A recent column on this site argued that the critical reception for Destiny wasn’t relevant since the game’s sales were high. Yet, developers want to foster a reputation for quality as well. So how does this all relate to The Elder Scrolls Online? ZeniMax, too, suffered from mixed critical feedback before ESO was released, and in the weeks after launch. Yet ZeniMax embraced the feedback of its community, and now, with a big update set for the live server, is at six months and thriving out there.
The team was honest about having made some missteps, reading certain situations badly, and underestimating player wants and needs in others. The problem with MMORPGs is they don’t often get second reviews or in-depth looks, and while MMORPG.com does do this, the game will still have those critical reviews and scores that, in my opinion, don’t reflect the game as it stands now. While some games trim their update schedules, ESO keeps delivering on both new features, promised post-launch work (like the new facial animations currently on test server and included in the upcoming update), and improvements promised to the community after launch.
The game is flourishing in spite of the initial issues. In numbers some will surely debate, SuperData Research released its 2015 MMO market report that includes revenue to date in 2014. The Elder Scrolls Online came in in 11th place with $111 million in estimated revenue in player spending this year. That doesn’t seem to include box sales, either. Sure, numbers came from Bethesda in any official way, but there are other ways you can tell the game has been doing well. Even though there is megaserver technology, the game is populated. People run around playing at all times of the day and night. Things feel alive in Tamriel. Like Destiny, a lot of people bought the game and people still play it, but unlike Destiny, there’s a lot to do solo in ESO, and a large world to explore and play in. Sure, Bungie plans to add to its game, but the rebound ZeniMax has seen comes from rolling up its sleeves and digging in.
Personally, crafting writs, the changes that have started to roll out for crafting in general (helping those of us who decided to take up Enchanting, for instance), and changes to Provisioning (which will hopefully come to later include the requested stacking food and drink buffs), and the improved animations are all appealing. The game has become friendlier to play together, and there’s plenty of RP and related events to be had if you’re so inclined. With the Justice system detailed at the recent Guild Summit and PvP to be had, it has been six months and things haven’t slowed down. Yet my mind keeps going to the negative initial reviews and player reactions. Even among some of my friends, they simply retain those negative experiences and joke about the game. I wonder about the lost potential.
Now that ESO’s first batch of six month subscriptions are running out, it remains to be seen how many of those remain, but there are so many things in the works that I feel a lot of players have settled in and are awaiting what’s next in the game. Players have been putting their faith in ESO’s turnaround, which ZeniMax has handled smartly. Mea culpas issued, promises made, and then, results started happening rapidly. I’m not sure if this is more possible since it’s a subscription game and all the incentive to make rapid improvements is there right away, but I think it helps. I think people were a little too focused on a ‘battle of the subscription MMOs’ this year that never came to pass because their offerings were so different.
With Destiny, pre-release criticism seemed to be discouraged, while huge ad blitzes happened across major cities. Here in NYC, I saw huge Destiny ads in Times Square. It’s a long-standing tradition in the movie business not to hold press screenings until opening day if a studio feels its movie will get trashed in the reviews and it might impact ticket sales. I haven’t played Destiny yet, so I don’t have an opinion, but the way the press wasn’t able to review it for release felt similar to the movie industry’s tactics to be coincidental. Full reviews came afterward in the overwhelming majority of cases. It worked.
With more games, like Destiny, being released as live multiplayer experiences that are meant to change over time and keep people playing for some time, companies like that can learn from MMOs like ESO. Launching as live services. FPS games, lobby games, even games with some story content co-op, can and have been successful on console, but launching an MMO-lite virtual world and running a live service, a persistent one, going beyond a lobby, that takes more. I think console game developers are still learning some lessons about bringing these types of games to their platforms. What ZeniMax has done and continues to do with ESO isn’t just a slate of promises, and that’s why I believe the game has rebounded so well from the initial slate and why something like Destiny probably won’t, especially after the season pass is done. Reviews are important and there’s room for criticism, but MMOs, they’re constantly changing, which is why this site in particular re-reviews games. Sales don’t mean much if the rest just doesn’t click.