Tamriel Foundry

What ESO Must Do to Succeed

Recently, the folks over at Elder Scrolls Off the Record wrote an excellent pair of articles describing their take on the fundamental challenges and milestones that ESO will need to overcome in order to achieve success with both Elder Scrolls purists and MMO fans. Shank provided his take on the biggest issues for traditional TES fans, while @Evarwyn added some counter-points from the perspective of an MMO veteran. I think both articles present some fantastic points and opinions regarding the key issues which ZOS faces. I agree with the spirit of both pieces, however, my experience with playing ESO at several conventions over the past year has given me with an alternative interpretation of these issues. This article presents my viewpoint on what ESO absolutely must do to succeed, and I strongly recommend any interested readers to check out the original posts on ESOTR first!


For Elder Scrolls Purists

Shank's article at ESOTR highlighted audio design, lore, exploration, de-emphasis of PvP, and uniqueness of the character experience as critical keystones for the team at ZeniMax. I think he raises some excellent points, but I would like to augment his views with the following thoughts:

1. Break the News Gently

You may not be able to climb that mountain. You may not be able to climb that mountain.

In many ways, Elder Scrolls Online is fundamentally different from the past three single player games of Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim. Combat feels a bit more gamey, exploration is restricted in certain ways, and story advancement is far more linear. This sounds negative, and I suspect some hardcore TES purists will view this as a condemnation of ESO. This should not be the case, as there is a tremendous amount to love about the game

ZeniMax is creating. I strongly believe, however, that ZOS will need to confront some of the expectations players have when imagining an experience like Skyrim translated directly into the MMO space. For example:

  • Exploration in ESO is not truly "open world", you are not guaranteed that you can travel to anywhere you can see. The segmentation of Tamriel into zones serves a very important role for the technology of the megaserver, allowing a complex system of phasing and player allocation to give each individual the best personal experience in a massively multiplayer game space. The downside of this decision, however, is that you cannot travel in a straight line from Vvardenfell to Summerset Isle as many players are imagining. You cannot scale the highest mountains or roam for hours without encountering a barrier or load screen.
  • Zones are level-dependent and progression in ESO follows a predetermined exploration path. For example, Ebonheart Pact players will start on an island in Skyrim, before travelling to Morrowind, then south to Blackmarsh. Every EP character will follow the same geographic ordering of zones. You cannot choose to, for example, run directly to Winterhold instead of following the main alliance storyline. Monsters in later zones will be far too challenging for the player if they attempt to skip ahead.
  • Since zones are designed to accommodate many players at once, instead of one solitary hero, the density and challenge level of monsters has to be adjusted for a multiplayer space. Areas are more heavily populated with enemies, and combat is much more fast paced than the single player counterpart. The combat systems in single player TES games are arguably quite dull; their limitless exploration and variety of potential advancement paths creates a game in which the entertainment of combat is not of prime importance. As an MMO, combat in ESO takes center-stage and the systems the game employs are designed to be more engaging and action-oriented. A side effect of this design objective is that combat in ESO may initially strike TES purists as being more arcade-like than they are used to.

All these systems are ones that MMO veterans are completely accustomed to, but the single player fan-base will need to be exposed to the different structure of Elder Scrolls Online in  a way that gently and positively explains the need for such changes. I believe one of the greatest challenges for ZeniMax is to market their game in a way that doesn't advertise itself as simply Skyrim: Online while still promising and delivering features that customers will expect from a game with the Elder Scrolls label.

2. Convince New MMO Players to Try PvP

The PvP system in ESO is not only a cornerstone of the game, but it is arguably the entire reason the game was developed in the first place. Matt Firor was specifically recruited to create the epic and massive 3-faction realm war which made Dark Age of Camelot one of the best MMOs of all time. Despite the tremendous allure of this system for most players, traditional TES purists and single-player fans may not be as eager to find themselves in a competitive PvP situation. The reality is that PvP in Cyrodiil will possess a scale to it that naturally steers away from the machismo and aggressiveness that usually accompanies player vs. player encounters. That's not to say that no smack will be talked, but it will be more concerned with aggregate events like "we took your keep", or "our guild group beat your guild group". I am confident that even players who do not already love PvP in games can have a hugely positive experience with ESO's system. One of the main challenges for ZeniMax is encouraging more reluctant players to come out of their shell and give Cyrodiil a chance, as ESO will possess substantially less lingering appeal if players are not  engaged in the progress of the Alliance War. In his article, Shank makes the assertion that ZeniMax needs to let TES purists know it's OK not to PvP. While I don't disagree, I think it's more important that ZeniMax convinces the same group that it's something they should try, and something they very well might love.

