Why ESO Will (Hopefully) Succeed in Spite of WoW

ESO's goal of redefining the MMO genre will be its key to success.

In recent years the MMO space has become one of the most stagnant markets in all of gaming. World of Warcraft maintains its eight year reign as undisputed king of the genre and there is very little room for competition. For fledgling games trying to break into the MMO market the presence of the Warcraft behemoth is a constant threat, always waiting around the corner to squash creative new titles. Most games attempt to set themselves apart by doing something unique, namely something that WoW has not done. These differences could be anything, from the “action combat” of TERA to the spontaneous world events in Rift. However these games continue to fall short time after time, but why?

On Top and Staying That Way

World of Warcraft manages to stay on top because they have mastered the MMO fundamentals that form the basis of the genre. As unique and innovative as a new game might be, there are certain standards of the genre that they simply cannot escape. Basic things like quests, abilities, class, class balance, dungeons, raids, and PvP, among other things, are core components of any MMO game. This is where WoW shines. No matter how creative of an idea a new game has, it needs to fall back on these basics, and that is where Warcraft has the edge.

A New Kid on The Block?

By mastering the basics World of Warcraft has dominated the market for years now, turning a once dynamic and creative genre into a lifeless chain of clones by crushing its competition. But now, at last, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon: Elder Scrolls Online. Now ESO is still in closed beta, so all of this speculation is coming from the information the people at Zenimax Online have presented, however if they deliver everything they have said they will, ESO could be a serious competitor for WoW. Based on what has been revealed so far it seems that ESO has a surprisingly simple formula to compete with WoW. They are changing the basics that Warcraft has relied on for so long. In the past most of WoW’s competitors have basically added their own unique twist to the foundation that Warcraft established long ago. ESO is taking a new approach by changing the very foundation of an MMO.

Combat Differences

The area where ESO is changing the game most drastically seems to be combat. First of all ESO is using an action combat system (where a mouse click translates to a sword swing etc.). This has been attempted before, most notably by TERA, which was widely considered a flop. If we learned anything from TERA it was that action combat can be fun, but if implemented into a repetitive, grindy game it can quickly become boring. To combat repetition ESO plans to implement a variety of enemies with different attacks as well as the ability to combine your moves with your friend’s moves to execute more powerful moves. ESO is also going for a minimalist UI and restricting the number of abilities you can use at a given time (kind of like Guild Wars 2 did). This is all in an effort to make combat more reactive (and reminiscent of the combat in Skyrim), rather than merely memorizing ability rotations, something WoW’s combat is often criticized for.

Character Development Changes

ESO is also making some serious changes to character development. In WoW character development was based almost entirely upon class. Your class determined what kind of equipment you could use and which abilities you would learn. In ESO class will be just a fraction of your character. All characters, regardless of class can use any weapon or armor type. Abilities can be learned outside of your class through external means (ex. Mage’s Guild). In short ESO is offering the player much more freedom with their character by not locking them into traditional classes.

The free form character development in ESO is also critical in its approach to dungeons. In the past group dungeons were dictated by the holy trinity: tank, dps, and heals. ESO is throwing the trinity out the window, claiming that dungeons and other group activities can be completed with any assortment of characters. As for raids ESO has not yet commented on whether large scale raids as seen in WoW will be a part of ESO.

Character Progression Changes

Character progression seems to be yet another area where ESO is rewriting the MMO rules. In WoW character progression was all about quests. Now there will still be traditional quests in ESO, but what is interesting is that ESO is offering alternatives for leveling your character. Elder Scrolls games are famous for the explorative quality. Since ESO was announced the devs have put an emphasis on freedom of exploration in ESO. If you want to go the traditional route and go from town to town completing all of the quests from the various quest givers then you will be able to do that. If you want to set off in the completely opposite direction and wander around until you stumble upon something interesting to do in the middle of nowhere you can do that as well. ESO is planning to reward players for exploring and not necessarily following the systematic leveling path of WoW.

Closing Thoughts

As I said earlier this is all speculation and until ESO is actually released we can’t be sure if it will live up to all of the promises it has made. If it does live up to these promises, however, it has potential to change the entire genre. It may seem like I have been bashing WoW throughout this article but don’t get me wrong, I think Warcraft was an incredible game. It did everything right and rocketed the MMO genre’s popularity, however it is getting to a point where, essentially, its monopoly of the genre has become damaging.

