Today’s topic is one that I’ve been dying to discuss for a long time now – seriously, I wrote this episode back in November 2016, it’s been a while. Zenimax Online Studios has done a remarkable job over the past three years in taking The Elder Scrolls Online from what was looking to be the brink of failure in 2014 to now one of the top AAA MMORPGs on the market, and they’ve done that largely because of their shift in making content feel more immediately rewarding, removing barriers to play, changing the business model, and improving/introducing new systems and content that have been enticing and interesting enough to bring players into the game – be they brand-new or returning veterans.
And that’s a truly wonderful thing, really – we as players should be thankful to them for that. But I’ve had some growing concerns in the past several years – especially in the past twelve months – regarding Zenimax’s commitment to retaining all of the new players we’ve seen come into the game with the recent updates, like Orsinium, Thieves’ Guild, Dark Brotherhood, the Veteran Rank System removal, One Tamriel, Homestead, and now finally Morrowind. Those were all fantastic pieces of content, and easy home-runs when it came to marketing the game to a broader audience. But eventually, ESO is going to start running out of these hugely marketable releases – there’s only so many “Morrowind” and “Dark Brotherhood“-level hype machines this franchise can lean on – and when that happens (or when Bethesda Softworks decides to finally release their upcoming The Elder Scrolls VI single-player title), ZOS is going to need to be prepared to keep players hooked.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind Collector’s Edition Giveaway Winners
Congratulations to /u/funkymongoloid and /u/T4silly from The Elder Scrolls Online Community Subreddit for winning our Digital Collector’s Edition giveaways this week, and shout-out to Ashes of Dyride, who won the Physical Collector’s Edition! Enjoy your time in Vvardenfell with your extra goodies, folks, and thank you to everyone who entered! We received more than 500 unique entries, and the community had a fantastic array of comments and feedback that I’ll be addressing in another episode of the show next week. Stay tuned!
On today’s show, I discuss a variety of ways in which I think ESO could better incentivize players to replay content. It’s important for a game developer to understand the important distinction to be made between a player grinding through content because they feel rewarded and they want to do it, versus powering through something because they feel like they need to.
Currently, The Elder Scrolls Online seems to rely a bit too heavily upon the ever-lasting “gear treadmill” as its core method of incentivizing replayability of content – players do their Undaunted Pledges to get gear, they farm Dungeons for gear, farm Trials for gear, run Maelstrom Arena for gear, farm Dark Anchors and overland zones for gear, etc. – and there doesn’t seem to be much thought, if any, placed into designing content and “carrots” for players to chase to keep something feeling “fun” or rewarding after they complete it the first time beyond a simple gear grind.
For example, since ESO launched back in 2014, now more than three years ago, the developers have yet to ever add a single mount to the game that can be obtained through gameplay – every single one of the more than 50 new mounts that have been added have been tied to the Crown Store. The lack of meaningful incentives or “shinies” for players to chase after to reward long-term gameplay is upsetting, and my growing concern is that ESO has given up, in some ways, on the idea of keeping a healthy balance between what is added to the cash shop versus what is added to the core game itself. The greatest example of a system that could provide many in-game incentives and rewards to help encourage players to stick around longer is the Achievement System – and yet hardly any achievements have meaningful rewards tied to them, aside from Character Titles and Dye Colors, which both have very limited opportunities for use.
Now that One Tamriel has launched, and many of the biggest “gaps” in what the game was previously lacking have been filled, it would be encouraging to see the development team start to shift some of their priorities into focusing on rewarding and retaining their players – both new and old – and put less emphasis on relying completely on highly-marketable, nostalgia-driven DLC and Chapter releases to funnel in new players every few months just to watch a large portion of them leave when they realize that the only rewards worth chasing aren’t exactly all that rewarding.