Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Monday, May 26, 2014

An MMO for loners

I'll start this post with a tl;dr: with a great deal of regret, I am moving Elder Scrolls Online from the list of "Current MMOs" to "Departed MMOs."

Unsurprisingly, the flood of serious launch bugs are the catalyst for this decision. However, the launch bugs are really only incidental. I've said this a time or two before about other games but for no game does it apply better than ESO: the game's minor bugs hide major design catastrophes. I believe in due course the relatively minor bugs that have plagued and continue to plague the game will be fixed -- many reviews state (accurately) that it feels like the current players of ESO are no more than beta testers for an untested game. Each patch closes more and more of them and the rate of patches are accelerating as Zenimax has time to focus on them. Even the most recent bug that I mentioned the other day will almost certainly soon be fixed.

But it does reflect an overly-casual attitude over at Zenimax. They're supposedly in the forefront of building an A-list MMO suitable for millions of people to subscribe to it... but they can't prevent issues this silly and preventable? This is not a good sign for the future.

Even if this were not the problem, though, the design issues will be a bit tougher to fix and I think will in due course doom the game to the free-to-play also-ran list that includes Star Wars The Old Republic, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Aion, Conan, Star Trek Online, Everquest 2, and Perpetuum Online.

That said, ironically I think ESO will be quite successful in that space because there is a lot of content to the game. In addition, the PvP is actually quite good and will lend itself well to a pay-to-skip-grinding framework. Zenimax seems able and willing to push both of these aspects of the game. For the first, given that Elder Scrolls games have always been single-player sandbox content-driven games, that's actually turning to be kind of appropriate... I just don't feel the need to subject myself to it. As for the latter, while PvP in the game is quite good, I'm discovering there are other games I can get PvP that's just as good and not have to pay $15/month for it.

Another aggravating element of ESO design...

I talked about my concerns with the design of ESO group play about ten days ago and for the most part, these concerns continue to hold true. And I respect that Zenimax is aware of them and is trying to deal with them. For instance, the 1.1.2 patch of the game includes instanced treasure chests in dungeons so that rewards are spread a bit more equitably among the players involved. That's a step in the right direction. But so many of the design elements in the game reward you for avoiding other players that it's becoming clear to me that:
  1. the designers didn't think this through; and,
  2. there's not going to be any simple way of fixing it.
That's a bad position for this game to be in.

Mabrick -- who is struggling with his own decision whether to subscribe to ESO -- pointed over to this quite good article at PC & Tech Authority by another writer also confronting the same issue. And that writer came up with a near-perfect descriptive phrase for ESO: it's an "MMO for loners", he says. And the more I think about it, the more accurate I find this description. As I mentioned in my own piece on the matter, if you like exploration, ESO is a terrific game. And if you play it at the right times, you can avoid the bulk of other players or use them to your own benefit to punch through the baddies in the more difficult dungeons for you. But most of the time in the PvE, you'll find the most pleasure from playing the game solo.

Which kind of begs the question of why ESO is a MMO at all, except to pull down those sweet sweet monthly subscription checks. How the hell does a MMO that seems disdainful of the social element of gaming succeed? I'm really not all that interested in an MMO that seems custom-designed to be played as a subscription solo game. I can find all sorts of excellent gaming experiences that don't come with the continuing drain on my wallet.

Anyway, this is a pretty long post for a pretty short conclusion. I just find myself incredibly disappointed by the state of affairs. As all of you know I've been looking forward to this one for a long time. And while I do feel like it avoids the mistake of being another World of Warcraft clone, it makes all new mistakes that are unique to itself and that should have been avoided. There's nothing saying this decision is permanent: perhaps Zenimax will find some way to address the worst flaws of the game and draw me back in (because Heaven knows I love this IP). But for now, I'm going to look for someplace else to spend my money.

34 comments:

  1. I'm amused that I tend to agree with you on almost everything EVE-related, and yet find your ESO posts so bad. design catastrophes? There isn't a single one! problems maybe, but this level of hyperbole is really unworthy of you.

    Fundamentally, the reason its an mmo is that people wanted a TES mmo.. but TES was and is the dominant feature. Making another "progression sandbox" would have been a far bigger problem.. there's too many of those already. The problem basically is that this game is based on TES success and DAOC success.. and thats different from standard mmos. As a result the unimaginitive mmo crowd are leaving along with the even more unimaginitive gaming press.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I beg to differ, all people wanted a "Skyrim with friends". Their answer was an MMO, to which everyone and their grandmother's dog have been screaming for months "why MMO?".

      Do you really think an MMO for loners is not one of the worst possible flaws any developer could have committed? cos to me that certainly falls in the design catastrophe area.