WoW has become so huge that it crushes smaller games, some of which had some pretty great ideas for ways to improve the genre. I truly hope, for the good of MMOs as a whole that ESO succeeds. The success of a game that deviates from WoW’s basic formula and returns to RPG style roots would open the door for more daring and creative games in the future. ESO’s success would prove that you do not need to do what WoW did in order to make it in the MMO market.  

Published May. 29th 2013
  • CdubbR
    Interesting post Matt. What do you think about the possibility of Zenimax spreading itself too thin by trying to appeal to too many people? Whenever I read or watch a piece of news or an impressions piece I always see the same thing, widely varying opinions on what the game should be. This is something that bothers me. I am an Elder Scrolls fan and a long time MMO player,a very long time. I would love to see this game succeed and be my new addiction, but when I see comments from ES fans asking if they will be able to "play offline" or "turn off seeing other players" it makes me cringe. It feels like half of the player base that is interested has no idea what they are getting in to. It would be tragic to see initial sales explode only to flop because many realized its not the latest installment of the beloved single player game, and that its a completely new idea on its own. In taking time to read comments on these pieces it sometimes seems like trying to please the MMO gang and the single player gang will end up putting both sides off. I hope this is not the case and that it is a mind blowing and beautiful marriage of the two, but we shall see I guess. I was just wondering if you had noticed any of these things and your thoughts on it. Keep it up!
    P.S By the way this is in reference to the comments left under news pieces, not sure if that was clear.
  • Matt LeCatz
    Hey cdubbr, thanks a lot for taking the time to read and comment!

    I think there is definitely the potential for Zenimax to alienate MMO players, Elder Scrolls players, or even both. In fact the biggest challenge they face, in my opinion, is walking the line between MMO and Elder Scrolls game in order to please both parties.

    I think the worst case scenario here would be a SWTOR kind of situation. The "Star Wars" title sold a lot of boxes, and initially SWTOR looked promising. After a few months when servers began to clear out, however, it became clear that Star Wars fans couldn't really relate to an MMO style game and that MMO fans were unsatisfied with the lack luster mechanics. In short, it was too much of an MMO for the Star Wars fans and not enough of an MMO for MMO fans. So how can ESO avoid a similar meltdown?

    I know exactly what you're talking about when you referenced the various comments of ES fans and I had the same reaction. As you said, the Elder Scrolls title is going to get a lot of people in the door but once they get there will the ES fans be able to adjust to an MMO? When you see people ask questions like "can I turn off seeing other people" it is rather discouraging.

    Don't worry, there is still hope for ESO. First of all Elder Scrolls games and most MMORPG's are inherently similar. Bridging the gap between the two may not be as difficult as you think. Secondly Zenimax seems to understand that many of their customers will be Elder Scrolls players and as such they are undergoing the entire development process with that in mind. They are taking many steps to ensure that ESO is first and foremost an Elder Scrolls game and an MMO second.

    It will be interesting to see how Zenimax goes about making ES players feel at home. Obviously a big component of making ESO feel like the other ES games is the aesthetics. From what we have seen so far in game play videos and heard from beta testers things look good in this department. One aspect of the game that I would like to here more about are Zenimax's plans for "phasing". With the implementation of one, giant mega-server, the use of a kind of layered instancing known as phasing will be important for ESO. Early on Zenimax talked about their intention to divide players up based on their preferences. Could it be possible to use phasing to help isolate people looking for a "single player" experience? This remains to be seen.

    Overall I think that finding the right mix of Elder Scrolls game and MMO will be the deciding factor in ESO's success. It is undeniably a difficult task, but if anyone can do it, its the people at Bethesda (Zenimax)
  • Amy White
    Former Editor in Chief
    IMO this comment chain would make an EXCELLENT post on it's own:

    "Addressing Elder Scrolls fans concerns for ESO: Don't worry - there's still hope"

    A lot of the fans I've talked to have similar concerns to CdubbR, and you answered them very well.

    Just my 2 cents! Would love to see it as it's own article. Think it might help a lot of fans give the game a fair shake :)
  • Matt LeCatz
    Thank you very much amy! Maybe I will do just that

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