I’ve been thinking a lot about Elder Scrolls Online lately. Ever since my post about Keeping Up With the Joneses, I’ve been hovering over the purchase button. Well it’s a good thing I didn’t! Out of the blue, I received an email from the Zenimax notifying me I had “purchased the game” and reminding me that I still needed to activate my free 30 days. Now, I can assure you that I did not purchase the Elder Scrolls. But, with a little digging, I did have a copy activated to my account. Strange, yes? Well, a quick email to support told the tale. See, a while back, I was able to help test their billing system. Apparently, that copy of the game I was refunded for is now mine to keep. Sweet deal, says I!
Anyhow, with all of the hustle of my wife returning to work from maternity leave and my being a stay-at-home daddy this summer (while also trying to finish grad school this week), I haven’t gotten around to activating the game. Why bother? What they say about subscription fees making you feel pressured to play rings true for me and, unfortunately, signing up now would just mean wasting some of those free days.
I have been reading, though, and have really been enjoying freelancer Leif Johnson‘s article series over at IGN. Say what you will about the big sites and their practices when it comes to reviewing MMORPGs but Leif has done an excellent job, taking 150+ hours to see all that the game had to offer before submitting his verdict. Take note, other sites: that’s how it should be done.
Today he posted an interesting piece on The Trouble with Elder Scrolls Online’s Veteran Content. While he loves the veteran dungeons, he takes issue with how long it takes to actually experience it. After 300 hours, he’s only midway through his veteran ranks. Here, he shares something important:
I wouldn’t mind this so much, but this cross-faction endgame quest also has the adverse effect of making leveling an alt account almost unthinkable. In other MMOs, when you hit max-level you might roll a new character to experience a new quest, and explore all the zones you missed. But in ESO, you feel compelled to experience it all on a single character, breaking the in-game lore along the way . . . There are times when I wish I’d leveled a Dragonknight or Sorcerer instead of my Nightblade, but the thought of playing through the content for roughly 300 hours again gives me shivers. - Leif Johnson
Emphasis mine. See, for a player like me, hitting the level cap is a big deal. It’s an investment and those 150 hours it took Leif would likely take me two months to chip away at. I’m not a fan of repeating content in the first place and Zenimax has designed a system that actively eats the other factions worth of content. The idea of putting in a second 150 hours, then another 150 hours just to get midway into the endgame is unbearable. 600 hours for two mid-veteran alts? That will simply never happen. I know myself too well.
I had the pleasure of interviewing ESO’s Creative Director, Paul Sage, last week (written version here). He made it clear that any content drops they plan on adding (“real content” not just systems, by his description), you need to be a veteran player. He also mentioned that the majority of ESO’s players are still in the second and third zones. We have two things here. First, that this really is a slow burn of a game. With most players still in the mid-game, not even to the soft level 50 cap, it’s safe to say that leveling takes far longer than most other games of its ilk. Second, that if you want to get in on the ground floor of all that’s new and exciting, those hours are a required investment.
This design choice reinforces that ESO is another game that “begins at the level cap.” That, combined with the ultra-slow leveling speed, makes for a tricky proposition for Zenimax. Will players stick around long enough to even reach the upper veteran levels? Based on the average player level, I’d say that’s still a big question, and a pretty dangerous one with Wildstar right around the corner. And if they happened to mess up and discover 200 hours in that their class just isn’t what they wanted in that endgame, how many will be willing to reinvest that much time, with content they’ve already experienced, to do it all over again?
I’m still very excited to play the game. So many of you seem to love it that I’ll be activating and diving in with heavy anticipation. I do wonder, though, what all of this means for ESO’s future. A shortened leveling curve? Selling xp boosts or levels in the item shop? I just don’t see very many people leveling second characters when the same time could get them max level characters and real progress in even two or even three other MMOs.