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Is ESO Dying or Just Carving a Niche?

Ryan Getchell Posted:
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At the time of writing this, The Elder Scrolls Online is just shy of being three months old. Three months isn’t very old for an MMO, especially since they are supposed to be played for years, but it’s long enough for players to know if they like the game or not. Which means do they continue to pay the subscription fee or cancel their account and look for the next greatest thing. In this week’s column I’m going to look at the question that has been plaguing the community for the last few weeks. Is ESO dying?

As one of the largest privately held gaming companies, Zenimax/Bethesda has no obligations to release any form of official numbers. Unlike Blizzard and other large publicly traded corporations that are required to release their quarterly financial statements which includes number of active subscribers.

Obviously, I won’t be providing you any numbers on active subscribers but I will be discussing what I see happening in the game every single day. 

Prior to ESO being released I used to preach about how Zenimax is attempting to balance on the edge of a blade, creating a game that attracts both the MMORPG crowd and the Elder Scrolls gamers. I believe they did an excellent job showcasing their features and ensure they are demonstrating the key points to grab players from each side. Now that the game has been released for some time, I don’t feel they balanced on that edge as well as they portrayed. Which has a direct tie to why people are asking if the game is dying.

ESO is a fantastic game, it has the best graphics that have ever been in a MMORPG, and the story lines far exceed any expectations that I had for it. Star Wars: The Old Republic did an amazing job with their story, but they didn’t have the emotion that ESO has, or the incredibly hard choices. I spent over 30 minutes starring at my screen trying to decide which option I wanted to pick for the main story line.

Is story enough to keep the game active and alive? Yes and No. Remember this game needs to draw both the MMORPG and Elder Scrolls crowds, and rich story lines is a sure fire way to bring in those Elder Scrolls fans, however MMORPGs players tend to skip a lot of dialogue and race to the infamous “End Game”. 

End Game, this is where we start to see a slight decline in player interaction. Those MMORPG players raced to this content, missing out on everything else that ESO has to offer and were faced with slight disappointment. Mostly because their expectation got the better of them. End Game in ESO isn’t what a lot of MMO gamers expected, it’s a bit lack luster. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Trials in Craglorn, and I really enjoyed Crypt of Hearts, but it isn’t what a lot of players were expecting. They wanted the competition of End Game, they wanted a race to the finish line. Instead they were given content that can be completed within 15 – 30 minutes. A far cry from the World of Warcraft raids which sometimes take weeks to complete.

Then of course we have PvP, Cyrodiil, and the primary reason why I really enjoy ESO. Even though you’re able to go into Cyrodiil at level 10, to be truly effective it is recommended to be Veteran Rank at the very least, anything below that you might as well consider yourself cannon fodder.

However, as much as I enjoy Cyrodiil, there have been times that have made me completely question if I want to do it. One thing that I have noticed in Cyrodiil is that the Campaigns don’t seem to be as populated as they once were. When the game first game out, my guild chose Dawnguard as our campaign and it was completely over run with AD. Zergs with 50 – 100 people in it, so of course we switched campaigns and went to Volendrung. This campaign when it first started was very balanced between all three factions. A week later it appeared EP had left, and some DC as well. AD was dominating the map. After some time DC pushed back and eventually won the campaign. Now since the reset Volendrung's DC population has drastically dropped. The population has decreased so much to the point that a DC fighting force is non-existent. DC had their scroll taken by 4 EP players and we were unable to prevent it. Yeah, it’s that bad.

Is this why people are saying ESO is dying? Possibly, however it could also be that players have switched to one campaign, Wabbajack. Wabba seems to be the most populated campaign, also the one with the most lag issues due to the amount of people on it. Players could have gotten tired of their previous campaign having population balance issues and all went to Wabba in order to find some form of combat. Again without Zenimax/Bethesda releasing some form of official numbers this is just a guess.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying no one has left ESO, because that couldn’t be further than the truth. Hundreds, possibly thousands of players have left the game. Our guild alone has lost almost 80 people.

The loss of players some time after an MMO is released is normal though. When a game is first released, players see this new and shiny thing and they have expectations that it will be everything they love from their current game and also have everything they hate about it fixed. Which is never the case.

So is ESO dying? No, I don’t think it is dying. I think the player base is starting to level. Those that got the game expecting it to be something that it isn’t have already left, and moved on to games such as Wildstar, and Archeage. Those who are still playing it are the Elder Scrolls fans, and the MMO gamers that are tired of same old game structure. Sure ESO has its bugs, it has its issues with lack luster End Game, but with it only being three months old there is plenty of time for Zenimax to release more challenging elder content and bug fixes.

ESO is a game that hasn’t truly been done before, it’s a game that is designed around its leveling experience, and those who rushed through the content to get to level cap and “End Game” essentially skipped what the same is designed on. ESO isn’t trying to be the next World of Warcraft, it’s trying to be itself, and for some people that’s not enough, but for the thousands of players who are still playing it, it’s enough.

To put it into a different perspective, for those of you who say ESO is going to go F2P in a couple of months. Even if there is only 200,000 (which I believe to be a low estimate) people playing the game, they are all paying the $15/month fee. Which equates to $3 million dollars a month or $36 Million dollars a year. Of course that is nothing compared to WoW’s $112,500,000 a month, but ESO isn’t WoW and we shouldn’t expect it to be.

What do you think, is ESO dying? Did you quit ESO? If so, why? Let us know, because well… if nothing else, it’ll give us something to argue about.

Ryan Getchell / Ryan Getchell is a freelance writer for MMORPG.com. His roots go deep within the MMORPG gaming genre, branching back as early as Ultima Online. When he's not swaying around the forums you can find him lumbering around on his twitter, barking tweets. @Garbrac


Ryan Getchell