I Do Not Wish For An Elder Scrolls MMO
This isn’t super-predicated by anything in particular, except that Skyrim continues to be relevant at this time, even with the impending bull-rush that will be the more-or-less open beta for Star Wars: The Old Republic this weekend. Of course, since I write a lot about MMOs and their people, it seems almost a given that this topic should come up here. I’d like to register the fact that I am totally against the idea of an Elder Scrolls MMO, and would suggest anyone who enjoys Skyrim to do the same.
Skyrim is a sandbox game, which is a term that many people use often to refer to MMOs that don’t force you to progress mainly through a railroad of quest chains. You’re allowed to go where you want, when you want, and if you come across something that’s more interesting to do at the time, then you’re welcome to do it without having it affect your potential to complete any other tasks (which is a tangent for another post). Sandboxes are about freedom, and Skyrim takes the further by allowing you to pick up anything that isn’t nailed down, to become a vampire or a werewolf, to own multiple houses, to command retainers, to slaughter villagers and their chickens, to construct, enchant, and do alchemy while shooting fire from your bare hands and unleashing powerful shouts in the ancient language of the dragons.
Seems like a perfect candidate for an MMO, right? Sorry, no.
Wanting more of something great doesn’t automatically mean that it’s appropriate to have that thing appear in another form, especially when transmuting said thing into said other form would require massive concessions that would severely neuter what made the source material so great. Skyrim works so well as an ultra-sandbox because it’s single player. There’s only one instance of that particular moving part – the player – which means that the design decisions are far different then they would be if there were hundreds of thousands of players that all have to be made happy enough to continue to play (and pay). The sandbox element would certainly be nerfed because not everyone could loot that barrel or slay that dragon without the game resorting to MMO tropes like instancing and re-spawning…two examples of things that the lack of which makes Skyrim pretty great. MMOs need to be designed to offer equal opportunity to all players, which necessitates throwing most of Skyrim out the window.
Of course, that’s not an assertion that’s set in stone. MMOs are the way they are today because “conventional wisdom”, accountants, and forum whiners have made them so. They are designed to appeal to a wide audience through egalitarianism, so that your choice of race, class, or even gender should neither grant a benefit or apply a detriment to your opportunity to experience content from start to finish. Classes are designed to compliment one another in a triangle of arrows that proves the effectiveness of the “Holy Trinity” in order to get people to play together, but each class also needs to stand out so that choosing one over another has meaning, but then there has to be balance between the classes in PvP, because those players need to kept as happy as those who don’t do PvP. So the next time you think about bitching about balance or opportunity in an MMO, consider this broad overview and realize that MMOs are about keeping as many people as happy as humanly possible while trying to keep all of these eggs and chainsaws in the air. It’s not an easy task, and is probably the second choice job for developers, because they couldn’t find a job as a police attack dog test subject. The unspoken bottom line, then, is that many thing could be done if developers could (or would) jettison the notion that everyone needs to have the same opportunities open to them. That’s a loaded idea, and in the interest of tl;dr, I have to leave it hanging out in space like that for now.
But there are other roadblocks to making an Elder Scrolls MMO. Part of what makes Skyrim kick so much ass is that you can intend to make a bee-line from point A to point B, only to wake up three hours later after having stumbled up seven mountain paths, clearing two forts, a dwemer mine, and served as an errand boy or girl for a few daedric princes, just because you were curious. If this were an MMO, there would be 200 online guides which play connect-the-dots, telling players where everything is, what you get from it, and which order to tackle them in order to maximize your stats, and other players would be on your ass if you didn’t use those guides. Basically, it would totally ruin the point of a sandbox game, which is that “Ooh! I wonder what’s on the other side of this mountain!” sense of exploration and reward that anyone who’s played Skyrim is probably familiar with.
So no, I don’t think the Elder Scrolls would be served by having an MMO set in it’s universe. Yes, it could exist “out of time” the same way earlier Elder Scrolls games do, but let’s face it: people would expect Skyrim: The MMO but would end up with something that’s associated in name only, leading to disappointment and a troll-feeding frenzy across the Internet. Instead, let’s keep our Elder Scrolls apart from our MMOs because we need to have games like Skyrim to keep us grounded, and to offer us a break from the grind of the “modern” MMO.