Haven Editorial: Are We ESO?

Podcast1Live game streaming is entertaining, informative and community-building, and MMO-RPGs are among the most successful interactive social outlets.

So what went wrong when four of the world’s top MMO-RPG streamers got together on October 10, 2015 for Episode 1 of the “We Are ESO” podcast?

Although the names of individual participants have been withheld for this article, the podcast may be viewed in its entirety on its YouTube link, which is shown at the end of this editorial.

The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO, or simply ESO) released in April, 2014 as a subscription-based, MMO version of the famous Elder Scrolls single-player game series. By popular demand, the MMO eventually downgraded its monthly subscription requirement to “optional”. This allows players a choice: pay once for a basic license, or pay the monthly subscription for a “plus” membership, which includes in-game perks, enhancements and access to all future down-loadable content (DLC).

TESO_TU_hero2Considering the number of massively multiplayer open-worlds available to gamers, what makes ESO a contender for best in show? One answer is in its noticeable, yet tender balance of Player vs. Environment (PvE) and Player vs. Player (PvP). Another lies in its well-designed “character build” options that conform to individual playing styles. Still another reason is the game’s sheer volume of content; weapons, armor, spells and a host of miscellaneous crafting items.

So it made sense that a panel of ESO‘s top streamers should commune in an effort to teach, encourage and share with new players, as well as with original subscribers who had previously quit and have now returned.

The podcast was delivered live on the popular game streaming service, Twitch.tv. As viewers poured in, the host and his three guests took their seats to discuss five pre-planned topics. Unfortunately, these topics had little to offer ESO rookies; they catered to experts, who only account for a small percentage of all players. The focus of this 2½-hour meeting was almost entirely on PvP aspects of the game, which again serves the minority. This is not to say that beginners don’t aspire to PvP…on the contrary. It’s just that before you can battle against other players, you must sufficiently level-up your character via PvE. This process takes time, but it’s necessary for learning essential game mechanics. No matter how good a game’s AI may be, your fellow human players will always best you if you’re untrained.

TopicsSo it seems that for an initial podcast, concepts such as (character) race/class bonuses, item crafting and basic build/playing styles should have been presented. As first impressions go, it would have shown how much this group of experts actually cares for the viewers who made them famous. As it happened, the panel decided to serve itself. One presenter openly drank a whiskey-colored liquid straight from a whiskey-shaped bottle. Although it could have been iced tea, it nonetheless provoked a distraction-reaction from the gallery. Another panelist had trouble keeping his eyes open, appearing at times to be floating in and out of consciousness. Eventually, the host himself devolved into a parody of his role as moderator; speaking at length while seemingly oblivious to the others’ antics, and to the viewers’ hints thereto.

However, the podcast did have its moments, and these came in the form of the remaining panelist; the one who stole the show. While all participants proffered knowledge, this gentleman delivered his with pristine clarity…and the viewers were absolutely starstruck. If the podcast survives, it will be in major part to this streamer’s service to the game and its community. If you watch the show, you’ll notice it quickly.

ZenimaxBlackOverall, what suffered most was the agenda’s fifth topic: Q&A and Open Discussion. There simply wasn’t enough time at the end of the meeting, so the host allowed each participant to answer three questions only. This left dozens of queries…and therefore viewers ignored. Ironically, it turned out that ESO‘s developer, Zenimax Online Studios was in attendance…but legally bound not to answer questions. The one source with definitive answers couldn’t say a word.

Near the end of the podcast, the host recognized the overwhelming viewer requests for PvE-related topics, and promised to cover those in the next episode. He also proposed a Pokemon-style mentoring project, where each panelist would train a group of students and then pit them against each other in PvP. This latter idea is interesting to me. An effective trainer is necessarily an “organized moderator”…a leader of leaders. I would very much like to see that from this group.

For those unable to watch the podcast live, a YouTube link was provided by the host for future viewing. But in this second form, the video is missing half its value…spectator commentary! Fortunately there’s a simple solution: remove the “WE ARE ESO” logo from the left side of the screen and replace it with a running chat overlay. As full Twitch.tv partners, your celebrity status is set; no need to hit us over the head with it. Recent televised debates have demonstrated the value of real-time viewer reactions. Adding the chat overlay will afford later viewers this full experience [The empty parchment area in the middle of the screen is reserved as an alert center for new followers, donations and subscriptions. The overlay should therefore be positioned at left].

WeAreESO2dAs a professional meeting facilitator and classroom instructor (Microsoft IT systems), I would suggest designing a proper curriculum. Start at the beginner level, followed by intermediate and so on. Some games (chess comes to mind) have elaborate rating systems to make continued study fun and rewarding. I’ve encountered a number of current streamers who treat ESO as a single-player game and are quite unfamiliar with MMO protocols. Such a curriculum would go a long way to encourage these players, as well as their viewers.

My final suggestion is one of logistics. In future episodes, you may want to increase the number of live stream moderators. This would provide the host a more “third-person” view of the show, and thus a greater awareness of the environment and surroundings.

The podcast may be viewed in its entirety at this YouTube link.

-Chris Roberts-