PC vs. Console: The Population War


With E3 behind us and the hot news starting to cool down, we’re now able to absorb the information we’ve been given. The biggest and most talked about topic right now is the announcement that The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) will be releasing on both the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One in spring of 2014.   I was shocked and the community was in an uproar, but should we be scared of this new information?

I didn’t feel it would hurt the PC community at all.  A lot of people felt that the push to console would cause the PC version to suffer with simplified game play, controls, and even lower graphics.  My reply to this statement hasn’t changed: ESO is being designed to play on a five-year-old PC, and the technology in the next-gen consoles are well above those that were the “average PC spec” five years ago. So graphics won’t have any variation from PC to console. So what about game play, surely that’ll change.  The overall game play will be the same, the story, the quests, the game itself will be identical.  How you interact with the game itself will be different, the user interface and how you select items will be adjust to work with a console because you do not have the freedom with a controller as you do a mouse and keyboard.

None of those are any major concern for me, my concern is population. Typically MMORPGs have been released solely on PC, with recent introduction to consoles with Dust512. Will the release to consoles lower the population within Tamriel for the PC/Mac players? Those who will be playing on PC do so because they either played Skyrim on PC and enjoyed it, or are MMO Gamers who already play on the PC. We’re going to forget about the MMO Gamer for now and focus strictly on the Elder Scrolls fan base. Prior to this announcement of the console release, anyone who enjoyed playing Skyrim on the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 would have had to purchase ESO for the PC in order to enjoy the world of Tamriel once more. This would have increased the overall population in ESO, but now with ESO being released on consoles what will happen?

Let’s look at some numbers.(source)ss (2013-06-24 at 02.16.15)

Skyrim sold over 6.7 million copies (retail excluding digital copies) since its release in 2011. Remember Skyrim was also released for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC and shortly after the launch the Mac version. In an ideal world that would mean ~2.2 million copies were sold for all 3 platforms. Too bad this isn’t an ideal world, eh? The Playstation 3 copy sold ~1.8 Million, the Xbox 360 sold ~4.0 million copies, that leaves us PC gamers with ~900,000 copies sold. As you can see PC copies are drastically lower than the console versions

Even still, 900,000 is a lot of people isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, MMOs do survive with less.  Look at Dark Age of Camelot, a game that was released just as the MMO genre was starting to take off and it had no more than 250,000 people at its peak and people are still playing the game.  A population base of 900,000 might still be a lot, but World of Warcraft had over 12 million subscribers worldwide.  Yet there were times when I would log into WoW and no one would be around, the world appeared empty and alone. I know Elder Scrolls Online will have the “Megaserver” and unfortunately we do not know a lot about how they plan to set these up. They might have the ability to actively monitor the population and shuffle people around to proper “layers” and ensure the world is populated, but if it doesn’t, logging into an empty world would still be possible. There is nothing worse than playing a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game that is designed to be social and being completely alone.

As I said, I’m not against the decision to put Elder Scrolls Online on the consoles. I am concerned about the population, the social aspect that comes with playing with people. It is why we play an MMO, to play with people.  Some of you might be thinking, the MMO Gamers will be playing ESO on PC so that will help the numbers.  Of course it will, but also how many of those MMO gamers purchased their copy of Elder Scrolls on Xbox 360 or Playstation 3? Will they stay with the PC solely because it is familiar ground for them when it comes to MMOs, or will they switch to the console because that is where they enjoyed the Elder Scrolls in the past?

What do you think? Do you think these statistics say anything about the possible low population in comparison to the console versions? Which platform will you be playing on?


Pete Hines (VP of PR and Marketing at Bethesda) replied to my tweet about this article. I know the above numbers are not 100% current, Skyrim has sold well over 6.7 million copies thus far.  What the numbers do show is that Xbox was by far the most popular version of the game to be purchased via retail outlets and could possibly trump the PC market for ESO.  Perhaps this article will get Pete Hines to release some official numbers. I would love to see this article be proven incorrect and my worry of ESO (PC version) being under populated in comparison to its counter parts.

Elder Scrolls Online Guide - Killer Guides
  • Neario

    ah just to add:

    Oblivion I played on my Xbox360
    Skyrim on my PC
    (morrowind on PC offcourse,)

    But this got nothing to do with my choise for TESO on my PC. MMO’s you play on a PC, simple as that.
    I would loved the full cross-platform functionality. So that I could continue my quest on a PS4 at a mate instead of installing TESO at his PC as well(assuming his PC would be able to handel the game)

  • Neario

    You do have to question yourself of how many of those "console TES-gamers" would have bought TESO if it would only be released on the PC.
    This doesnt say that offcourse the multi-platform release will automatically mean that less people will be playing it on the PC.
    Personally I dont see the issue.

