Why Is Elder Scrolls Online Focusing On Singleplayer Content?

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.

What Makes The Elder Scrolls Online A Modern MMO [Game Informer, via VentureBeat]


    Now I want a Rollercoaster Tycoon MMO.

      Now that's a game I would pay a subscription fee for.

    The problem with making an MMO that's all group content, all the time, is that you don't always have enough people logged in for it to be worthwhile for people to group, and most people are more inclined to join an existing group than to start one. Most MMOs that were built around multiplayer content have found themselves needing to work something for people to do when there isn't anyone around.

    To me MMOs have always being a primarily solo experience. There are other people out in the world doing there own thing, sometimes I'll chat to them, sometimes I'll team up with them to tackle a dungeon or engage in some pvp. For the most part though, I'm content to journy through the world by myself and I'd never play any MMO that did not at least try and implement some compelling single player gameplay.

    I guess part of the reason I view MMO's like that is because of the way I generally view other players, as smarter NPCs. Seeing other people running around the world doing their own thing and knowing it's not some scripted event helps add to the immersion and feeling that the world my character is journying through isn't a static place. FIghting alongside or against other players also adds a certain randomness to the gameplay that helps keep things interesting.

      Weird. To me MMORPGs are ALL about the group dynamics. If you're not interacting with other players, you're totally missing the point of the class systems that rely on each other to cooperate strategically to accomplish a common goal. Which is actually why I haven't played any MMORPGs for a long time. They always make every class all powerful these days so no one really needs to group except for strength of numbers, no cooperation nessecary: everyone can DPS, heal, buff and CC by themselves.

      MMORPG devs are missing the point these days.

    This game is going to fail so hard. "Hey, let's make a generic MMO then slap the The Elder Scrolls name on it".
    "Hey that's a good idea, I hear that people like it when you change the core gameplay of a series that is nearly iconic to the franchise".
    "I completely agree. Now all we need to do is take all the multiplayer content out of the game".
    "YES! Then we'll slap a subscription fee on top of the initial purchase, man why are we so good at designing games?"
    "Probably because we're high on all the coke we've been snorting, we've got to get this down to the design team for implementation after this hit."
    "Maybe after the next one."


    TOR didn't do more multiplayer storytelling because... well... how do you do such a thing? How can you even do that in a videogame? At a table with a Dungeon Master is one thing, online with an AI Director is another... Still would have loved to see them try, but I get why they didn't.

      You're DEAD RIGHT!!!!!
      How do you make that sort of game work? the graphics wolud have to be very ordinary to make it happen .
      Might make WOW look good compared to single player graphic experiences.

    This entire game will be a titanic failure. WoW has been shedding users. Even the massive fanbase of Star Wars hasn't kept subscriptions stable on SWTOR. People are bored of the generic MMO formula. Take Skyrim and make it have sexy time with a Borderlands style Multiplayer scheme and you will have a product that will be far more successful. It's obvious that a lot of developers are making games THEY think we want and not actually paying attention to what players actually want to play.

    I completely agree Logan. Excellent article =D

    Take the multiplayer out of an MMO and you just end up with a single player that requires you to be permanently online. Yeah, like people will buy that!

      *looks at diablo 3* *looks at starcraft 2*

      Yeah... as if hey?

        You can play SC2 Offline however I am positive the next blizzard game will require you to have all your probes inserted before you can launch it.

    The only mmo I've ever played is runescape so my knowledge is limited, but I quite liked how I could do everything minus a few quests on my own. Although that game doesn't have a main story (or didn't 5 years ago anyway). I still hooked up with other players whenever I wanted to. I liked having the choice.

    I don't like the look of WoW and all the WoW clones though. TES online really needs to keep the combat mechanics of skyrim.

      The combat mechanics of Skyrim and other TES games are terrible...

    The way they describe it is like they have 2 separate parts to the game. So either way you look at it, one will feel tacked on to the other with no real thought.

    Though from what we've heard so far, it seems like the whole game has no real thought behind it..

    The fact that TOR had a decent amount of solo content was effectively *the reason* I got it; on the other hand, Bethesda doesn't quite compare to Bioware for storytelling, so...

      Bethesda's not even working on the game.

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