to have limited some of the effects.

ESO players should expect good service from the service they’re subscribing to and holding companies to higher expectations should happen. However, when things do go wrong, it’s important to keep some patience for a reasonably timely solution. If you’re unhappy with any game, by all means, leave it, but it seems whenever a new release has issues, it’s called the worst game ever. Sometimes these issues are major, but strike only a handful of people, but with the internet, social media, and how fast word travels, it really can seem like the sky is falling.

Christina Gonzalez / Christina is a freelancer and contributor to MMORPG.com, where she writes the community-focused Social Hub column. You will also find her contributions at RTSGuru. Follow her on Twitter: @c_gonzalez

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