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What’s Up With the Console Versions?

Elder Scrolls Online Columns - By Christina Gonzalez on October 01, 2014

What’s Up With the Console Versions?

When it comes to The Elder Scrolls Online, ZeniMax has published frequent roadmaps for where the game will go. Yet, after delaying the console edition in May for “approximately six more months of development”, the journey of ESO on consoles is still shrouded in mystery. Here are some reasons why patience will be key to the payoff should you want to run around Tamriel on your couch, and why waiting could be the best (or worst) decision for the game’s console future.

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The Elder Scrolls Online, subject to much debate all over, seems to be doing pretty well on PC. Updates are coming, more have been promised, and there has been an influx of new players thanks to the game’s arrival on Steam and a few subsequent sales. There are features coming that the community requested and has been buzzing about, like the Thieves’ Guild and Dark Brotherhood and the upcoming Justice system. The team has also spent some time ironing out some of the game’s initial problems and announced the conversion of the Veteran system into the Champion system. Console release will include what’s out on the PC up until around that point, and it simply makes sense that ZeniMax would want to have these new guilds and new systems in place before launching something on console that would undergo significant additions and changes shortly afterward.

Now that October has arrived, we’re about five months into the delay, and it’s looking ever more likely that the console editions won’t hit until sometime early in 2015. If the delay were really six months, then we’d likely be hearing some sort of announcement pretty soon. Given that the fall through end of the year is an incredibly busy time for high profile games to compete for your attention, it’s another reason why ZeniMax might want to wait until some breathing room appears, especially if the company plans to launch the game on console with its subscription plan intact.

All indications so far (and they’re scant) lead in the direction that the subscription will remain the same once the console editions launch. Those that bought the game on PC before the end of June will be able to pay $20 for a console copy with a fresh 30 days of game time included and a character transfer to the console server of choice. Yet few MMORPGs have tried subscriptions on console, and only Sony has really succeeded with Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Games like DC Universe Online have found success on PlayStation, but eventually went hybrid freemium with an optional subscription. In the case of DCUO, the majority of its playerbase was on console anyway, and the design choices in that game always felt more natural with a controller in hand (even though it’s still fun on PC). Still, subscriptions are a bit of a hard sell on console, but not an insurmountable obstacle. Might need some properly tempered expectations, however.

Given the mixed to critical response when the game was first released (and even before), the devs are necessarily going to use caution. The console launch is also a second chance to make a first impression, so to speak, so making sure to take the time to improve the game and make it more feature complete and robust before trying to sell it to a sometimes difficult audience for MMOs (but receptive audience for Oblivion and especially, Skyrim. The general responsiveness of the team and the willingness to step back and say ‘we made a mistake, here’s how we’ll fix it’ and following through does create some confidence. There seem to be many pluses and few downsides to waiting for the console release.

The question remains, however, will people still care? There are those who still ask if the console versions are coming, or when they’ll be released, but the talk has died down about it. That’s pretty natural, given the extensive delay and lack of updates. If ZeniMax announced a release date tomorrow, talk would increase again. Yet, the negative impressions left in the media and among some players that quit by the PC release still remain, and I think that some will use a degree of caution. Also some will inevitably have moved on. Bringing back that offer for a $20 console copy for PC players who discovered the game via Steam sale or otherwise might be a good promotion to consider. Potential here is still high, but momentum can be a factor, especially with some of the other barriers.

It seems a safe bet that we won’t be seeing ESO hit consoles until early 2015, but the experience should be that much richer for it. It’s a gamble ZeniMax had to take, since a release on time would’ve just gotten dragged right down. Will enough players care about its late arrival?  It remains to be seen.

Christina Gonzalez / Christina is a freelancer and contributor to MMORPG.com, where she writes the community-focused Social Hub column.