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All Aboard!

Michael Bitton Posted:
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Did you hear that? That was the sound of the ‘hype train’ leaving the station. Last week was an eventful week for The Elder Scrolls Online. For one, Zenimax Online released an absolutely fantastic six minute CG trailer featuring the game’s three factions engaged in some spectacular RvR. And if that weren’t enough, the studio also began accepting beta sign-ups for the game. Woot!

With The Elder Scrolls Online set to release sometime this year, this latest development essentially marks the true beginning of the familiar marketing song-and-dance that many MMO veterans often try their hardest to steel themselves against (and ridicule MMO neophytes for easily succumbing to). It’s an important consideration for both the game’s developer and for fans themselves. On the one hand, the developer must take care in setting realistic expectations while also trying to maintain significant levels of excitement over a sometimes long stretch of time and this is much easier said than done. On the other, players need to do well to not set their own expectations too high based on the ensuing marketing madness.

We’ve seen this all play out time and again over the years, and this sort of thing isn’t exclusive to the MMO genre by any means. However, the impact of over-hyped MMO failures tends to leave shockwaves for years in its wake. Following Star Wars: The Old Republic closely throughout its development, I’ve witnessed the missteps on both sides of the equation, and it’s not pretty. Heck, I even weighed in on the subject in our SWTOR column. We’re still seeing its effects play out right here on our forums on a daily basis.

I’m not saying this is a déjà vu moment here with The Elder Scrolls Online, but with all the SWTOR stuff fresh in our memories, I do think it’s important we keep ourselves in check as best we can with The Elder Scrolls Online (and any other high-profile MMO on the horizon). I’m personally pretty excited for TESO, especially after last week, and that’s why I felt it necessary to make the case (surely in vain) for a sense of restraint all around as we board the ‘hype train’ yet again.

I do want to take a moment to address some of the reactions to the CG trailer last week, though. There’s really no reason to bring up the fact the trailer is worthless since it isn’t a gameplay trailer or that the game ‘won’t be like that’. The point of an expensive CG trailer like the one Zenimax put out last week (or the trio BioWare put out for SWTOR) is to drum up excitement.

The core MMO audience that reads sites like ours aren’t necessarily the main target of these trailers. We’re closely tuned in and catch wind of any little detail on a particular game we may be following. CG trailers generate enough buzz to get wide coverage and help get the game in front of gamers (or even non-gamers) who may have not even heard of the game before. CG trailers also give you a good idea of what the developer is going for, even if they don’t show off any gameplay.  They set the tone and highlight the game’s major themes. However, if you still find yourself disappointed due to the lack of gameplay, you may want to check out this pretty snazzy introduction video here that the development team put together.

The CG trailer put the three-way PvP conflict of The Elder Scrolls Online front and center and showed us the siege of an Imperial structure. This wasn’t your typical break-down-the-door-with-a-battering-ram-and-storm-the-castle sort of thing we’re used to, either. Instead, we saw what looked like a subterranean assault of sorts, characters physically scaling the walls, and even an elaborate rope bridge assault launched from outside the structure itself. Is Zenimax including these highly specific shots for pure cinematic value? Or could we be in for some novel siege equipment and approaches in The Elder Scrolls Online? It’s hard to say, but it’s certainly something worth discussing. I know that I’m personally a bit weary of the battering ram through the door or smashing through a wall segment siege and I’d love to see Zenimax kick it up a notch with TESO.

On the beta side of things, it’s important that we recognize that the beta process has really been all but corrupted when it comes to AAA games. There’s just too much risk involved in having a massive external beta program to do what beta programs are traditionally used for: squashing bugs and helping developers improve the game through actionable feedback. I’m sure Zenimax Online is going to pick out a pool of applicants to take part in such a process, but it’s likely to be on the small side, or be limited to very specific, short focus test periods.

Most signing up for beta with dreams of playing a 24/7 beta more than a couple of weeks out from launch are deluding themselves. Game development, like politics, is often similar to sausage making. No one really wants to see it – we just want the finished product. Things are broken, unpolished, incomplete, etc. and people who don’t understand that can do real harm by spreading negative word of mouth or leaking unflattering media from the test program. Basically, this is why we can’t have nice things. And with a game as big as The Elder Scrolls Online (and with an IP as valuable and protected as The Elder Scrolls), you can bet your butt that you’re only likely to get your hands on the game when real ‘beta testing’ is no longer applicable. Most of us will get into the test when the game will be roughly as polished as it’s going to be before it goes live and just about everything will be locked into place. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles these days.

Are you doing things differently this time around to keep your excitement in check? Or are you fired up on all cylinders at this point? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB