A Last Enfeebled Gasp

A couple of days ago Carbine announced that WildStar would be launching with a “hybrid” business model… by which they meant the old subscription model with a PLEX-like option. I share Wilhelm’s notion that it’s not a great idea, because based on what I have seen so far WildStar will boast a working economy in the same sense that World of Warcraft does. Which is to say not at all. But I didn’t feel the need to comment on it simply because I have no interest in WildStar, which as far as I can tell will be bringing nothing new to the genre, and in fact is arriving several years later than the rest of the WoW clones. I could be wrong about that, but nothing I have seen changes my mind. Chalk it up to NCSoft’s long history of backing winners.

Yesterday Zenimax announced that The Elder Scrolls Online will be a subscription game. They didn’t say there would be a $60 charge on top of that, but it’s probably a reasonable assumption. I am sort of interested in TESO, except for the fact that it’s not being developed by Bethesda, the studio responsible for the rest of the hallowed Elder Scrolls series. And the fact that Zenimax seems determined to leave out all the stuff that makes the Elder Scrolls series special, leaving the pedestrian combat and broken magic systems and first-person view pasted over linear themepark content. And the graphics aren’t up to even the shaky Elder Scrolls standard. Aside from that, it might be interesting. I’d have given it a shot if it were, as probably most people expected, free to play, or at least to dabble in. Which is all I personally ask before spending money.

Both announcements seem like they should be surprising. After all, we all know subs are dead for all but the niche-iest games, right? Well, yes. But we should not be shocked that these two unambitious and even cowardly games decide to use the most conservative extant business model. They are, after all, designing games that would have felt right at home released in 2004 alongside WoW, so why not copy WoW’s money model as well?

At any rate, since Zenimax has decided to go with the old model rather than the new model, or instead of heaven forfend trying something new, it looks like I will wait for the inevitable f2p conversion. Which will happen. TESO at least has a big name footprint in the common imaginations of gamers, so it will draw some attention but will wither sooner rather than later. It’s apt to be the newest Sims Online. WildStar, on the other hand, is owned by NCSoft and therefore will simply close. Six months for each?

Elder Scrolls Online: It’s Official

The big news of the day is that The Elder Scrolls Online is officially, openly, a real project. The MMO blogosphere is torn, with many gasping in ecstasy at the very idea, and others clawing at their hair because it’s such a bad idea. My opinion is that we know very, very little right now, and forming an opinion would be premature. Extremely.

On the one hand, it’s an exciting idea. The Elder Scrolls series seems to me a natural fit to an MMO. Of course, translating the features that made a game like Skyrim such a titanic hit will not be a simple task. What works in a single-player RPG doesn’t necessarily work in an MMO. There’s the question of scale, for one — Skyrim is big enough for one player to wander around in and think it’s huge, but if there were hundreds, much less thousands or people crawling around in every dungeon it’d seem like a lavish fantasy shoebox. There are obviously other issues as well, but that’ll keep for later discussion. In the main, the trick will be to capture those elements that make the Elder Scrolls games special without being able to rely on the crutches of single-player games.

But on the other hand, it seems that in some corners people are leaping to imagine that the in-development title will necessarily suffer from the limitations of MMOs. This at a time when we know “there will be an Elder Scrolls Online” and just about nothing more, and despite the fact that the single-player games in the series have avoided some of those common traps.

From where I’m sitting, it’s too soon to tell. But what is certain and sure is that starting today there will be a lot of eyes on this project.