      Delete
    2. uh..no? since it isn't an MMO for loners? Jester is wildly overstating his case.

      Delete
    3. Uh... dude. This is an MMO where you can't run quests with your friends unless you don't play the game without them. How is that not a design catastrophe?

      Delete
    4. I cancelled my sub 5 minutes after the first time I went to quest with a friend and found it was actually impossible. That, in an MMO, is what you call "design catastrophe." Game is utterly broken from the get-go.

      Delete
  2. I'm curious how someone that has never touched World of Warcraft can say with any authority that TESO was not a WoW Clone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The thing is, it's -not- a WoW clone. If it was a WoW clone, they would have made competent design decisions for multiplayer.

      As it stands right now, they mixed the worst parts of the Elder Scrolls games and the worst parts of MMOs.

      Delete
  3. Zenimax isn't worried. The game has already sold enough physical and digital copies to pay for everything they know they need to fix... and a lot more.

    As for going F2P, not bloody likely. Their sub numbers are already higher than EVE Online, and continuing to grow quickly. You might as well predict that EVE is going to go F2P by the end of this year - that would be a much more likely event.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lol...your fanboy is showing. It'll probably be F2P by the fall. At the very least they will have announced the transition to F2P by then. It's not that the game is doomed to F2P solely because of its bugs (which are numerous) or its overall design flaws (that Jester accurately describes), but for the simple fact that unless you are Wow or a niche MMO (Eve) you will end up F2P before long anyway. The competition and dynamics of the market have seen to that.

      Delete
    2. It's not a question of did they sell enough now, but will enough customers keep paying their subs tomorrow.

      Delete
    3. I guarantee you its an order of magnitude more expensive to create any content for TESO than EVE. Half the "content" for EVE is changing numbers in a spreadsheet. Raiding content every couple of months. New daily quests. Balance on top of that.

      F2P by the end of the year.

      Delete
    4. @Anon731 - Sorry, not a fanboy. I don't play fantasy-based games.

      As for your "simple fact", you obviously don't know the game business. Zenimax has a well-establish game IP, so going with the F2P model would have been foolish. Before the launch, they ran the numbers required to succeed as a sub-based game, and they are already well past the minimum number of required subs. They have every reason to be confident, but are also smart enough to avoid being arrogant (unlike CCP).

      Also, F2P is no longer the solution to all problems for a failing game. Players are no longer willing to wildly spend money on useless digital assets, and expect more and more for free. CCP learned that lesson first-hand in EVE Online, and again with DUST.

      Delete
    5. "Half the 'content' for EVE is changing numbers in a spreadsheet."

      Unfortunately true... and the reason why CCP is steadily losing players. Oddly enough, you don't attract new players without new content - tweaking numbers is fine for balance, but not much else.

      Delete
    6. ESO's subs are growing ?

      Could I see your data please ?

      Delete
    7. "The game has already sold enough physical and digital copies to pay for everything they know they need to fix... and a lot more."

      "[insert developer here] has a well-establish game IP, so going with the F2P model would have been foolish. Before the launch, they ran the numbers required to succeed as a sub-based game, and they are already well past the minimum number of required subs."

      Hmm, where have I heard the exact same thing before? Oh, that's right.. The Old Republic.

      Delete
  4. Software quality issues in general have gotten pretty bad in the last 10 years. CCP ignores bug reports submitted by players testing features on sisi. Almost 10 years ago Microsoft was preparing Visual Studio 2005. For months beta testers reported major bugs with the software and yet, somehow, virtually every one of those bugs made it into the final release. Autodesk and their pricey AutoCAD et al family of products has turned this into an art form. Serious bugs go unfixed for years at a time.

    All these expose the stark fact that QA exists in name only for most large software projects and consumers enable the situation to persist because "it's good enough" has been promoted to an acceptable level of quality that people are willing to pay for.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It isn't a question about software quality, but software complexity. Every large software project is complicated and bugs are inevitable. The real question is how the company chooses to deal with their customer base, while working out the bugs.

      CCP, Autodesk and Microsoft are very arrogant companies, which choose to ignore their customers when they believe they are the only game in town. Monopolies tend to promote that type of behavior.

      Zenimax knows they are not the only fantasy-based MMO; hopefully, this will influence how they choose to work with their player base.

      Delete
    2. The sad thing is that I was more than willing to give them time to address more minor issues and build up the world and the content (and I wrote a blog post saying so). But the first thing you MUST get right is the basic design of the game and in this one area, ESO fails.

