ZeniMax Online Studio’s President Matt Firor recalls the rocky launch of ESO [Elder Scrolls Online], and how ZeniMax Media CEO, Robert A. Altman, gave the development team a rare chance to course-correct.
IGN’s Ryan McCaffrey sat down with Firor to discuss Elder Scrolls Online in the latest episode of IGN Unfiltered, as well as Mythic’s shared history with Blizzard, ZeniMax Online’s second project, and more.
When asked if he knew Altman, who co-founded ZeniMax Media and served as Chairman and CEO until his passing this February, Firor said the video game titan was a friend and mentor who also defended ESO after its rocky launch, giving the team a chance to course-correct and become the critical and commercial success it is today.
“I think my favorite story of his is that… it’s no secret that ESO [Elder Scrolls Online] wasn’t super well regarded at launch. It had some… let’s just say ‘mixed reviews.’ It had some ’90s,’ it had some ‘not 90s,’ and it didn’t sell as well… it was going OK, but it wasn’t nearly what the projections were and, basically, Robert told everyone just to lay off and give us space… give ZOS [Zenimax Online Studios] space, and let us [concentrate] on fixing it. And then he told me, personally… literally the quote was… it was a one-on-one conversation… it was like, ‘It didn’t go the way you wanted. We understand. But you understand why it didn’t go the way you wanted, so fix it.'”
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“It was a very, very difficult time, as we were trying to wade through the noise of reviews, technical problems. Launching an MMO, it’s got the whole IT side of it… the problems to be solved. There was so much noise going on that we really needed some clear air to just concentrate on the game, and he gave us that. It was like, ‘It’s up to you. We want to hear a plan. Come back to me as soon as you can with a plan, and we’ll go from there.”
“How long have you been covering the game industry and have heard a story like that? It doesn’t go that way 999 times out of 1,000. At the stakes we were playing at, with the amount of money we had invested in the game. The strategy… the rulebook says ‘cut your money and run while you can.’ ‘Cut your losses.’ But he trusted us to do it, and he knew there was a good game there. He saw the numbers. He saw that there was a small group of people, but super hardcore, who played the game every day, and we showed that to him. He was like, ‘What’s your strategy?’ and we’re like, ‘we’re going to look at what that group of people does, and we’ll do more of that, and less of the other stuff.’ And that’s what we did, and we climbed out of the hole and now… ESO had its biggest year ever, last year… six years after launch.”
“He was a mentor. A friend. He was an amazing human being. Yes, I knew him pretty well. I’m sure many knew him better than I did but, yes, he was the rare person who commanded authority and respect without asking for it. It’s hard to explain if you didn’t work with him, but his instincts were right almost always… he was just a good dude. He was great. He was great for us, he was great for the industry.”
For more interviews with the best, brightest, most fascinating minds in the games industry, check out be sure to check out every episode of IGN Unfiltered, which includes talks with IO Interactive CEO Hakan Abrak, Master Chief co-creator Marcus Lehto, Valve’s Robin Walker & Chris Remo, Respawn’s Stig Asmussen, and many more.
Brian Barnett writes reviews, wiki guides, deals posts, features, and much more for IGN. You can get your fix of Brian’s antics on Twitter @Ribnax.