AvA Combat in ESO PvP may seem daunting to the uninitiated


For MMO Veterans

Evarwyn's counterpoint article at ESOTR emphasized the business model, end-game PvE, crafting, and social systems as key issues upon which many MMO veterans remain to be convinced. Also, Evarwyn echoes Shank's concern that the role of PvP is too heavily emphasized. I think Evarwyn makes some good points, however, I think there are some additional challenges regarding which I take an alternative view:

1. Don't Oversimplify

From what I have seen of ESO so far, it appears to have a considerably streamlined system of player characteristics. Three basic attributes, regeneration rates, several resistances, and some derived stats like power and critical chance. There is a good deal of merit in this type of approach. As Einstein said:

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler

The great advantage of a simple system of game mechanics and player attributes is that they can be universally understood, and they do not present artificial barriers to character advancement and optimization that only the most dedicated gamers can understand. On the other hand, a considerable pitfall of this streamlined approach is that the fewer choices and alternatives faced by the player, the easier it becomes to "solve" such a system. If it is possible to determine a "best" stat allocation, skill distribution, or gear set, a game can quickly lose much of it's appeal. Unlike a single player game, there isn't the emphasis on any single milestone at which point the game is "beaten", however, many MMO enthusiasts perceive the meta-game of character growth and optimization to be the ultimate metric of MMO completion. If players can reach a point where their character is "solved", the game will quickly lose a great deal of appeal. One can look at the player response to itemization systems (like the forthcoming World of Warcraft expansion) that are reduced to the task of maximizing a primary attribute and see the subsequent player attrition that results.

ESO's character sheet is very simple ESO's character sheet is very simple

In my experience with ESO, most of the secondary and derived attributes which are featured in the game are hidden from view, with your default character sheet only displaying Health, Stamina, Magicka, Power, and Armor.  Furthermore, most items I encountered (albeit at low level) had only one magical property. It is pretty easy to determine whether a helmet with 20 Armor and 8 Health is better than a helmet with 16 Armor and 7 Health. It becomes much more difficult to decide between the first helmet, however, and one with 16 Armor, 5 Health, and 4 Stamina. I worry that certain systems employed in ESO will be made "too simple", as I believe it's very important for ZeniMax to preserve a large degree of nuance and depth to their character development system. Having the tremendous variety of skills which ESO features is a great start, but even so, I fear that despite the quality of it's gameplay, ESO may suffer if the meta-game of its character advancement systems is oversimplified.


2. Promote Community Reputation

Many of the most dedicated MMO gamers I know get deeply invested in games not only for the gameplay systems they offer, but also in order to be somebody within their respective communities. The allure of being known on your server, or being in a prestigious guild, or visibly possessing a coveted item is a huge draw for players. Being able to feel a sense of belonging and importance within the social culture of a game server has a huge impact on player retention. One of my fears for ESO is that the identity of the individual player is too anonymized in the context of the megaserver. In order to preserve immersion and minimalism in interface design, ESO doesn't feature nameplates or other prominent advertisement of player identity. During my limited playtime with the game, I frequently saw other players running around, but I would very seldom notice their name (only if you directly target them). Furthermore, there is no way to tell what guild another player is a member of, or what Cyrodiil campaign they belong to. Granted, the game is still in active development, so these features could very well change, but I fear that without the segmentation of fixed servers and with no prominent display of individual identity the player experience in ESO will feel quite anonymous.

I hope that ZeniMax is able to include features that enable social prestige for the best crafters, PvPers, achievement hunters, and raiders. The ability for guilds to claim and upgrade keeps seems, by far, the most effective system ESO incorporates thusfar in this regard. However, apart from Cyrodiil where leaderboards document the performance of the best players, ESO needs to include more ways to make the game feel not just like there are other player characters moving around the world, but that there are actual people in control of those characters who belong to various guilds and have a tangible identity within the player community.


