It as been roughly ten days since Zenimax announced the official PC/Mac release date of Elder Scrolls Online. In doing so they either knowingly or unknowingly threw down the gauntlet to the other developers with their own tentative release dates. The success and fail of an MMO has become so much more than whether or not it is a good game, but instead how distracted the gaming populous is at any given moment. I remember a time in the not too distant past where major PC releases were truly few and far between. However it currently seems like there is always something bigger looming on the near horizon. Like it or not every single one of these releases is competing for the same relatively small pool of players, subscribers, and even money in general.
Yesterday Massively voted The Elder Scrolls Online… the MMO most likely to flop in the coming year. While I personally think this is deeply cynical and maybe even more than a tiny bit inflammatory, I think more than anything it is short sighted. Quite frankly the success and failure of Elder Scrolls Online has nothing to do with the PC gamer, and that is more than a tiny bit humbling. We will no longer be the king makers for these online games. With ESO and games like it, that torch is being passed from PC Gaming to the much larger pool of console gamers. I have to say the console market is rabidly waiting for a new Elder Scrolls Experience, and especially a multiplayer one at that . I think it might be a bitter pill to swallow to realize that the success and failure of these titles may very well be out of the hands of the “PC Gaming Master Race”.
Being the master tacticians that they are, yesterday Blizzard announced the release date for the Diablo 3 Reaper of Souls expansion. With this they are releasing roughly four weeks ahead of Elder Scrolls Online, and as a result giving themselves plenty of time with the sole attention of the PC Gaming market. Similarly however they are also hungrily eyeing the console market, and you can bet that they will be timing the release of the PS3/PS4/Xbox360/XBone release against the June release of Elder Scrolls Online to the next gen consoles. I feel like a four week buffer is more than safe and should play well to the gamers that may not have the ability to purchase every title they want. I know I am personally amped about this version of the game, because it fixes a lot of the loot problems I had with the initial release. Additionally I am holding out hope beyond hope that they manage to roll in the console “controller” features as well.
There is no way to look at this release date as anything other than business strategy. Elder Scrolls started this ball in motion, and now each game company will have to decide when the most opportune time is to deploy their own “forces” on the game board. While the Diablo 3 demographic is not exactly the same as the Elder Scrolls demographic… there is more than enough overlap to have caused issues for either game. As a result two major juggernauts have been placed on the “game board” and as a result the new year is less open than it was. Now the launches of so many titles will have be strategized to figure out when the most opportune time to release will be.
Warlords of Draenor
Since the title Blizzard announced was the release of Diablo 3 for the tail end of the first quarter, my assumption is that Warlord of Draenor was simply not close enough to ready to be able to launch against Elder Scrolls Online. As a result I am guessing this means that WoD will be another last quarter of 2014 release much like a few other World of Warcraft expansion launches. If this is the case that bookends the year up pretty nicely. Diablo 3 first quarter, Elder Scrolls Online second quarter and Warlords of Draenor closing out the year. You can already see the 2014 release calendar starting to tighten a bit and this will make it increasingly difficult for game companies to find a “clear window” to release against. I personally thought I had written off the WoW franchise completely, but nostalgic can be a pain sometimes.
As a result I imagine there will be a lot of players that either intentionally or un-intentionally come back for the release of Warlords. The lifespan of a WoW expansion rush seems to be roughly three months, so an end of the year release will also make the 2015 schedule some what slippery as well. The problem is there are lots more pieces to be placed on the board. Games like Titanfall and Destiny will also be chipping away at the pool of players that would h
ave normally played an MMO. Additionally we still have EQ Landmark and EQ Next that have not committed to any release schedule and will likely be just as large of a force on the Calendar as the games that have already been confirmed.
What About Wildstar?
I will be the first to admit… I am actually not that excited about Wildstar at all. By all rights I should be, but for whatever reason there I have not followed it. I do however have a lot of friends who have, and as a result I want it to be a success for their sake as much as anything else. Up until this point we have heard a tentative “spring 2014” release. As I have just outlined however the “spring” timeframe is extremely packed as it is. Wildstar is in a really precarious place right now, and I do not envy them. They are launching a new MMO, with a subscription model into a world that seems to have fallen out of love with subscriptions. Additionally it is an unproven IP, and there are additional issues on selling a new player on “the vision” for this world. Finally it is releasing against some really powerful forces.
The safe bet will be to release Wildstar in the July/August timeframe. As much as I myself hate it, the players who are likely to leave a game will have done so by the time three months have passed. July would be the beginning of a window where generally the “locusts”, a group I have been a member of so many times in the past… will have consumed what there is to consume with ESO and be looking for a new target to move to. Plotting a course for this opening in the schedule seems like the safe choice for them. However all it would take to make this more treacherous, is for the other pieces that are unplaced to fall into this window. Releasing against EQ Landmark would be enough to make the fate of Wildstar uncertain, and we have yet to even discuss the potential for the upcoming and as of yet unnamed Rift expansion.
My money is still on Wildstar penciling in a July release date, and EQ Next as a game being a spring of 2015 release. I just don’t see Carbine being confident enough to release Wildstar without a good opening in the schedule. They are in a much more tentative position than Zenimax, since the entirety of their fate rests upon the shoulders of the PC Gaming market. Elder Scrolls Online could realistically release against another big game, since they will be gaining a bunch of “new to genre” players coming in from the console market. Additionally they have a well established and well loved IP… and even if folks are not completely sold on the game… they are likely to at least dip their toes in the water for awhile. I find myself caring far more about the people at the companies… than the companies and games themselves. With several friends in the “industry” I honestly hope that they can stack the schedule in a way so that all of these titles fine at least limited success. If we see another crop of relative failures, I think this year might be the last hurrah of the triple A MMO market.