Audience expectations, Elder Scrolls Online, and EverQuest Next
Last week was a huge week for MMO fans. We were expecting some cool news from Sony Online Entertainment about EverQuest Next from SOE Live. Despite not being a huge EQ follower, I was enormously interested in what SOE (one of my personal favorite game developers and publishers) planned on doing with its staple franchise. Then Bethesda announced that for the first time ever the ZeniMax team would show in-game footage of the Elder Scrolls Online on Twitch TV. Specifically, players wanted to see the first-person view not seen at previous conventions. ZeniMax delivered, and the crowd went wild.
I believe both presentations were wonderful, and I would be lying if I said that both presentations didn’t pique my interest. I would also be lying if I said that I had no concerns about how each of the games will be received. I talked about it with my guild, Nefarious Intent. We have some hardcore Elder Scrolls fans and some MMOers who have been playing EQ games since the ’90s. During the course of the debate, we came to the conclusion that the audience of each game expects something completely different and that pitting these two titles together is completely unfair. So of course that’s why I have to do just that in today’s column.
Why are there different expectations between ESO and EQN? How is it going to be completely possible for both games to be highly successful?
I’m going to mention this one more time because I think it is indicative of the direction that Elder Scrolls Online is taking: Creative Director Matt Firor said on Gamereactor, “This is more a multiplayer Elder Scrolls game than an MMO.” Not only does that properly set the expectations for the audience, but it might also be the saving grace of the ESO marketing strategy. It sets the expectation for the player and at the same time informs the audience which kind of player ZeniMax expects to play ESO.
Massively caters to a wide audience of gamers. We feature articles about MOBAs, shooters, sandboxes, themeparks, and whatever Beau does. All of them are online; all feature a massively multiplayer component. However, our roots — and our core audience — are in classic MMORPGs like Ultima Online and EverQuest. This trend was never more evident than in the performance of the articles featured last Friday.
As regular readers of this column are aware, we did a point-by-point liveblog as ZeniMax presented a dungeon in ESO. It was wildly popular, even by our standards. And had it been the only thing featured that day, it would have blown all the other articles out of the water. On the low end, I estimate it performed about 1000% better than the average Massively article. Then an hour later, MJ released her reveal of EverQuest Next, which surpassed the Elder Scrolls article with about three times the readers. I was surprised by both articles’ performances. But what does that ultimately tell me?
First, it made me jealous that MJ’s article did better than mine. Curse you, MJ! But what it really told me was that Massively’s audience is really interested in the type of game SOE is presenting: a sandbox-y, make-your-own-content kind of MMO. We really hadn’t seen a well-made AAA sandbox MMO in a long time. The last one to my knowledge was Fallen Earth, but its overall performance was underwhelming. Before that I’d have to point to Star Wars Galaxies. But thanks to the geniuses at LucasArts, the NGE cut the legs out from under the game and now it is no more. We simply haven’t seen many AAA sandbox MMORPGs since Ultima Online. I don’t know if that says something about the audience or the creators, but there it is.
From what I gather, EQN will fill a niche that MMORPG players have been wanting for a very long time. Props to SOE for seeing that and taking advantage of it. But I said that I believed that ESO could be successful as well, which is true. What niche is ESO filling? I would say it’s filling about 7 million niches, one for every player who wished that he or she could have played Skyrim with a few thousand friends. Based on the gameplay shown at QuakeCon, I think ESO feels a lot like Skyrim. The gameplay is very similar, and it even employs a very similar minimalist UI. The gameplay footage and the statement made by Firor solidified the target audience for me: ESO is aimed directly at new MMO players, TES players interested in porting their single-player experience online. That, coupled with the enormous number of platforms the game will release on, gives it the best chance to be a highly successful game, even if its current target isn’t the long-time MMO player.
What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Despite the target audience, are you going to play still? I am, but I play different games for different reasons. What about you? What would motivate you to play ESO and EQN at the same time?
Usually, I split this column into a bit about my personal topic and a bit about what the commenters are talking about. This week, I want to deviate from that just a bit by featuring an incredible video series that Shoddy Cast developed over the last few months called Elder Scrolls Lore. This series, sitting now at 12 chapters with more to come, presents the history of Tamriel in a documentary-style video presentation. Seriously, if I didn’t know that this was a made-up land in a fictitious universe, I swear it could have been a show on the History Channel. I’ve included the latest episode below, but you should really check out the whole series. If you love TES lore, then you have to watch this.