3. Plan for the Hardcore Crowd

Similarly, I believe that it is critically important that ZeniMax always leaves room for characters to grow. Whether it's the challenge of acquiring a near-perfect item roll, maximizing your reputation with an NPC group, or hunting down an exhaustive list of rare monsters, retaining the top 1% of achievement oriented gamers in your game has tremendous spill-over effects on the remaining 99% of your player base. Those top players are the legendary personalities, heroes, villains, and celebrities of virtual worlds. If they lose interest in your game, the quality of MMO culture is always soon to follow. By adding challenges that are near impossible to complete a game will preserve the feeling that there are still stones to turn over, dungeons to clear, and monsters to slay.

It is challenging to toe the line between introducing artificial grinds and satisfying the content consumption rate of the most dedicated players, but I think ESO needs something with which to satisfy such individuals. Game developers always underestimate the ability of players to consume content (see SWTOR for a recent and painful example of this). I think ZeniMax is already taking some great steps to satifying this demand by introducing 50+(++) content, veteran points, PvP ranks, and continued skill acquisition. I simply hope that these systems are designed with achievement oriented gamers in mind.

Bone Golem ESO needs more long-term objectives than just killing PvE bosses

4. Convince Old MMO Players to Try PvP

Whereas the challenge for TES purists involves getting them to try a large-scale PvP game for the first time, the challenge which ZeniMax faces with MMO enthusiasts is convincing them that this PvP system is different. Cyrodiil is different from the Arena in WoW, the battlegrounds in RIFT, or even the borderlands in Guild Wars 2. With the minority exception of Dark Age of Camelot veterans, Cyrodiil be a new experience for MMO players, many of whom may have had negative reactions to the PvP they have tried in past games. ZeniMax needs to make sure that players understand how the ESO system is different, how it is epic, and how it's something they will absolutely want to be a part of. While I agree entirely with Evarwyn's call for a renewed emphasis on endgame PvE, I don't think that ZeniMax should reduce the amount of hype they are devoting to the PvP campaigns of Cyrodiil. This type of PvP system is capable of providing dynamic and player-driven endgame that is one of  the only gameplay systems capable of withstanding the speed of content consumption that occurs in most MMO environments. I strongly believe the ultimate success of the game is heavily contingent on players buying into that system and learning to love the challenges, rivalries, and player engagement which it enables.


I have the highest of hopes for The Elder Scrolls Online and I firmly believe that ZeniMax has an exceptional and unique vision for the MMO which they are building. I believe ESO will turn out to be the next great landmark in this genre of gaming, but I think that the ZeniMax team faces a difficult job of delivering their vision for the game in a way that will convince the many different types of gamers who will inevitably be interested in the next installment of the Elder Scrolls franchise. Ultimately, it may be impossible to please everyone, but I admire the work ethic with which ZeniMax is striving to create a game that can bridge the genres of immersive open-world fantasy RPG, massive multiplayer, and competitive PvP. What challenges do you think are the most significant for ZOS, and what steps do you think they can take to tailor the ESO gameplay experience to be equally attractive to both groups of players? Let us know in the comment section below!

About Atropos:

I am a dedicated gamer and MMO enthusiast who has been involved with MMO communities since EverQuest. As the creator of Tamriel Foundry and Ashen Foundry, I love the challenge of building platforms and tools for MMO communities to flourish.

182 Replies
  1. #1


    Moderator4239 Posts

    I have to agree with all of the ideas expressed above. Picking the right things from both the TES games and the MMORPG genre has very much put ZeniMax walking the edge of the proverbial knife, and I hope they'll be able to convince players to see the value of the final product.


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  2. #2


    Member367 Posts

    I feel that since it is so instance orientated why don't they just have instances based on levels so  a Province with just people of that level so they can explore the entire province without issue these would appease both groups.

  3. #3


    Member157 Posts

    The first thing ESO must do to succeed is have a set release date.

    One cannot succeed if her/she is never born.

    ”Halo! Its divine wind will rush through the stars, propelling all who are worthy along the path to salvation.”

  4. #4

    The Dude

    Member174 Posts

    These are all legitimate points and concerns.  Before reading this I never really thought about the lack of visible titles and names above your character as a potential issue.  Most people enjoy showing off any indicators of achievement in an MMO environment, so I hope they take that into account.  I pray that the game is not oversimplified.  The more complexities the better for me,  but I do understand they need to strike a balance for everyone.

