Bethesda’s Matt Firor on The Elder Scrolls Online; new stories, Switch ports and big, big changes

The Elder Scrolls Online was released for PC in 2014 and for consoles in 2015. Matt Firor, President and Game Director, ZeniMax Online Studios is the first to admit that Bethesda had to make huge changes to the game for it to become the success that it has. 

At PAX 2018 he told me that he and his team had “spent almost a whole year making it different.”

The changes he’s talking about aren’t small either. Much of The Elder Scrolls Online’s original core was removed and replaced, which is no mean feat. 

We removed the required subscription, so it’s subscription optional.

We added the champion system, where you can make your character better over the course of your entire life. We added the outlaw system, where you can go steal and kill people and profit from it.

The Elder Scrolls Online

These changes were necessary for two reasons Firor tells me; to improve the game and retain those players who’d already bought in and to make it work on PS4 and Xbox One. Thanks to the changes made, when The Elder Scrolls Online launched on console, Firor tells me it was “just enormously huge.” 

Considering that a large portion of The Elder Scrolls players are on console, I asked if the majority of ESO players were also on console, but Firor assures me it’s an even split. 

“It’s still roughly 30, 30, 30,” he says. “Which means that 60% of the players are on console because there’s two of them.

“But it’s regionally dependent. Like, some regions just don’t have many consoles and there are many more PC players. Console is a huge part of our success.”

With that success and given the success of the Switch and Bethesda’s game on Nintendo’s platform, I wonder if The Elder Scrolls Online could see a release on the console. However, Firor sadly assures me that it’s just not possible.

ESO is just too big of a game for Switch. And it’s not just the memory card part of it, it’s the actual memory, the RAM that it has.

ESO is enormous. It barely fits on a console, it’s so big. It is one of the largest, most complex games ever made, and so I would love for it to be on Switch because I love the idea of it, I love the way it works.

It’s just, I don’t think ESO is going to make it.

Telling Big Stories

Having recently released the Summerset expansion and two new DLCs — Wolfhunter and Murkmire — The Elder Scrolls Online is stronger than ever. In fact, Firor tells me that he believes Murkmire is the best in-game story that’s ever been in The Elder Scrolls Online.

“It’s amazingly good,” he tells me. “It takes you places you never thought that it was going to go. It’s really, really good. And it’s a DLC, so it’s like 10 hours of content.” Telling great stories seems to be at the core of The Elder Scrolls and ESO’s values. 

In the ESO players have been taken to locations in Tamriel that have either never been shown or haven’t been visited in years. Orsinium and Morrowind are examples of the latter, but Summerset is the former. As Firor puts it “Summerset was blue sky.”

I Can Show You The World

Summerset was featured in The Elder Scrolls Arena, however, that game was released in 1994 and so the visuals were flat and 8-bit. Firor tells me that the lore of Summerset was retained, which includes the crystal tower and the Altmer, but aside from that, everything was created from scratch.

It was a mix of what we wanted to achieve by making it feel high fantasy because it was based around the high elves. What lore there was is of course contradictory, ’cause Elder Scrolls lore is always contradictory.

For every definitive statement of one thing, there’s a definitive statement that’s almost exactly the opposite, so  we work with BGS, that’s the games’ studio, and make sure that the lore’s consistent and the timeline’s consistent and so forth.

As for The Elder Scrolls Online’s future, Firor says it’s never been brighter. The studio is already working on the next major expansion, which he refused to talk about, and there are still plenty of places to be explored. For example, the Planes of Oblivion are something that Firor mentioned as a possibility. 

Bright Future

Was he simply talking about places that exist, or was he giving me a subtle hint? Time will tell.

Finally, I couldn’t resist asking about the possibility of a Fallout Online, in a similar vein to The Elder Scrolls Online. Firor said it’s definitely not something that’s even being considered right now, especially with Fallout 76 just around the corner.

76 is going to be huge, and they’re going to keep working on that for a long time.

ESO is still killing it, so we’re spending almost all our resources just keeping ESO up and adding new content and new systems and keeping players happy.

I mean, we have a tonne of new players in the game right now, so we want to make sure that we’re feeding them constantly with new, cool stuff. So that’s taking all of our bandwidth.

Thanks to Matt Firor for chatting with PowerUp! at PAX Australia 2018.

Leo Stevenson
Leo Stevenson
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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