Interview

Elder Scrolls Online devs reveal how it bucks Bethesda's Xbox exclusivity

How does the ZeniMax acquisition affect the popular MMO?

Elder Scrolls Online developers say fans don’t have to worry about the massively multiplayer online game going Xbox exclusive anytime soon.

The launch of the next-gen upgrade, called Console Enhanced, on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X is evidence of that.

At E3 2021, Microsoft confirmed that Bethesda Game Studios’ Starfield and Arkane Studios’ Redfall will be Xbox Series X exclusives. Starting in 2022, we should expect that to be the new standard for most games from parent company ZeniMax Media — but not Elder Scrolls Online.

Creative Director Richard Lambert believes that Elder Scrolls Online remains in a unique position where that may never change.

“Phil [Spencer, Head of Xbox] was adamant about how we are going to honor all of our commitments, and Elder Scrolls Online is on many platforms,” Lambert tells Inverse. “Elder Scrolls Online is all about the community, and we have very strong communities on all of those platforms.”

Lambert admits it’s still a bit too early in the acquisition process for those discussions to have really taken shape, especially as Elder Scrolls Online is also on Mac, PlayStation 4, Google Stadia, and soon PS5. In fact, Elder Scrolls Online: Console Enhanced even has PS5-exclusive Activity Card features you can’t utilize on Xbox.

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For now, Lambert appears happy that Microsoft is still looking to support Elder Scrolls Online across various platforms.

“We’ve sat down with the teams, and we're in that feeling out process right now,” he says. “But they understand what we're all about and how we are extremely successful. They’re letting us do our own thing, which is great. It's really nice to have a partner like that where they want to learn and work with us on keeping Elder Scrolls Online running at the level it’s running at right now.”

You shouldn’t worry about hopping into the game for the first time on PS5, even with Xbox exclusives like Starfield and Redfall on the horizon. A lot of effort went into enhancing this seven-year-old MMO for next-gen consoles. In an E3 2021 interview, Inverse discussed the next-gen development process, state of last-gen versions, and potential for crossplay with Lambert and Producer Eric Buhlman.

How long have the next-gen versions of Elder Scrolls Online been in the works?

Eric Buhlman: As soon as we heard about the next-gen consoles, everybody in the studio was super excited, especially at the possibilities of bringing basically PC-level performance to our console community. It's kind of hard to nail down the exact timing as we have various specialized teams jumping on the project at different times, but safe to say that we've been working on the project for quite some time, pretty deep into it for over a year.

How did you use the PC version of the game as a base when building the next-gen ports?

Buhlman: There are a lot of shared aspects across different platforms, but this was certainly an upgrade from last-gen straight to next-gen.

Rich Lambert: The really interesting part about being on multiple platforms is the build process and how we go about putting all the assets together. The art team goes and authors assets, and then we have to build pipelines that basically export assets into pack files that work on each of the platforms. With next-gen, we were able to take a lot of the base assets without any major changes and put them on next-gen.

In performance mode, the game will run at 60 FPS. Fidelity Mode supports 4K at 30 FPS on Xbox Series X and PS5 and 1440p at 30 FPS on Xbox Series S.ZeniMax Online Studios

What made the porting process to both Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S unique?

Buhlman: They are different pieces of hardware, so there’s definitely some extra work involved as far as timing, testing, and making sure that we had the graphics settings really dialed in. Overall though, that development for Xbox Series S was very similar to it for the Xbox series X. We worked closely with Microsoft to ensure we were getting that balance just right there.

We're really happy with what we came up with. I think it's important to note too that the Series S is a next-gen console, right? So whichever piece of hardware that players get there, they're gonna get a premium next-gen Elder Scrolls online experience.

Does the PS5 version of Elder Scrolls: Console Enhanced have any unique features?

Buhlman: The main one that we're integrating for PS5 is their Activity Card system. It's nice to have our many questlines and different gameplay modes more accessible directly on the platform UI. It keeps them front and center, tracks progress, and has really tight integration with the PS5’s social features.

We didn’t add any help hints to the Activity Cards. That feature is super interesting for us. Right now, we’re 100 percent focused on launch, but that’s something we’re curious to see if there’s player demand for.

Now that the next-gen versions of the game are here, how long will you continue to support the PS4 and Xbox One versions?

Lambert: It's too early to tell on that. There are adoption rates that you have to look at and see kind of how many people are playing on each of the platforms, and so on. But we still support on the PC and have minimum specs that are really low. As long as the previous-gen hardware is still at that and meets that min spec, which it does. We will continue to support it for as long as people are people playing.

Elder Scrolls Online’s major update this fall is titled DeadlandsZeniMax Online Studios

Were there any enhancement ideas you had to pull back on because you have to support other platforms like last-gen consoles?

Lambert: We have that just with the base game in general. There’s always new tech, and our graphics team is always extremely hungry to implement cool new rendering features and things like that. But we have to make sure that anything we put in doesn’t change the game specs so much that people who previously played it can no longer play.

We have that with any new features as well because new features aren’t free. They cost more memory, more CPU cycle, and have more of a server impact. It’s definitely a constant struggle when adding to a live service game. It’s getting harder and harder to do that stuff the longer the game goes on.

We’re going on eight years old, and a lot of decisions we made back when we started working on the game in 2007 have made things challenging. We’ve spent a lot of time working out those kinks. We’re a lot smarter now than we were in 2007 and 2014, and that’s the fun of working on a live service game.

Will cross-play ever be added to Elder Scrolls Online?

Lambert: It’s a difficult problem to solve. When we first started working on the game, it was PC only, and a lot of assumptions were made then. The game is now seven years old, and there are unique communities and economies on each of the platforms.

There’s also first-party support you have to take into account. The social systems are very different between Sony, Microsoft, and even Stadia. Working through all of those challenges is a difficult thing to do and not something we currently have plans to do.

Elder Scrolls Online: Console Enhanced is available now for PS5 and Xbox Series X.

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