I recently had the opportunity to chat with Steven Sharif, founder of Intrepid Studios and the Creative Director behind the nascent studio’s upcoming MMORPG title Ashes of Creation.
This year’s annual Star Wars movie release – that still feels weird to write – has come and gone. With Rogue One’s theatrical debut last week, a new wave of hype and excitement has reinvigorated fans of the franchise, and for those of us who are gamers, the desire to jump back into the universe has come rushing towards us in full force.
It’s time for another bout of Isarii vs Monetization, the epic, windmill-tilting saga of one man shouting into a gale force of increasingly common industry practices. Today we return to The Elder Scrolls Online, a game uniquely dear to my heart as the original starting point of this whole internet wordsmithing thing, which has continued its ever-trundling encroachment into a quagmire of whale-hunting cash shop fuckery.
One of World of Warcraft: Legion’s signature features was the introduction of artifact weapons: powerful, lore-steeped items that would grow with players over the course of the expansion, gaining in power and abilities rather than simply being replaced with new drops over the course of the years-long campaign against the Burning Legion. With a weapon system introducing that level of permanence, the need for extensive customization follows, so each artifact weapon comes with a variety of unlockable skins in varying hues. Some feature straightforward unlock requirements: the completion of a quest or the fulfilling an achievement. But others are less straightforward, with even their very existence going undisclosed except to those with the data mining skills to find them.
Just a few days ago, I had the pleasure of serving as a groomsman in a good friend’s wedding. It was a beautiful celebration, filled with the family and close friends of the cheerful couple – an event that we managed to pull off without a hitch – much to the surprise of this particular pessimist. I’ve been to weddings before, of course, but there was something that set this one apart for me: this wasn’t the marriage of classmates or work colleagues, but former guildmates from our shared time in The Elder Scrolls Online.
There’s a popular conception among the MMO cognoscenti that irrespective of circumstance, monetization involving cosmetics is never a problem. There isn’t a fundamental issue with that line of thinking – I would expect everyone could agree on a general tiering of monetization egregiousness with competitive pay-to-win as a capstone and a variety of other methodologies cascading into generally the same order with only a minor degree of variance – but the idea that this lesser evil can never be problematic isn’t one I can fully agree with.
It seems like anywhere you turn these days, you’ll find the creators of some up and coming MMO extolling the virtues of player interdependence in MMOs and how it’s making a comeback in their game. Titles like Crowfall, Saga of Lucimia, and Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen are touting the concept as something of a core design principle, promising that with it as a development objective, their game will usher in a return to the golden age of MMORPG communities.