FUS-RO-DON’T! Make an Elder Scrolls MMO
The Elder Scrolls Needs no MMO
I need to find a dragonborn.
There’s an important message that needs to be shouted, and it needs to be controlled, so that its simple yet effective argument will, hopefully, echo through the skies of Maryland and call the attention of Bethesda Softworks. It is said the pen is mightier than the sword, but a properly channeled thu’um (dragon shout) can break them both with three simple words of power. I’ll have to settle for the pen. Until the prophecy of the Elder Scrolls becomes true, I don’t think that a dragonborn is going to be found. From this point on I may as well also dispense with the overdone and confused Elder Scrolls puns and get on with what needs to be said.
Bethesda, please don’t make a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG, henceforth MMO) which, if this report by PC Mag is accurate, will be featured in the grand fantasy setting of Nirn and will be fictionally pegged to the Elder Scrolls series. Doing so will turn an RPG that is such a massive hit when new iterations of it arrive because each game is, in a world infested by an annual Call of Duty and countless other persistent offerings, a traditional bomb of finely crafted content into just more of the same. It will cheapen the creativity of one of the last not-completely-commercialized major studios in the industry in the name of a recurring profit. And it will overturn the whole fictional premise on which the Elder Scrolls games are based.
Today’s market is saturated with MMOs that are derived from pre-existing intellectual property (IP). This constitutes the business reason to refrain from production of an Elder Scrolls MMO. Greater success is to be potentially had with an original idea that does not simply continue an already concluded story. Bethesda is no stranger to a high-risk, high-reward scheme. This is precisely what they have done for the majority of their recent titles. Nobody expected the scale or impact of Morrowind, and the great leap in every respect that came afterward with Oblivion. When the beloved, but relatively ancient, Fallout series was slated for a project of similar scale and style, hopes were built up and gloriously fulfilled. Fallout: New Vegas then proved what can happen when IP and a previously executed associated concept is overused and merely refined instead of being redefined. Bethesda is almost certainly already in the process of developing an Elder Scrolls MMO if one is to be made, but the investment to create original IP for an MMO will prove to be worth it, and Elder Scrolls can remain Elder Scrolls.
Bethesda wants to become the next Blizzard, and, if trends associated with Star Wars: The Old Republic hold, the next BioWare. I get that. But they also maintain a close personal relationship with their playerbase, a relationship that has been strengthened (when Bethesda gave the community the tools to Skyrim without limit and worked with Steam to make beautiful mods an affair for the general public to click on and download) and sometimes weakened (when Bethesda sued Notch and Mojang over the word “Scrolls”) through time. I believe that using the Elder Scrolls to create an MMO will cheapen and damage that relationship, producing certain great success at the launch of the Elder Scrolls MMO but probably produce the ends of bad karma down the road. It will also permanently tie down the resources of what remains a big play performed by a tightly knit, elite team. MMOs are a lot of work – why not invest the additional time and resources to make a new game, and develop all of the new infrastructure that will be required to support it? The Elder Scrolls do not tell of a persistent world, only set chapters within it. The spirit of that structure should not be deviated from.
Special Nord is Special
While the MMO project remains a rumor, there are already a host of problems associated with the Elder Scrolls lore that makes a persistent world of the kind that an MMO is based around a bit of a departure from what the series has previously featured.
The modern era of the franchise, namely Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, were all events determined by a single man (or woman, or cat-person, lizard…) This is the beauty of the series and while it has been shown that a single individual’s story can be told in a meaningful and effective way within the greater framework of an MMO (i.e. SWTOR), I think that an MMO bottom line is about what a community of individuals does in a disorganized, unplanned, and never-ending fashion. In addition the idea that the Elder Scrolls would fortell of several million individuals each engaging in standard MMO content like leveling, player-versus-player, and endgame encounters all as part of a prophesized fate for Nirn seems rather silly. I’m sure that it could be made to work and make sense, but I sure can’t think of how. I predict that the Elder Scrolls as they traditionally exist within the lore will be dispensed with, that this game will simply be the persistent and unpredictable story of a bunch of people that live in Nirn. That’s not how the story of the next chapter of the Elder Scrolls should be told.
The Target Audience
In all, the industry rumor mill usually doesn’t produce the kind of speculation about an incoming product such as this without basis in fact. The MMO in some format is almost certainly happening, and it can work, if it is done right. I’m wary of a rushed, incomplete, and open-ended iteration of the Elder Scrolls series that leaves the telling of the next true RPG “Elder Scrolls VI” title uncertain. But, I do not have my own Elder Scroll to predict what it will truly be like, and so certain judgment will and should be reserved until the game hits the shelves. Fans of the series like me should still be wary. Don’t let this great and epic series become another endlessly reproduced and over-milked staple in the name of profit. If an Elder Scrolls MMO is to be made, approach it with a discerning eye, and hold Bethesda to account in making it worthy of the name.