An Open Letter To Bethesda About Elder Scrolls Online

Dear Bethesda,

I’m worried about you.

For some reason you bought into the great MMO myth and now travel a road littered with the broken bodies of game developers. It wasn’t that long ago that 38 Studios imploded while trying to fund an MMO. And how about Star Wars: The Old Republic? It was supposed to be huge less than a year ago, and now it’s going free to play.

It feels like a new flavor is out every other month. Do you remember when Tera was the next big thing? Is anyone even playing The Secret World? I’m just saying they got Ali Larter (or a reasonable facsimile) to be on their cover. Meanwhile, Lord Of The Rings Online and Warhammer Online are waiting in the wings for anyone who wants cliched fantasy gaming.

Here’s what I’m getting at. I love you. We all do. Your immersive Elder Scrolls and Fallout games have taken many an hour that should have been devoted to earning money or just generally trying to better my life. That’s why you need to know that an MMO is a risky proposition, and you’re probably doing it wrong.

We keep saying that the MMO bubble has burst. Lagging sales in even World Of Warcraft are a sign that the MMO market is saturated, and that we need a better game.

I’ve been checking out your Elder Scrolls Online page, and it doesn’t look great. And remember how the reception for your E3 preview went? Yeah, you’ve got some stuff here and there that makes me think of Skyrim, but you can’t win me over with pretty dressing. Halo 4 is coming out soon and your shit needs to be tight.

I’m not even sure this letter is going to the right place. Zenimax Online is developing your product for you and, as far as I can tell, none of those folks have ever actually worked on an Elder Scrolls game before.

And they maybe don’t have a lot of fresh ideas either.

I noticed they’re going with the factions-as-determined-by-race idea. WoW really did pioneer this with their Horde/Alliance motif, but it’s dated. Distilling the most stereotypical features of your races while plugging them into unlikely alliances to fight each other and a common enemy has been done. It’s how every MMO with PvP factions operates.

And it feels like the safe choice. It worked for WoW, so you hope it works for you. But the safe choice won’t save you. It couldn’t save f###ing Star Wars!

Your lore is getting sloppy too. I noticed that the Khajiit are now proud, hardy warriors at the front lines of their faction. Anyone who’s ever played any Elder Scrolls game knows they are all sneak thieves and merchants! All of them. If you are playing a Khajiit in Skyrim (as I chose to do), all your cousins are assholes, and you’re fantastic with a bow.

To someone reading this letter, they might think that cutting corners on the lore doesn’t matter. It’s totally straight geekery anyway! Who cares!?

But you and I know better. We know that you’re cheating on your own artistic integrity because you need the symmetry to create another cliched PvP dynamic.

But you can’t win here. We buy your games because of the immersive RPG experience and the desire to have a devastating impact on our digital environment. You can’t bring us that with the old-hat MMO pony every other developer has carted out.

To be sure, there are a few sparks of potential. You’re doing combat without cool-downs, which is probably going to make it feel more like Skyrim, but come on! You’re telling me the emphasis is on dodging and parrying? Skyrim/Fallout has two strategies: Either trade blows until one of you is dead or run and shoot.

And the Mega-server thing could be pretty cool too, but given how many people we can actually expect to play the game we may not care. Star Wars: TOR has well under a million players, and it has been one of the most successful MMO’s of the last few years. I guess that’s speculation though.

Here’s what it comes down to. I play your games because I can create a character story. Not to grind. Not to run the same dungeon over and over again. Where is my story in this? Why should I play this over any other giant calculator with cleavage-y elves?

So please, for all your fans out there, turn away from this path. And if you can’t do that, since you’ve invested millions of dollars and promised a game to the world, try to make it all new. Changing a few of the standard MMO options will not make this a success.


Every RPG Fan Ever

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One thought on “An Open Letter To Bethesda About Elder Scrolls Online

  1. Hannes says:

    Gotta agree on all this, you took the words right out of my mind an you’ve put them here, for everyone to see. I sure hope the developers at ESO will read this letter, even if it’s a tad to late to make any major changes. However, the small details make alot of a game.

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