TESO: Emperor of MMOs?


Is it possible for the Elder Scrolls Online to become the biggest current MMO in Western civilization? shocked

Yes, I believe it is.

Gasp! How dare I!? What’s that burning sound in the distance? Oh, that’s just some random internet forum melting down at the mere thought of World of Warcraft being dethroned by any new MMO, let alone Elder Scrolls Online.  Before you raise your torches and pitchforks, let me explain my reasoning.

We’ve heard it all before, [Insert MMO Title Here] the WoW killer, or at the very least, give it a run for it’s money. Yet in the end, none came close.

It’s important to note World of Warcraft is the game that brought the genre into mainstream gaming. When WoW cow-tipped EverQuest (EQ) to become the biggest MMO to date, not only was it unsuspected, it dawned a new era. In that time the largest MMO was EverQuest with 450k subscribers (source). Fast-forward to today and it’s hard to find an MMO that hasn’t crested over that number.

The truth is you can’t make an MMO in this day and era without being compared to World of Warcraft. It’s the gold standard by which all other MMOs today are judged.  Success and failure seems to be largely measured by most by whether the MMO will surpass World of Warcraft’s subscription numbers or not.  The only other MMO released to date on its scale with the in-depth background story, rabid fan base, and Triple-A pedigree is Star Wars: The Old Republic. I think most would agree that didn’t exactly turn out as planned. After launching with a player-base of 2 million subs, the game quickly lost ground. Players reached max level, had little to do, and began unsubscribing.

For those of you saying the Elder Scrolls doesn’t have the same sized fan base as Star Wars – just hold your horses! Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Star Wars fan. So is my dad who just turned 58 years old.  The original Star Wars trilogy came out when he was in his early 20s. Now you may be asking yourself, “Keihndeth, what does that have to do with anything?”  The fact of the matter is a large portion of the Star Wars fans are not gamers. My dad can barely work a keyboard and mouse. The man still panics when his screensaver pops up for heaven’s sake. The last time he played a video game with me was Madden 94’ if memory serves.  Without any statistics to back me up, I would fashion a guess that the Elder Scrolls series has just as many gamers, if not more, than Star Wars. The entire franchise is built around gaming.




Now let’s look at the Elder Scrolls series. It all started with The Elder Scrolls: Arena, released in 1994. This year will be the 20th anniversary of the series.  What other game was released in 1994? Warcraft: Orcs & Humans – the very first game of the Warcraft series.  While this may seem like just a coincidence, I implore you to consider the fact that none of these other games outside TESO and WoW gives us the familiarity of characters, lore and story backdrop. The only thing even close is SWTOR. Its lineage to single player RPG Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), which came out in 2003, is half the lifespan of the Elder Scrolls and Warcraft.  Most of these other MMOs are a completely new universe to us, including upcoming WildStar, which many consider to be a bigger threat to unseat WoW.

To further illustrate my point, let’s look at some numbers. When World of Warcraft launched in November 2004 it is estimated that the first month of subscribers reached roughly 400k. In February 2005 the game launched across Europe and by May of 2005 the game reached the 2 million subscriber mark. The game launched in China in June 2005 (source). A year after release subscriptions were at 4.5 million worldwide. The height of WoW was during its Wrath of the Lich King (WotLK) expansion, reaching a peak of just over 12 million subscribers during the winter of 2010 (source).

Blizzard announced on February 6th that the subscription total for World of Warcraft had rebounded by 200k this quarter, up to 7.8 million. Since the launch of World of Warcraft in China, just over half of the total subscriber numbers have been in Asia.  So we’re looking at a figure of current users throughout North America, South America, and Europe totaling somewhere in the ballpark of 3.2-3.9 million.



One of the things rarely mentioned about TESO is the fact it is going to appeal to a much larger audience than WoW for one big reason; consoles. While I consider myself a member of the “PC Master Race” Club, I must concede the fact that most gamers are console users. In fact, approximately 86% of all sales generated from Skyrim were either purchased for Xbox 360 (59%) or PS3 (27%). Only a mere 14% of total sales were on PC (source).  So of the 20.27 million total Skyrim units sold (not including used copies), that means only roughly 2.8 million of those sales were for PC. Even if we say only 1-in-5 people buy Elder Scrolls Online that bought Skyrim (which I would consider a low estimate), you’re looking at a 4 million subscriber base across all platforms. Keep in mind ESO is only initially launching in Europe and North America, and even that number would be higher than the current total for World of Warcraft in the West, which includes; Oceania (Australia/New Zealand), South America (Brazil), North America, and Europe. Should ZeniMax feel curious enough to venture into the Asian market, Activision Blizzard and its shareholders will definitely take notice.

With the launch of Elder Scrolls Online less than 2 months away, the game is in perfect position to take subscribers away from an aging World of Warcraft at the end of an expansion. Perhaps that’s why Blizzard is releasing Diablo III: Reaper of Souls a week before Elder Scrolls Online to help stem some of the bleeding.

What does this mean? It means that not only does Elder Scrolls Online have the potential to surpass World of Warcraft as the biggest MMO in the West, for the first time in the history of the genre there may be more people playing an MMO on console than on PC.  We may be witnessing the dawning of the Third Era of MMOs, and with it a new emperor.