      Delete
  5. To be fair, Eve Online's PvE side is every bit as bad. You can't "share quests", the only way to warp a group to a deadspace gate is with the fiddly fleet interface (assuming you have all of the ranks/permissions sorted), and unless you're incapable of handling the encounter yourself (or have a utility purpose for the friend... like a noctis), there is no reason to group up.

    Sure, you can "rat" together... but that's just grinding random spawns and everyone knows it. (Fine for 2004, not so fine in 2014)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That may be true, but questing is the majority of gametime spent for nearly every character that plays TESO. There aren't multiple paths or avenues of play. It's a themepark. You're funneled down the questing chute to the end.

      Delete
    2. Sorry Kiruwa but not even close. There is a major difference between the two. Yes EVE's mission "sharing" is very meh. But at least you can share. to quote Jesters other post "if you have completed one of ESO's quests, you cannot go back and redo it, nor can you help anyone else through it."

      This would be like me running a mission today in EVE, and then tomorrow I can't run that same mission with a friend at all.

      Delete
    3. Funny that you mention that.

      Delete
    4. I've done L4s with fleets: a bucnh of folk I know used to have weekly socials where we'd fleet up (including any newer players we knew) and go roflstomp red crosses. The money wasn't great (except for the new players, who got an even share), but fun was had. Fleet warps aren't 'fiddly': put someone in squad command. right click 'warp squad to...' job done. We also used it as a chance to practice fleet comms and such, which came in incredibly handy when any of us moved to w-space or Nullsec, or started incursions.

      That's the thing, really: it's perfectly possibly to do that sort of group PvE, but the only reason to do so is because you want to fly with friends (or run L4s in a fleet of frigates, which is hilarious), not because it makes more ISK. Incursions and Wormholes both have significant barriers to entry (the Contesting mechanic, and 'wormholes' respectively), which is almost a shame.

      To my understanding, if I wanted to do lol-fleet L4s in ESO's world, I'd have no option at all. If I've savedthe Damsel once, they're saved forever, and I can't help anyone else with their Damsel.

      Delete
  6. Did they implement TiDi?

    ReplyDelete
  7. all hail bugdra! patch one bug, two more sprang in it place

    ReplyDelete
  8. It is always amusing to see how many idiots actually hope that these new games fail.

    Don't you realize that more success stories means more games? More people to invest into even more exciting new technologies and creative ideas?

    The better that TESO does, the better the future will be for both game companies and game players. The worse it does, then the likelihood of new MMOs goes down even further 'cause no one will want to invest in building them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It depends what kind of success you want to encourage.

      Honestly, game companies should probably STOP making new MMOs until they've had a long, hard think about what they would do differently with them. So yeah, put that shit to rest for a bit. Most of them should crash and burn. I don't think we'd be losing any "progress" if that were to happen.

      Delete
    2. I would much rather see a new TES offline game, either traditional single player or small multiplayer, than this crap MMO. If it takes a failure for them to go back to that, then so be it.

      Delete
  9. If you're looking for a new timesink, I'm having an insane amount of fun in Spaceship Engineers. It's better to have a friend along to laugh at all the dumb things that cause my inventions to explode.

    Personally, I'm done with MMOs for awhile.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Well, my sub for ESO is about to be gone. I just used Humble Bundle's pack to fetch me a new account on EVE Online to have some fun at the forums and say hi to old friends (if I find anyone who still plays EVE, dammit!).

    ESO is a fine TES game spoiled by all the other players, or a poorly designed MMO where having company is a curse. Albeit they've taken action to fix some of the most obvious issues (like, bots), there are so many things flawed at inception level that I have a hard time figuring how they can be fixed.

    Personally, when someone entered my boss battle and killed my boss and I found myself completing a quest from the main plot without boss battle nor loot, I had enough albeit my quest journal was not broken by the patch.

    ReplyDelete
  11. "As for the latter, while PvP in the game is quite good, I'm discovering there are other games I can get PvP that's just as good and not have to pay $15/month for"

    Just wondering about which games you get your pvp action from ? for me it will be planetside2 or smite

    ReplyDelete
  12. "MMO for loners". Tbh, this sounds appealing. I left WoW because of the idiots in LFG/LFR, am contemplating leaving EVE for similar reasons and love Skyrim as solo player experience. If this game was anything like Skyrim where I do not have to interact with people every day but can team up when I want (PvP!), I am interested. But you are right, $15 is a lot of money for that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. $15 is the standard for a good MMORPG sadly thanks to wow the bar for a good MMORPG has been lowered pretty far. So far that most ppl think everything should be p2w I mean f2lose.

      Delete
  13. Wait ur saying that a company thats never made a multiplayer game less yet an mmo and then rushes their title to launch so they could cash in on that Sub money has failed?/?? No way

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.