On the back of hugely successful releases of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Bethesda and ZeniMax Online Studios have released a new chapter in the series, The Elder Scrolls Online.
Game director Matt Firor talks us though the developer’s first game for Mac, its subscription model and the state of OS X gaming.
What type of game is The Elder Scrolls Online?
Matt Firor: We could talk for hours about this topic! Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) is an online role-playing game (RPG). It has many elements from single-player RPGs, as well as systems and features more often found in Massively Multiplayer RPGs.
For Elder Scrolls fans, the game offers a familiar world, open character development system and a clean, uncluttered interface that will be very familiar to fans of Skyrim, Oblivion and Morrowind. Of course to this, we add – for the first time in an Elder Scrolls game – other players.
Whom do you think the game will appeal to?
Anyone who likes a good video game. Elder Scrolls Online is a game that will appeal to a lot of different types of gamers.
Obviously anyone who has played an Elder Scrolls game like Skyrim or Oblivion will find a lot to appreciate, as well as online gamers of all types, including those of Massively Multiplayer Online games.
How does ESO differ from previous, successful releases in the series?
The simple answer is that this is the first online Elder Scrolls game, so just by having other players in the world – and the systems to support them – that is really the main difference.
Having group, and guild systems allows a gamer in Elder Scrolls Online to explore Tamriel with their friends for the first time. There are also a lot of similarities between ESO and the single-player titles: it has a familiar art style, same races and cultures and is also set in the same world – although they are set at slightly different timelines.
What was your role in the development of ESO?
I’m the game director on the project, as well as the studio GM (general manager). I was hired by ZeniMax Media to start ZeniMax Online Studios back in 2007. Over that time my role has evolved as the studio has gotten bigger and bigger (and I hired smarter people than me!).
I am very, very proud of the team that we’ve built here at ZOS. It was a hard road to travel (online RPGs are among the most difficult and complex type of entertainment to create), but I couldn’t have picked a better group of people to travel it with.
How was the experience? How did it compare to your past projects?
This is my first time leading such a large team, working on such a high profile title and using such a well-known IP (intellectual property) like The Elder Scrolls. So, the expectations have been – and will continue to be – much higher than anything I’ve ever done before.
What is your favourite aspect of ESO?
That is a hard question to answer. Games of this type are almost always about more than one feature – they become irresistible by the way they combine different systems into one hard-to-put-down whole.
So, I think my favourite part of the game is the way that it lets you do so many things – quest and explore, fight against other players, dive into dungeons with groups, make gear and food for your friends, go fishing and lots more.
The game is going to be a pay-per-month subscription, why did you choose this method?
The Elder Scrolls IP lends itself very well to the subscription model. Pay once per month, get all the content, explore the world – it’s all there. I play lots of free-to-play (F2P) games, so ESO is not a referendum on F2P verses subscription – the subscription model simply matches this game better than F2P.
Where was the game produced? How long and how many developers, did it take to put together?
The main ZeniMax Online development studio is in Hunt Valley, Maryland in the US (just north of Baltimore), and we also have an Austin, Texas office where we do a lot of our private cloud infrastructure development.
We founded the studio in 2007, and the early years were spent staffing up, looking at technology etc. We’re a full-size studio now, as we do our own infrastructure and platform work, in addition to developing the game itself.
Will there be ongoing updates? What can players expect?
We’re committed to making regular content for this game for as long as there are people playing it. We have our first update coming out very soon after launch, and we’ll get customers regular content updates every four to six weeks or so.
How is the state of Mac gaming? Macs have a sour reputation when it comes to gaming, but is that changing?
I was an original Mac user back in the mid-1980s and fondly remember playing Dark Castle, Shufflepuck Café and Wizardry on my beige 512K ‘Fat Mac’. Back, then, Mac games were far superior to PC and console titles, but sadly that didn’t last very long.
But now that Apple has revolutionised the mobile computing world (who doesn’t have a MacBook of some kind these days?), I think there is a tremendous opportunity to provide video game entertainment to that population.
We designed ESO from the ground up to run on lower-power hardware, and as a result, I can play ESO (on lower quality settings, of course) on my MacBook Air.
It’s pretty awesome to see a game of this complexity run on such a tiny device.
Where do you think Mac gaming is going?
The revolution in low-power GPUs like the Intel 4/5000 and the Iris have really brought solid quality game rendering to iMacs and MacBooks. I see lots of good quality games coming to Mac over time, but it will grow even faster when more Mac owners buy games on OS X to show video game publishers and developers that there is indeed a market.
The overnight iPad and iPhone mobile revolution has helped this, as it has exposed the Apple brand to people who were previously not familiar with it.
What is the focus of developers on Mac gaming? Is it an after-thought or a priority?
With traditional ‘AAA’ video game developers, Mac gaming has indeed – and sadly – been more of an afterthought. Again, I see this changing, as mobile hardware gets better and better and cheaper over time – and as Mac owners start buying more games to show publishers there is a market.
For a few quick facts about The Elder Scrolls Online have a look at the graphic below: