Interview: Rich Lambert, Creative Director at ZeniMax Online Studios

We talk the lifespan of MMOs, the changing face of subs, and how Elder Scrolls Online has changed - or not - over time.

Interview: Rich Lambert, Creative Director at ZeniMax Online Studios

Nearly two years on since launch, ESO is now looking like a very different game, and a lot of that comes down to player feedback – what was some of the most important feedback you took on board?

I’m not sure I’d agree that ESO is a very different game than it was when we launched. At its core, it’s still the same – with a focus on exploration, great story telling and awesome action oriented combat. In the last two years, we’ve added polish, smoothed out some of the rough edges and added in more systems and content to further refine and broaden the experience.

Player feedback is absolutely something we take into account though when determining future fixes or new systems. One really important bit of feedback that we took to heart was that immersion and story are super important, but not at the expense of being able to easily play with a friend or significant other. We’ve spent a lot of time fixing player separation issues since launch and all of the new content we’ve built since then takes this feedback into account.

What are some of the technical changes the game engine has undergone since launch, outside of the mechanics?

The largest, and probably most massive change to the engine, was getting it to actually run on the consoles, with the addition of a custom controller-specific UI coming in a close second. It was a huge undertaking! Since that time though, we’ve upgraded to Directx11 to enable a ton of optimizations and future graphics fidelity improvements, done countless optimizations to devote more processing power to the mechanics of processing, and added a ton of security improvements to help track down cheating / bots. We also had to scale our infrastructure to support the massive numbers of players that started playing at console launch. 

Is there a lesson to be learnt about the importance of player feedback for other MMO makers?

Every developer wants their games to do well, so at some level I’m sure everyone takes notice of player feedback. The key for us though has been to try and engage with the player base as much as possible. It’s not easy, and you can’t react or comment on every piece of feedback, but just letting them know that you are there, listening, is huge.

You’ve also moved from a subs model to buy to play – do you think that’s a natural progression for MMOs now?

Yes, this is definitely something that I think the current market embraces. Consumers in general are a lot less willing to commit to something long term without a choice. Our player base has really taken to the new model and our overall player base has gone up significantly since the change. We still offer a monthly subscription; the difference is now we give players a choice in how they wish to pay for the game.

This is far from the last big update, and there’s weekly content as well, but what do you think is the longevity of a modern MMO in the market? Are they effectively infinite constructs?

I think they can have a really, really long life, especially if you continue to keep the player base engaged with updates, fixes, and new content. We are committed to keeping the game fresh and adding new content for as long as there is a community to support it.

Cheeky last question: do you think there’ll be anything learned from ESO that could be implemented in the next single-player Elder Scrolls game?

We’ve worked pretty closely with Bethesda Game Studios in making sure the lore we created in ESO fits into the Elder Scrolls lexicon, but I couldn’t begin to speculate on the future.


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