    You do not focus on the MMO-players in your article, but I think you should. Why? Well lets face it: TESO, no matter how much Elder Scrolls it will be, is and will be a MMO. No matter how you look at it, an MMO is a different game then a RPG. It plays different, it acts different, it expects different things from players.
    I think a decent amount of the players who only played the TES-games, and no mmo’s, will be dissapointed by TESO. Simple since its different from what they expected. and they will leave the game.(dont get me wrong: we all started MMO’s at some point, so a decent amount of the new players will like what they see offcourse).

    The PC-players however know what to expect. For them its just simple is a matter of how good a mmo TESO will be.. will it be another Swtor or will it provide us with much more fun(which I expect and hope). Console players will also have to find out if they like MMO’s in the first place.

    Sure with this i assume all MMO-vets will play PC and all MMO-newbies will play Console. This is not the case offcourse, but still its something to think about.

    Personally i had hope for full cross-platform functionality. PC/PS4/X1 as 1 game, or even just PC/PS4 and X1 seperate(assuming that Sony would be more willing to open up then MS.. and no I prefer MS over Sony so no fanboyism here :P). Unfortunately thats not the case, and maybe I am blind for any flaws in it and it would prove even worse for TESO.

  • Primevil

    I use my PC as its more powerful than my xbox 360 to play skyrim but above all the major descision to play pc was MODS if elder scrolls will enable some mods as many mmo’s do then i feel that could easily tip the balance..

  • Brahmen

    I will admit that Skyrim was the first Elder Scrolls game I played and it was on PS3, but ESO will be on PC.

  • Korah The Mighty

    Comparing Skyrim PC players to MMO population is making things seem more dire then they will be…If the game is F2P there will be a very large population. Just look at crappy games like Star Trek Online and youll see it.

  • Garbrac

    You’re right Zederok they can’t be that is why they are adapting it, most likely we’ll see a simplified UI and how you interact with the world. Instead of clicking and dragging items to your bank you’ll move to it using the joystick like you do in any RPG on the console and push ■ which would bring up a context menu that would have options like, move to bank, move to horse, destroy etc.

    Chatting I don’t know how they will do this. This to me is a mystery because I have yet to see a good chatting system on a console without pausing the game.

  • Zederok

    You stated: "I didn’t feel it would hurt the PC community at all. A lot of people felt that the push to console would cause the PC version to suffer with simplified game play, controls, and even lower graphics. My reply to this statement hasn’t changed: ESO is being designed to play on a five-year-old PC, and the technology in the next-gen consoles are well above those that were the “average PC spec” five years ago."

    The issue isn’t, nor ever has been the graphics. The issue is the design systems needed to run a good MMO. There are some elements of a PC that can not be reliably done on the console without having to either dumb the game down or put in radial controls. And I am talking about simple things like Talking in a zone chat, dragging items from your bank to your inventory etc etc. The ease of those systems with a proper mouse and keyboard can not be done on a controller.

  • Wisp

    I think the Megaserver is going to help more than people realize. Sure, there will be low population times (such as wee hours of the morning or during the day when people are at work/school), but you get that with all mmos. The purpose of the Megaserver was to keep areas from becoming overpopulated by grouping players according to their play preferences/friends/guild when they log on (and if I believe it was mentioned that you can change between "channels" at will). If there aren’t a lot of people online, everyone may just be grouped together until more players log on.

    I agree with the basic concerns that less players will choose the PC/Mac if they prefer the console interface (who doesn’t like a big screen tv and couch?), but that just means the PC/Mac players will have a chance to be more familiar with the online community. A player who distinguishes himself/herself from others and builds a reputation will be recognized by name, if not on sight (totally looking forward to customizable appearances and costumes). A player like me can stop and give a friendly /wave to their favorite teso fan site / podcast personalities.

    Maybe having less, is more. You’ll be able to start knowing who is a great PvP leader, and people will follow them. Griefers will be easily identified and ignored. We won’t know for sure till we get in and play, but I really look forward to seeing how the PC/Mac community develops.

    If your population concern is more related to concerns for the longevity of the game, well, I guess we’ll have to wait for 2 things: 1) the payment model and 2) 6 months to 1 year to pass after the release of the game. If the price is right, and the content is enough to keep people playing, then I think the player population concerns will be soon forgotten.

  • Gus

    You forgot about piracy. One of the reasons why Skyrim sales for the consoles are whay higher than PC is because you cant pirate the game for consoles unless you engineered your console (which is risky). All the PC owners can just simply visit a torrent site and get skyrim for free. That wont work for TESO

  • Kyra

    That’s exactly my fear Garbrac. I suspect the majority will play on the console since most of them will be Skyrim fans and well, as you posted, the console numbers are huge, making ESO a perfect "couch" candidate. I hope I’m wrong but this may ruin the game for the actual MMO players, who play their games on the PC. As you said, logging into an empty world will be the death of this game, even early on.

    Let’s hope the devs are seeing this