Updated Tue, Jan 08, 2013 by gunky
In a way, every major MMO is kind of a Frankenstein's monster, cobbled together from assorted parts exhumed from other games or wired together in strange new ways. Usually, we can tell what kind of monster it's going to be during the development stage - the marketing gives us a glimpse at the final form by skewing towards a specific type of player. For example, if the game is being built with hardcore gamers in mind, the marketing will focus on the lore of the setting, building up a world that these players will want to immerse themselves in. If the game is being marketed to a more casual or young crowd, the marketing will focus on stuff that can be enjoyed in short, infrequent sessions (like PvP matches). If the game is being sold to MMO players, the marketing will focus on the social aspects of the game.
The marketing for The Elder Scrolls Online, however, is all over the map. It seems to be trying to appeal to everyone at once - hardcores, casuals and MMO'ers. This is kind of confusing from a company like Zenimax Online, which usually knows exactly who is buying its games. On the other hand, according to Game Director Matt Firor in their YouTube video, An Introduction to The Elder Scrolls Online, it may be intentional. "We're bringing two different groups of players together," he says. "We've got the Elder Scrolls crowd, which is used to great games like Skyrim and Oblivion and Morrowind and the older games, and then we've got the MMO crowd which is used to all the great MMOs from the last 15 years."
The Elder Scrolls series has had an interesting history. The first game, Arena, was clearly marketed at the hardcore gamer crowd - it was difficult enough that many new players had a hard time surviving through the introductory dungeon. Daggerfall stayed on that same track, giving players a super-massive game world to explore paired with an incredibly detailed character skill system that included languages and other non-combat skills. Morrowind, the first in the series to be available on consoles, eased back a bit on the difficulty in favor of ramped-up visuals, and this trend continued with Oblivion and Skyrim. Each game looked better than the last, and the UI and character system became more console-y.
Much of ESO's official press so far has been filling out the setting. The "Ask Us Anything" feature on the official site has been largely focused on the three player factions. In their Development news section, every article so far has been lore-based. This is a fairly clear appeal to the hardcore fans of the Elder Scrolls series - Zenimax Online is letting us know that this is, after all, an Elder Scrolls game, and the lore will be consistent. The setting will be familiar to those of us who have immersed ourselves in the previous games, who have read the hundreds of books we "accidentally stole" from bookshelves in NPC homes.
To be fair, the single-player RPGs in the series have been outstanding, and the underlying lore is vast. There's a reason that the "Elder Scrolls Crowd" is as large and devout as it is, and a reason why their expectations for ESO are sky-high. The promise that ESO will have everything the other games had is a big one.
There will be one rather significant thing missing from TESO that has been a constant draw for the series' previous titles: user-generated content. The Elder Scrolls Construction Set, which allowed players to mod or create pretty much anything in the single-player games, is not likely to be an option for a massive MMO. This is going to be a disappointment for some - particularly the fans of the H-Cup lingerie mods of the single-player games - but it makes sense. Single-player games need mods to extend the gameplay, but MMOs by their very nature do not, really. In a single-player game, you run a dungeon once, kill the boss, get the loot and it's done. In a MMO, you can run the same dungeon a dozen times and each time is slightly different.
The MMO Crowd is being lured in by the proposed integration of social networking websites. Players will be able to create a guild page on Facebook, have their friends and guildies join up there, and then import it directly into the game when it launches. Twitter and Google+ will also be integrated into the game. This will mean that guilds can be managed without third-party websites that do essentially the same job - leaders can schedule events on Facebook, tweet important announcements, share awesome screenshots on Tumblr and who knows what else. Basically, anything you can do on your average pre-made guild website will be seamlessly integrated through the social media sites that everybody already uses - no more signing up for the umpteenth account, forgetting URLs and passwords and all the other hassle of adding another new website to your long list.