Yesterday, The Sentinel posted an article about ZeniMax letting go about 300 people in the past few months, in Galway, Ireland. This is normal news to read in the video games industry, but what saddens me extremely is that ZeniMax Online Studios are the guys who developed The Elder Scrolls Online, and the customer support for this MMO is located in Galway. Hence my sad prediction. You don’t fire a few hundreds of people from your customer support if they are busy busy working for a growing, thriving persistent online game.
Is The Elder Scrolls Online dying?
There are no official numbers I could find for the current ESO subscriptions. According to VG Charts, the retail version sold about half a million copies (0,40m), and the estimations are usually a 4:1 ratio in favor of digital. So we can assume that about 1 million and a half bought ESO digitally. 1,6m plus 0.40m is 2 million estimated players which is a number I find easy to accept because the ESO Facebook page has 1.8 million likes.
That is not a bad number to start with, but Bethesda reported they had 5 million people beta testing the game. It seems that considerably less than half of them were convinced to buy it, and from those, I wonder how many are still paying a monthly subscription to continue their adventures in Tamriel. ZeniMax and Bethesda are awfully quiet about that. They are always quiet, when the numbers aren’t big enough to show off. That’s pretty worrisome when you think that their target group are the Elder Scrolls fans! These are the 17 million people who bought Skyrim, the same Skyrim which is the second in the most important Steam driven chart of median number of hours played per owner. People loved their Skyrim! And I don’t even want to mention Morrowind, a classic and my all time favorite game, or the other TES games. Elder Scrolls is one of the biggest, most immersive game universes ever created! You’d think it could emerge in an insanely successful persistent world, no?
I wonder what didn’t work.
I remember my first ESO session in beta. I said I’d give it a try and that try lasted the entire weekend. I lived and breathed in Tamriel, so immersed that I couldn’t escape it, even when the beta ended. Days after, I’d itch to play a little when home from work, but I had to have patience. It must have been 2 more weeks until another beta session opened up. For some reason, the spell was lost by then, and I did not play throughout the weekend. I told myself, it’s OK, you probably don’t want to play because you know you will loose all your characters, so just have a bit of patience as the game will soon be out.
I remember the day my Collector’s Edition arrived. I hugged it for so long, Sebi had to strip it out of my hands. I still consider it one of the best things money can buy, as Molag Bal dutifully accompanied my Alduin and my art book took her place of honor amongst my other Collector’s editions. I played… but for some reason the character I created did not feel right. Sebi was waiting, our guild was waiting, I booked play dates with my friends, yet that magic that I lived though in the first beta did not reappear.
I blamed it on the weather, on work, on real life. Too much to do, too little time. I’ll play soon, I told myself, I will find the proper time and search that magic once again… but I didn’t. Somehow the alternatives, including my little pet projects, seemed like a better choice to invest my time. In the end I blamed it on my age. I am getting old, I said, and had that old inner talk with myself about the fact that I never really was a true gamer.
Until I got back to Minecraft. Until Lifeless Planet was released and I could not unhook myself from it till the end. I know I am very pretentious when it comes to games, and I like very few of them, but when I do, man what a sensation. Kinda like what I felt in that first ESO beta I joined. What happened?
Sebi thinks ESO does not have IT. It’s a wonderful game, immersive, that first person perspective is amazing, and the team delivered breathtaking visuals as always. The music is Elder Scrolls style (which is beyond brilliant), the characters are pretty, the story is what I expected, so much as been invested in voice acting, which I think pays off. Your skills grow naturally as you use them you are not limited by the game, some quests do have a tad of been there done that, but are still well placed and interesting. How do you define IT? That quality that draws you in and immerses you fully, the same that makes you fall in love with people and games, how can a game have IT in beta, but lose it somewhere along the short way to launch? It must be me; it must have been me.
But I think IT is a tricky thing. IT is a passion that must be maintained and it involves a lot of work from both parties involved. IT sparks many adventures but few lifelong fellowships. ESO was a flame to me, just a crush, not a life long love like Morrowind. Or Minecraft 🙂 Perhaps I should have invested more time to see if ESO and I can become more than just a fling; perhaps I will. But by firing 300 people from its support offices in Ireland, ZeniMax does not seem to prepare for a long term commitment. Next, free to play?
I still love Elder Scrolls.