It's time to face the facts: single player role-playing experiences without online functionality are a dying breed. Bethesda Softworks, the deliverers of the "Horse Armor" that started a DLC revolution, knows this better than most. After all, they're one of the few companies still producing successful standalone single-player RPG titles, i.e. Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. Over the past year though, evidence has leaked showing that Bethesda is preparing for a shift in paradigm... an MMO is in development.
Last night saw the surprise announcement of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim at the Spike TV Video Game Awards. Perhaps the greatest surprise went unrealized by most: Skyrim's release date is set for late 2011, the same time-frame Bethesda's MMO was thought to be scheduled for.The following information comes from a court case, Bethesda v. Interplay, where the topic of discussion is Interplay's work on a Fallout MMO. Bethesda is presenting their case, describing their experience developing an MMO:
"Based on our own experience in the MMO field, you need more than a hundred people working on this to be in full scale development." ... "...we're not in the process of developing our own Fallout MMO right now. We're doing something else."
The intentionally vague testimony vague testimony continues, alluding to Bethesda's continued MMO development experience "experience", MMO budgets of "tens and tens millions of dollars" and an MMO development timetable of four years.
Without the full trial transcripts, including witness testimony, it would be presumptuous to assume an Elder Scrolls MMO was in development. The "experience" constantly made could have just as easily come from ZeniMax, Bethesda's parent company, or from a transplant team member's work at a different company. Can it be assumed Bethesda is experimenting with MMOs? Absolutely, but it'd be quite the leap to claim an Elder Scrolls MMO is in the works confidently.
That is exactly what VG247 did in January, earlier this year:
"You know the Bethesda MMO that popped up in those court filings earlier? The “secret” one with nearly 100 people working on it? It’s Elder Scrolls, we’re very reliably informed, and it was supposed to be revealed last year."
This confirmation is given further credence when ZeniMax puts up a job posting in October, asking for, "Professional experience developing content for MMOS." The posting is followed by this statement:
"ZeniMax Online Studios, a division of ZeniMax Media, is a premier developer and worldwide publisher of online games currently working on an unannounced Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) title from its headquarters in Hunt Valley, Maryland."
This at first is an exciting reveal, but keep in mind Skyrim's trailer was plastered with Bethesda's logo, with no mention of ZeniMax online Studios. Considering that ZeniMax's headquarters are located in the same place as Bethesda's, perhaps there's little difference.
After analysis, more questions arise than are answered, of course. ZeniMax is absolutely working on an MMO, there's no denying that. Could the sources from VG247 and others be in reference to a different ZeniMax MMO, rather than Bethesda and Elder Scrolls V? Are the projects one in the same? What are the chances that Elder Scrolls V will build a setting primed for an MMO sequel, a la WarCraft 3 to World of Warcraft?
One thing is very clear, the trailer for Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim leaves much to the imagination; no gameplay is shown, and the narrative reveals no details related to scope or design. The question remains: is Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim an MMO?