    One huge thing they need to get perfect is the opening stages of the game.  Sure one of the beauties of a subscription based game are the updates over time but gamers can be a very fickle lot and the first moments can be make or break with no second chances.

  5. #5


    Member449 Posts

    Love this article.

    I don't know why anyone would want them to de-emphasize PvP. IMO, its the strong point of the game and the thing that most sets it apart from other MMOs. Its also one thing that has been missing from Elder Scrolls games. Not just the ability to fight other players (no multiplayer at all, duh) but large scale battles. The developers have bemoaned their inability to create large scale battles in game (they even had M'Aiq says something about it.)

    Personally, I never asked for a TES MMO (though I'm happy to get one.) I just wanted single player TES with competitive online multiplayer (somewhat like Dark Souls.)

    I also very much disagree with the "you are the ONLY hero" bit. Prior to Skryim, this was not much of a TES feature at all. In Morrowind, it was said that many prophesied heroes came before you and failed. The implication was that you were not "destined' to win, but did so only by not failing. In Oblivion, you weren't even the Hero at all. You were just Martin Septim's side kick.

    MMOs get criticized for having terribad stories (they usually do.) Their response seems to be to imitate single player games. BUT THEY AREN'T SINGLE PLAYER. Instead of trying to be something they aren't, they should build stories that emphasize and play off of their social nature. Quests should require groups to complete. Major plot events would be accomplished by armies/groups canonically.

    When MMOs try to have a SP story (GW2, SWTOR) the story usually falls flat anyway and in the process they kill the importance of team work and thus undermine the community and social interaction required to play the game.

  6. #6


    Member1 Posts

    Fantastic article, couldn't have said these things any better myself.

  7. #7


    Member643 Posts

    great article, I thoroughly enjoyed and agree 100%, ZOS big challenge is making a game for TES fans and MMO players, and that's a big challenge. both groups need to understand that concessions must be made on both sides. I for one, as a MMO player have to say I really enjoy the single player aspects and dedicated lore that ESO is bringing to the game, hopefully making the MMO that much stronger. I was never a huge fan of PVP buyt ZOS has also done a great job of making it look very enticing. I cant wait to try it out! my biggest concern is the lack of information on PVE endgame, my friends and I love "raiding" as a group and taking on those huge challenges. My biggest hope for ESO is that Adventures are compelling, challenging  rewarding, and NOt an after thought of the game. with ESOs current loot system it looks to greatly improve some aspects of traditional raiding. remove some of that hamster on a wheel loot mongering. less hit or miss gear grinding. aned most importantly STORY and LORE driven Adventure Zones and encounters. less about the gear, more about the story. this is where WOW truly fails. repeatedly killing the same bosses over and over again  in an endless cycle to get that ONE piece of gear. once you get all your gear, NEXT CONTENT patch, do it again, like I said, hamster on a wheel. Static gear, with variable stats, not designed for only one class/spec goes a long way into subtley upgrading without all of the WIN or Crap Out scenario, now if they just focus on interactive story driven amaterial  ill be sold on the WHOLE DAMN GAME!..oh yeah, ill see ya in CYRODIL TOO!

  8. #8


    Member86 Posts
    [quote=Atropos]I believe one of the greatest challenges for ZeniMax is to market their game in a way that doesn’t advertise itself as simply Skyrim: Online while still promising and delivering features that customers will expect from a game with the Elder Scrolls label.[/quote]

    Well-said, along with the rest of the article. I agree on all of the key points, as well as with @NordJitsu above. While I like what we've been shown so far, there are still questions ZOS needs to answer with only a few months (hopefully!) left to do so. Well, I guess anywhere from 4-6 months isn't really "a few", but still.

  9. #9


    Member29 Posts

    All it needs to succeed is to be a good game..backseat developers don't need to say anything else..if it's a good game they won't NEED to convince anyone, those people will find their own enjoyment out of what it has to offer.


    If someone makes you a great meal, and puts the seasonings in front of you, you will make it perfect to your tastes..all they need is a great game that we can "season" with what they give us to find our perfect playstyle

    Axiom wants YOU! PvP, PvE, Social, RP, Zoidbergs and more DAGGERFALL, US.

