When It Goes Free

The NDA on the ESO beta has been lifted. Meaning I can now talk about my experiences playing two sessions of the beta (but not post videos or pictures – although it has been promised that the last beta session will allow this).

One of my new favorite Youtube people – Kinetic – talks a little about the game in general.

 

I have been surfing Youtube and watched some gameplay videos but mostly I pay attention to the comments. It is interesting to me that instead of focusing on the actual content of the game the debate centers on the subscription fee.

“When it goes free” is probably the most used comment I’ve seen so far. If you have read some of my previous rants on this you will know that I am a fierce opponent of the “F2P” model. But I am really surprised at how strongly some people react to the idea of having to pay a monthly subscription. The comments range from aloof: “oh this game does not seem that good – it will be free to play in three months”. To idealistic: “subscription is an outdated model – many good games are f2p”. To downright angry: “a subscription like this is pure greed! Look at this calculation I just came up with. The game can’t be that expensive!”.

Now I could spend a lot of time arguing that maybe one should not pass judgment because one has seen a single gamplay video, that just because something has been around for a long time it does not mean it is outdated (WoW and EVE still does it – Final Fantasy just started doing it) and that pulling numbers out of ones ass does not an argument make. But I chose not to – I will simply state that I do not agree. I will also state that I am surprised that a few years with small, cheap (and excellent!) indie games on the rise as well as a lot of so called free to play one hit wonders has created a culture of extreme butthurt over the idea of having to pay for games.

 

I guess this all might derive from a sense of apathy. While there has been many interesting and groundbreaking games over the last couple of years (both entirely new games and continuations of popular concepts) there has also been a plethora of really bad games – especially in the MMO genre. On top of that some game concepts have become so ingrained in our psyche that we cannot imagine our games without them – yes we have also become incredibly bored with them.

Take the term DPS for example. It literally means “damage per second” – referring to the way you usually measure the performance of a damage dealing character in World of Warcraft. Even in new games where the term “damage per second” makes no sense whatsoever this stereotype is so powerful it is applied nonetheless. This is symptomatic for a lot of things. Concepts such as “the holy trinity” (tank, healer, dps), balanced classes, targeting and autoattacks and I could keep going. We are bored with these concepts and games trying to repackage them (with little to no success) but at the same time we are so dependent on them that when we encounter a game that does things differently we cringe, moan and throw up our hands in exasperation – what IS this?!

Well ESO is – finally – going to throw a monkey wrench into that whole system. You can wear all armor, use all weapons and mix your skills as you see fit, you have to AIM your attacks and depending on how good you are at finding Skyshards your character just might be more powerful (that is – have a more skill points) than others at the same level (unless you  spend skill points on being an able crafter of course).

To me all of this is so refreshing it feels like an injection of mint flavored adrenaline directly into my eyeball (I don’t know where that came from but I have a habit of not deleting what I write even though I later go “WTF?!” when I re-read it). I have had a great time playing the last two beta sessions (despite the fact that the fan on my graphics card decided to die on me at a rather inopportune time) and I will readily admit that at first I was exasperated. The controls felt weird, I kept getting killed by “trash mobs” and the game felt demanding. But as I kept playing I started to unlearn what 5 years of half assed MMO games had – I am ashamed to admit – drilled into my skull. I stopped expecting the game to play itself for me – I started getting smart. I learned how to dodge, how to aim and to stay mobile – accepting that a combat should be more than two computer entities facing off against each other to see who is the best at typing out a sequence of keys that the number crunchers have deemed the most effective. I also started slowing down. Getting used to being talked to by the characters, to inquire, to spend time looking for solutions and to exploring. It is a vast world and it requires you to pay attention – imagine that.

 

As good as it felt exploring the beta and as much as I am looking forward to ESO there are a few kinks that Zenimax still needs to get sorted out. ShoddyCast sums one of them up pretty much spot on in this excellent 40 min (worth it) talk.

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