Freedom in an MMO: once, I thought this was a given aspect of all MMORPGs. But recent releases have changed this facet of the genre. Many titles now place the player on rails through a batch of content, and then hope to God there will be enough waiting at the end to keep that person paying and offering up their precious time (and money). This is fundamentally flawed. Content is so costly to develop that studios can never make enough to keep players satiated. Inevitably, a vocal portion of player base winds up out of things to do and creates a feeling of restlessness among the community. I don’t want this column to become an essay on the virtues of “sandbox” over “themepark” design mentality, but simply put: player freedom and robust systems will amount to longevity in a well-designed and rendered MMORPG. Elder Scrolls Online must not only give fans of their vaunted series a compelling narrative and world to explore, but they must give them the freedom to explore that world in any way they wish. And they must also avoid the pratfalls of the “gear grind” as a means to keep players hooked.
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