  10. #10


    Member19 Posts

    what it need now is:

    • a release date
    • a open beta
    • Be more open if a friends in EP. and im in AD there HAS to be certain missions or quest i can do with the....or atleast a solo or small group PvP(1v1 or 5v5)

    ”Our trinity serves the Lady Nocturnal the Empress of Murk and the Daughter of Twilight. We believe her to be our patron, if not the patron of all thieves worldwide. We serve her without prayer, without charity and without celebration.”―Gallus Desidenius

  11. #11


    Member1828 Posts

    @Atropos, well written and insightful as always. What we would do without I do not know.

    However the one point I have a problem, more of longing, is that idea that not only should everywhere be free to wander, but offering near total freedom to the player, similar to EVE and Darkfall. Those games almost invetibely set one on edge by their very nature.  However something as sandboxy as Darkfall or EVE is doomed to fail when it reaches for a mass market,( as ESO will have no choice but to reach for if only by virtue of it's name). So I guess I really was hoping was a sort of transition game. But that is probably just my foolish dreams wandering.

  12. #12


    Member643 Posts


    youre not getting cross faction content, there is a reason there are different factions, they are at war, if you wanna play with your friends by all means do so, role on the same faction. its way more important than the race you play, and no offense to you personally cuz its not just you, but im so tired of those who are used to playing the single player game expecting all the same freedoms in an MMO.  its not possible, there are balances and themes that must be met. factions exist for a reason, its nothing new to  an MMO, almost all MMOs have a FACTION LOCK, ZOs isn't doing this just to rain on your parade, im pretty sure they wanna make money and pissing fans off for no reason wouldn't be smart business. Faction Lock exists for a reason, even if only for PVP, we are tryin to kill each other. and realistically NO person of ANY race would betray their ENTIRE race/culture and family to join up with a bunch of foreigners he doesn't even know. AND IF HE DID, those same foreigners wouldn't trust him. and if ONE foreigner did trust him, the rest of his faction would take him and his friend, and hang both of em up by their unmentionalbes for treason. ive played WOW for 6 years, I would have intitally wanted to play HORDE, but my friends were all on the Alliance, so I play alliance, that's it end of story, and ive enjoyed the game for years with no regrets about what race or faction I am. in 6 years ive NEVER heard anyone say, "well im alliance but I should be able to p[lay with my Horde friends. LOL if its important ( and it should be ) roll that faction, and don't ask the company to change the entire dynamic of their game just to entitle you to your personal ( and quite petty ) personal freedoms. unfortunately this isn't a single player game. with a single player game as long as you are enjoying it Bethesda doesn't care what you do, becuz you arent affecting anyone else. in an MMO every choice you make affects everyone else. play one toon in your friends  faction and play your favorite when they aren't around. trust me, you will probably forget all about your "favorite race" eventually. race is just a SKIN, but faction is all about friends. :D

  13. #13


    Member11 Posts

    Very interesting read. Lets hope it wont become too liniar

  14. #14


    Member1801 Posts
    WardogPR wrote on November 18, 2013

    what it need now is:

    • a release date
    • a open beta
    • Be more open if a friends in EP. and im in AD there HAS to be certain missions or quest i can do with the….or atleast a solo or small group PvP(1v1 or 5v5)
    • has nothing to do with the development of the game
    • has nothing to do with the development of the game
    • No; either find happiness playing with your friend, convince your friend to play with you, or be content to kill each other on the battlefield.  I've seen this complaint OVER and OVER and OVER.. I am not sure why some people are acting as though this is the first game to have strict factions, not to mention not understanding the need for such a division.


    Good article Atropos.  It is interesting to view other's viewpoints on these subjects.  Unfortunately, as a long time DAoC and Planetside veteran, there will simply never be anything that compares to those games in terms of open, strategic PvP; we, as gamers, have simply changed and our expectations are (probably) impossible to appease everyone.  My single hope is that Zenimax has the fortitude to get as close to perfectly appeasing everyone as is feasible.  I don't need a 100% perfect game; 75% will suffice if it means that the game survives for years to come (*cough* SWTOR *cough*).

