ESO – Speculating on Zenimax

Zenimax is getting a lot of flak for their strict NDA, and I thought I would speculate on why they might think it’s a good idea to keep it in place, when other early games don’t. Which is not to imply that I think it’s a good idea, or a bad idea, or anything in between. I’m not a games journalist, so I couldn’t care less whether it has an NDA or not. (Usually journalists complain the loudest about NDAs because not being able to write a story means lost eyeballs.) Average joe gamer probably doesn’t care either.

I’m ruling out what everyone else thinks, which is that Zenimax knows their game sucks and they want to fool people into buying it sight unseen. I have to believe that somebody over there thinks they’re making a good game. Someone would have put up their hand in a meeting at some point and said, "Guys, you know, this idea sucks, maybe we should pull the plug before we spend millions of dollars on it." I mean, it’s not like the way the game turned out is a surprise to them. They meant it to play the way it plays.

The only thing I can figure is that they believe keeping the game under wraps will build more curiousity for the game. All anyone hears about it now is, "Hey there’s this game, but we can’t talk about it." So maybe people will see ESO on the shelves one day and think to themselves, "Oh wow, here’s that game that was a big secret, I want to see what it is!"

To compare, people may not feel the same curiousity about WildStar. I mean, we’ve pretty much seen every single moment of the game with every class from level 1 to 15 already. (If we’ve wanted to.) I know I don’t feel the same anticipation about WildStar as I do about ESO. WildStar feels like a safe, by-the-numbers MMO (kind of like Dragon’s Prophet, which, yeah, there’s that), whereas ESO feels more like uncharted territory, and that’s more interesting to me.

Maybe it has something to do with the console-centric nature of the game. If you’ve seen ESO at all, it’s clear it was designed to be played on consoles, and console game launches do not work the same way as PC game launches. (I guess. Actually I don’t know, but it seems logical.) I would not be surprised if they are viewing the PC market as an after-thought, and concentrating all of their efforts on console players.

I tend to agree with many pundits on this: No matter what Zenimax does, they are doomed to disappoint some portion of their audience. People who are expecting Skyrim are going to be disappointed, because it’s impossible to recreate a single-player experience in a multi-player game. People who are expecting a PC game will be disappointed, because it’s dumbed down for console controllers. People who are expecting a sandbox game are going to be disappointed, because those people are always bitter about everything. (Just kidding. But ESO isn’t a sandbox, so they’ll be disappointed.) People who are expecting WoW are going to be disappointed, because it isn’t super easy. People who want PvE are going to be disappointed, because there’s apparently a large focus on PvP. Even people who want PvP are going to be disappointed, because those people are really bitter about everything.

ESO is trying to do something that has never been done before: Take a wildly popular single-player RPG franchise and turn it into an MMORPG that runs on PCs and consoles. It’s basically impossible. UO is the only other MMO I can think of that came close to doing that, and that was only popular because there was nothing else out at the time. (A game like UO released today would not be popular … see Mortal Online, which is exactly the hardcore sandbox game everyone wants from these Kickstarter projects, but nobody plays it.)

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