Zenimax hasn't handled the PR for its forthcoming Elder Scrolls Online as well as it could have. Releasing the world's most generic fantasy screenshot was probably a bad move and the previews we've seen so far don't paint the most original picture of game design.
Now Matt Firor, the game's director, is saying that the main story will be "100 per cent solo". Sorry, I just don't get that. Here's the relevant quote, kindly transcribed by VentureBeat from a GameInformer video interview:
As we're MMO designers, the thing we wanted to make sure we hit the most was that feeling of 'you're awesome; you're the hero.' And we do that through a mix of technology, where when I am confronting a major foe in the game, I'm doing it in an instance where I am alone.
And we have a whole part of the game that is 100 per cent solo, which is the main story. The world focuses on you — you're the hero, everything you do is solo, and the world reacts to you that way.
OK, I do understand. If the main story can be completed alone, then you can rope in fans of the traditional Elder Scrolls series. Even if they dump the game shortly afterwards, they've already coughed up the entry price.
Putting aside the financial benefits and toning down the cynicism (slightly), I don't know if I agree with the emphasis on solo content from a purely gameplay perspective — I never quite understood why it was a focus for The Old Republic either. MMOs, at least the theme park variety, thrive on repeatable "rides", to carry the metaphor. Personally, I detest the design, but Blizzard has shown that's how MMOs make money, even if it means dispassionately grinding the love of games out of your subscribers.
A seasoned game designer once told me to always make one game, not two or three. So, if you're making an MMO, the logic is you should make a massively multiplayer game, not a singleplayer one. All the resources Zenimax Online will pour into this "100 per cent solo" content would probably be better spent on making the game better at what it is — an MMO.
Don't get me wrong, MMOs do need some singleplayer content, as it's impossible to guarantee that other players will be online when you need them. But I'm of the belief it should almost always come second to the core, multiplayer experience. Otherwise, why are you making an MMO? Wouldn't it be better to make a singleplayer game with multiplayer components, much like Blizzard has done with Diablo III?
After World Of Warcraft permanently scorched away a part of my gaming soul, I doubt I'll play another MMO — but if I do, it won't be one that focuses on singleplayer content. That's what singleplayer games are for.
Have I got this wrong? I appreciate the need to make the player feel important, to be the hero as it were, but surely the player will encounter a sharp, perhaps unassailable, dissonance going from the solo portion to the mutliplayer portion? Shouldn't the focus be on getting players acclimatised to working together, rather than encouraging them to be apart?
At the moment, there's no way to know how large a part the main story of Elder Scrolls Online will play in the experience overall, but the word "main" suggests a degree of importance. If it's later revealed I'm overreacting, so be it, but I'm getting tired of developers trying to make games that satisfy everyone.