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Elder Scrolls Online Masters the Art of Keeping Veteran Players from Getting Too Far Ahead of New Players

Written by Jeremy Shane on Tuesday, December 30 2014 and posted in News with Benefits

Elder Scrolls Online Masters the Art of Keeping Veteran Players from Getting Too Far Ahead of New Players

There has always been a gap in MMOs where players can be hesitant to jump in when they feel there are already tons of players so far ahead. (Updated)

There have been no shortage of Woe is Me articles about the Elder Scrolls Online and its publisher Zenimax since before the game launched last April, now I suppose it is my turn.  It hurts me however, because I love this game.  This article can be dismissed as a massive fan-boy bitchfest, and in some ways I suppose it is.  I do write for a geek website afterall.  But writing here and covering various topics people are passionate about I've seen that blind support can do more damage than trolls or haters and when something you love is headed down the wrong path that it's important to speak up.  It's not just me however; some pretty major changes are on the way and many veteran players aren't happy. 

ESO is moving toward a bit of a relaunch, some are even calling it ESO 2.0.  Relaunch?  Yes, that's my own term, not Zenimax's, but it's a good explanation for the next major update coming early next year.  To date, Zenimax has made small changes in game balance every time something needs adjusting, but suddenly they see fit to completely overhaul the game.  The next patch, coming to test servers in January and possibly live in February, will introduce phase three of Champion System and phase one of the Justice System.  (I'm expecting a console announcement from Zenimax sometime in the first quarter of next year as well after this system settles into place.)

Phase three of the Champion System is the first time players really get a taste of that new system, as phases one and two were simply prep work that did little to change the day to day play in the game.  Phase three will give players Champion Points to spend in a new passive skill system reminiscent of Bad-Ass points from Borderlands or Paragon Levels from Diablo (for players familiar with those games).  Essentially it allows players to earn small advances in certain areas for years to come, giving end-game players something to achieve without new levels having to be constantly added to the game.  Phase three will also see a complete reworking of many skills as the whole attribute system gets overhauled, number values completely change, and some class skills are completely removed and replaced by new ones.  All of this is a pretty big change in a game that has been normally too cautious to make anything but the smallest tweaks when balancing gameplay. 

Phase one of the Justice System will ESO give players a bit of the familiar thievery-styled gameplay they had in previous Elder Scrolls games like Skyrim.  You'll be able to rob and even kill NPCs and have to deal with bounties on your head and guards chasing you.  Some players will have to find new ways to farm for items as some containers will require theft to loot now, though there will still be plenty of places to gather provisioning ingredients.  Zenimax has been hesitant so far to answer questions on how this will effect the gathering of other materials that usually come from homes and castles, simply saying little more they have it figured out.  This system will get more coverage after hands-on next year, so for now we'll focus on simply the information Zenimax has provided on the Champion System.

Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs) have always had a gap in the player base.  You have your die-hard players that are into the game, playing almost daily and leveling up to play the end-game content.  And you have your more casual players and new players that are often quite a bit behind.  This gap can look imposing to new players that are coming in and feeling as if they have to compete with those that have been playing for a year (or years in some MMOs).  Well, it seems that Zenimax has found a method for closing that gap:  releasing new content that constantly starts everyone on the same spot regardless of how much they've done.

We've seen this in tiny ways up to this point.  Things some players probably didn't even notice, or those that did were brushed off as simply complaining about a non-issue.  And they were almost non-issues taken individually, but as a whole seem to show a gameplan on the part of Zenimax, whether consciously or sub-consciously.  At one point they introduced the dye system to customize armor.  This was tied to achievements completed.  Unfortunately new achievements were added, simple ones that most veteran players would have already completed while leveling their character but when introduced after those players were done leveling put them in a position that left them harder to earn than a player naturally doing those things as they leveled up.  Another point new skills were introduced to a skill line called Undaunted.  Players earned these by either getting dungeon achievements or doing daily pledges for the Undaunted group.  Again, Veteran players had already cleared most of the achievements, leaving them with less options to level up that skill line and even months after release still haven't leveled it up compared to new players that were maxed out within two weeks.  One final example before moving on: the provisioning (food crafting) revamp that is coming with the next patch will also take those experienced provisioners and put them on the same footing as a newer player with having to find new recipes, finding out ingredients they've stocked up on aren't as useful anymore and needing to stock up on a whole new list of rare ingredients.  Issues like these, taken on their own are not game breaking or even a big deal to some and even typical of content roll-outs in MMOs. 

The Champion System however is a huge game-wide change and has the potential to affect a larger base of players.  Recently Zenimax announced that all veteran players will receive 30 champion points to spend in the new system.  If you are a veteran rank 1 player, you get the same amount of points as a player that has earned 13 million more experience at veteran rank 14.  Phase four of the system will see the removal of veteran ranks and all players will be the same level.  Many players assumed that more points would come at this stage, but Zenimax confirmed that no more points are to come.  Everyone starts with 30 points and earns new points the same way after the initial roll-out.

Well, that is not entirely true - they can't earn points the same way.  You see, a veteran rank 1 player still has 13 million xp worth of quests ahead of them, a veteran rank 14 player does not.  They still have options in leveling with PvP (not for everyone) or doing daily quests (though there are much less of these than quests overall and the majority of them are for group play).  A player that primarily quests or prefers solo play will find themselves falling behind quickly when new players start earning several new champion points for every million they clear in those uncompleted quests.  And the simple fact is that Zenimax does not release new content often enough to fill that void - in fact only one zone was released (in two parts) and two new dungeons since launch.