Elder Scrolls Online Guide - Killer Guides
  • Ardis

    You said "After launching with a player-base of 2 million subs, the game quickly lost ground. Players reached max level, had little to do, and began unsubscribing."

    This is exactly what happened to me in SWTOR. I loved leveling it was a blast but I had nothing to do at max level. Bored out of my mind and frustrated, I unsubscribed….I have played so many failed mmos. So many. What makes you think ESO can bring the end game? Especially a game that is built off of a single-player franchise? I will probably play the game but outside of PvP I don't know much about it I really don't.

  • Ardis

    Some good comments here…I can't recall how many MMOs I have played in the past 6 yrs that have failed. After a month or so it starts slowin down, I hit max level run out of stuff to do and unsub. You are right Blizz showed us all what the genre can do and now I think we almost expect too much from our mmos, but none of them can deliver the kind of content at release that WoW has amassed in 10 yrs. Here is another thing, I would love to play WoW but all that content this late in the game turns me off. I dont know but I just couldnt get into it now, I should have stuck with it during vanilla

  • last son of Odin

    I hope that the PC players will not be forgotten or let down in the wake of so many consol players. If anything Zenimax should reward PC players with a richer gaming experience somehow.

    Read more on TESO Elite: http://www.tesoelite.com/2014/02/teso-emperor-mmos/#ixzz2uJRDACSL

    well that’s bull shit because you play on a pc now you are better than consol players and therefor deserve better gaming experience, What the HELL MAN , I love Xbox and I Will always love Xbox not everyone is a pc fan when it comes to gaming, if anything its time they made a server where Xbox,, Ps4 and pc can meet then we will see who can sit on top of the hill

  • gizmo

    I don't think ZoS planned on dethroning WoW and even if this game will be a big hit, it won't dethrone it. WoW has its user base, friends have friends in WoW and it's hard to steal from that particular user base. ESO is also a pretty different game so all in all, in my book, it's all about apples and oranges

  • Chris

    I'm almost tempred to activate my subscription to WoW and troll trade and general chat channels to get people to play ESO, but then again do I really want some people who play WoW to play ESO? Meh

    Great article, I would not be suprised if Zenimax did research on the history and trends of MMOs to come up wih a winning formula. There's a lot at stake here. No one wants a SWTOR repeat so lessons learned on now move on. Bethesda should have a vested interest too because this does represent the Elder Scrolls franchise.

    I hope that the PC players will not be forgotten or let down in the wake of so many consol players. If anything Zenimax should reward PC players with a richer gaming experience somehow.

  • Hexipox

    I agree with much of what you say here, you have good points, relevant points and a really good article! But I will argue that you need to look at a lot more than this.

    Wow was launched in 2004, that’s 10 years ago, time has changed the MMO business quite a bit, also us as players, we have changed our behavior, what you refer to in marketing as consumer behavior. I was a hardcore EQ player and I didn’t believe that any game could be as good. But then along came Wow and it was better, but how much did it have to improve to be a better competitor? I mean any game that failed (AoC, WAR, SWTOR .. the list is long) had ten times as much to offer than EQ had, any of those titles would probably have done exactly the same as Wow, beat EQ easily. But they were not launched in that era…

    Now is another era, and to be honest it’s hard to make a game that offers so much more than wow, especially when it comes to content. But it’s easy to make a game with new standard, new ideas, a new feel. ESO has a lot of these elements, many of which you can see EQNext is also devoted to use.

    Weather a game can tip Wow off the throne, or just throw it off balance is really irrelevant (my opinion), you can easily make a good game that is a niche product. Why so many care if the product is the next wow, I really don’t get. Thing is, back in 2004 we all wanted one thing, today we want 10.000 different things – largely due to the fact that the consumer group in 2004 was only about 500k people, the genius thing Blizzard did; was to appeal to the mainstream gamer – games were not as good, it was not as hard to impress people, we didn’t grow bored of MMO like we do now.

    Have you guys stopped up and wondered “Is there such a thing called; the loyal player anymore?” Don’t we just play games like we watch TV? When we watched Game of Thrones season 3 we don’t just watch it over and over until they give us more content, as in a season 4 – No, we find another series to entertain us until more content is available. When a series/TV show/movie do not succeed in catching us in, we swap channel, change disc, stream something else. MMO’s are entertainment after all, and we as consumers do not do or behave as we did 10 years ago. But we as people are strongly devoted to our habits, and Wow (in my opinion) is only surviving on people with habits, they hardly drawing new people into the game. So until people change their habits wow will probably remain atop the mountain.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, time can only tell what we predict, and your prediction is as good as mine. I think you have some solid arguments and facts – especially your console theory – but you've asked the question "TESO: Empror of MMO?" i added anothe perspective to this question.


  • last son of Odin

    Bravo !!!!!!! good conviction, down with the over rated WOW and I love the fact that people are seeing it but not believing it , blizzard had its time on the top and it had a good run (somebody just dart that dam Panda please!!!!!) what were they thinking. It’s great that Wow will now be tip toeing around they went for the money and not the gaming, even if it’s not ESO, under they will crumble unless they reboot the whole game, once again mate Bravo Bravo!!!!!