    If I had to make a prediction (and I truly hope this is incorrect) I would say that the TES purists will play the game like a single-player game for the content and story, and then they will move on to a new single-player title.  The non-PvP MMO crowd will possibly stick around depending on how good the crafting system is, adventure zones are, and how well they do with itemization and large-group dynamic fights (for god sake, someone make a game where each boss fight is slightly randomized so we don't all sleep through it!).  And lastly the PvP MMO crowd will be the mainstay population due to the (hopeful) recreation of a beloved system that we have not seen "done right" since it was originally conceived (there is a reason that people STILL play, and pay for, DAoC).

    I HOPE that the game turns out to be amazing for everyone and we all live happily ever after, however, again, that seems unreasonable with the way that gamers seem to have progressed.  Heres to hoping!

  15. #15


    Member29 Posts

    It's articles like these that make me worry about the game more than I should. I do hope however that ZOS has eyes on it.

    ’Good, bad, I’m the one with the Staff.”

  16. #16

    Master of Fate

    Member1240 Posts

    Interesting. I think the De-Emphasize PvP point in the linked articles is coming at it from the wrong angle. But I also think Atropos's idea to emphasize PvP is going too far the other way. It is just a tricky issue to balance. Now, I'm a PvP first guy. Most MMOs haven't been able to hold my attention of late, and part of that is because I grew tired of predictable PvE mobs and craved the facing unpredictability of real people. Having said that, I don't think PvP should be forced on the player. On the other hand, it shouldn't be de-emphasized. PvP should be promoted because it is a big part of the game. They should try to get both the single player TES crowd and the MMO veterans to understand PvP. But it shouldn't be a replacement for PvE. They should point you towards it as just one option. Rather than de-emphasizing or over promoting PvP, I think they should promote PvE right along side PvP. Emphasize them both equally going forward. Clearly explain the highlights of both. Zenimax should gently encourage PvErs to try PvP just as they should gently encourage PvPers to try PvE.

    With that being said, here are my main concerns. We need to know more about...

    1. Guild system so we can set them up properly.
    2. Crafting being relevant end game. And more importantly: How is it relevant end game?
    3. How impactful the durability system is.
    4. The economy and the dynamics of player to player trade. This also includes potential limits like soulbinding.
    5. End game large group PvE to satisfy that crowd.
    6. Racials and how they become relevant end game. Can they be replaced or replicated? What impact will they have on min/maxers?
    7. What options do we have for communication like voice chat? Particularly with the fact that there are console versions, I think we need to know more about how players can communicate with each other in game.


  17. #17


    Member382 Posts
    Isarii wrote on November 18, 2013

    I have to agree with all of the ideas expressed above. Picking the right things from both the TES games and the MMORPG genre has very much put ZeniMax walking the edge of the proverbial knife, and I hope they’ll be able to convince players to see the value of the final product.

    My thoughts exactly.

  18. #18


    Member76 Posts
    Master of Fate wrote on November 19, 2013

    Emphasize them both equally going forward.

    You made a good point there. I think it's more important to convince PvP and PvE players to play and love the game. So by now we now a lot about how the PvP will work and almost nothing about the PvE endcontent. Ok we know there are dungeons and master dungeons, 50+(+) areas and adventure zones and the groupsize is either 4 or 24 players. But apart from that there is nothing big people get exited about. I hope they're going to anounce news about AZ soon, so people can get excited about the PvE endcontent aswell.

    Master of Fate wrote on November 19, 2013

    Guild system so we can set them up properly.

    I hope to see infos about the guild infrastructure soon, too.

  19. #19


    Contributor191 Posts

    A very good read. I agree @Atropos

    ” If you wish to make a fight boring, make it fair.”

  20. #20


    Member1755 Posts

    Thank you for putting this together @Atropos, was a great read as usual.

    After reading both articles from ESOTR I must say they typify the myopic views of most gamers that follow the developement of this game. ZOS's started the design process with a complete game in mind and will continue until it's finished (and after hopefully :) ) and if you notice they have been slowly releasing info to avoid overhyping to soon. I think many folks forget that we are still at LEAST 4 months from release. I could list the massive overeactions this community has had to many announcements and how most of them were misquotes or misunderstandings, but I'm sure most of you remember them. With this track record it is not wonder ZOS's does not release more info.

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