With every update it seems more obvious to me that Zenimax has found a solution to close that player gap - consistently put the players in the lead in a position to fall behind.  Don't get me wrong, I think the concept of being welcoming to new players is a good one, but when it makes your game come across as extremely unfair to a portion of your players I think you are asking for trouble.  Games are rarely fun when they stop being fair and that's the number one thing every game should be - fun.  Some have said this is a great move for the long term health of the game, but alienating some of your more dedicated player base is never a good move.  Especially when it ignores solutions somewhere in the middle that would (mostly) solve the issue and be fair to both sides.

The good news is that if you are a newer player, you'll have a chance to catch up and probably pass some veteran players in the new champion point system.  The bad news is that eventually, this same mentality on the part of Zenimax will catch up to you as well. 

UPDATE 1/9: Zenimax has listened to player(customer) complaints on the issue and altered the way the champion points will roll out when the system is implemented.  Whether you agree with all their decisions or not, they have a good job at responding to player feedback since the launch.

It’s normal in development to change how a system is going to be implemented from its original design. When we talk about designs early, we do so in order to get feedback and give you some insight to the direction we're taking. However, it's likely there may be changes along the way as we perform tests internally. Still, there is value in putting information out early.

Late last month, we announced changes to our original design for the Champion System, and provided a fairly thorough explanation as to why we decided to do this. Of specific concern was the conversion system of XP to Champion Points. What we had decided was if you had at least one Veteran Rank character, you would get a total of 30 Champion Points for your account. The Veteran Rank wouldn’t matter; all players with at least one Veteran character would get the same amount of Champion Points. We received a lot of feedback about these changes. Most of it centered around the concern that higher ranked Veteran characters were losing progress in the Champion System because they would have less opportunity to earn Champion Points, having already done a substantial amount of content.

Based off this feedback, we will be altering the conversion system with the following design:

  • Any Veteran Rank character that logs in after the system goes live will get 5 Champion Points added to the account for each full Veteran Rank that character has achieved.
    • Partial credit will be given for XP earned within a Veteran Rank. This is based on a fraction of the total XP contained within the level. One Veteran Rank is currently 1,000,000XP, so the conversion system will grant you one Champion Point for every 200,000XP within a Veteran Rank.
    • For example, if you are Veteran Rank 12 and have 800,000XP progress towards Veteran Rank 13, you will receive 59 Champion Points after the system goes live.
      • EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: Only the conversion system will use 200,000XP for one Champion Point the day the system goes live in Update 6. This is not what it will take to earn a Champion Point while playing normally once the Champion System is live.
    • It is possible that a Veteran Rank 1 character may not have earned 200,000XP into Veteran Rank 1. In this case, you will not receive a Champion Point after the system goes live.
  • Champion Points are shared across all characters as the system is account wide, but for the conversion of XP to Champion Points, no more than 70 Champion Points will be given to an account.
  • A VR14 character can receive up to 70 Champion Points depending on how much XP into VR14 they are, but 70 is the maximum the conversion system will give out for the account.
  • If you have multiple Veteran Rank characters, you will receive credit for each Veteran Rank upon logging into each character (provided the account has not reached 70 Champion Points given out in the conversion).
  • Only currently existing characters created before Update 6 goes live are eligible to use points from the conversion pool. You must have at least one Veteran Rank character in order to receive Champion Points from this conversion pool to your account.
  • The 70 Champion Points from the conversion pool will never get more points added to it - only subtracted. If there’s a situation where you don’t use up all 70 points once the system is live, they will never be used since this only applies to characters you have preceding Update 6.
    • For example, if you have just one fresh VR4 character in your account, you’ll receive 15 Champion Points from the conversion after you log in. You will never be able to use the remaining 55 Points since it only applies to pre-existing characters prior to Update 6.
We know this may be confusing at first glance so to make sure everyone understands, we’d like to provide a few additional examples:
  1. You have one full VR14 character and one VR6 character that hasn’t earned any XP when the system goes live. You log in with the VR14 first and are granted 70 Champion Points from the conversion. You log in later with your VR6, and are able to use 70 Champion Points due to them being account wide.
  2. You have just one VR5 character with 400,000XP toward the next Veteran Rank. When you log in, you are granted 22 Champion Points from the conversion. After you spend your points, you immediately create a new character. That character does not get any Champion Points from the conversion, but can use the 22 Champion Points from the account pool.
  3. Here’s a complicated one: You have one fresh VR14, one VR6 with 800,000XP toward the next Veteran Rank, one new VR3 character, and one level 25 character. You log in with the VR6 first and receive 29 Champion Points from the conversion. Then you log in with your VR3 and receive 10 Champion Points from the conversion; you now have 39 points in your account to use. You log in with your level 25 and don’t receive any new points from the conversion, but are able to use the 39 points from the account. Finally, you log in with your VR14 and are granted 31 additional Champion Points from the conversion, since you can only receive a total of 70 Champion Points from the conversion.
  4. You have one full VR14 character and one new VR4 character. You log in with your VR4 and receive 15 Champion Points. You begin to quest and play for a while, and receive 3 more Champion Points throughout your session. Later, you log in with your VR14. You receive 55 Points from the conversion, and are able to use 73 Champion Points – 70 from the total conversion, and 3 from the earlier play session. You play with this character for a while, and receive 2 more Champion Points from normal play. You now have 75 Champion Points in your account. Later, you start a new character; that character can use 75 Champion Points immediately.
Once again, we’d like to thank everyone for your feedback. We believe the system outlined above still meets our goals for the initial rollout of the Champion System while also addressing some of the more pressing concerns.


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