Video Games Interview: Rich Lambert Talks The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind, MMO’s and Microtransactions

The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind is the newest chapter in the content-driven MMO franchise, and adds new depth and story to the ever-growing Elder Scrolls universe. Revisiting the beloved world of Morrowind will be both familiar and new to Elder Scrolls fans, and provides new and beautiful cities for players to explore. Given the legacy of the Morrowind name, there was a certain pressure on the development of the expansion, as we discussed with Rich Lambert, creative director at ZeniMax Online Studios. Throughout our interview, we chatted about the upcoming launch of TESO: Morrowind, the pressure of expectation, and the rewarding process of games development.

The Iris: The months leading up to the release of the newest Morrowind chapter must have been absolutely hectic for you and your team. Is it a relief to finally see people getting their hands on it and getting to play it?

Rich Lambert: It is, it’s really awesome. Today had been long, and stressful at times, but also just seeing everyone get in and play and comment on how awesome the content is, and how much they love the Battlegrounds… and all that, it’s been awesome. Well worth the effort.

I’m so excited to play it. I haven’t had a chance yet, but very soon. It’s going to be awesome. The Elder Scrolls Online has only grown since it first launched, and it has around 8.5 million users currently. Has the continued success of the game surprised you in any way?

No. I mean, I don’t want that to sound cocky but the Elder Scrolls franchise is massive. Everybody knows Elder Scrolls, everybody understands what it is and what it means, and so there is a very strong core fan base for Elder Scrolls. Do they know they want to play Elder Scrolls Online? Some don’t. A lot do, a lot have. We have millions, so no, it’s not surprising that the game is doing well, but it wasn’t easy. We had to put a lot of work into it. Our PC launch, as a lot of people know, probably wasn’t the best. The team really had to work hard to turn that around, and we kind of got our second chance with the console launch. That really elevated the game, and it’s just become better and better since.

You mentioned that some of the fans of the Elder Scrolls series are potentially a little bit cautious about trying The Elder Scrolls Online. I feel that part of that may have to do with payments like microtransactions. There’s reluctance on the part of gamers to take part and accept microtransactions in gaming, but I feel like that also comes from a place of misinformation. I think people don’t understand how important it is to keeps games developers floating. For those people who are still cautious about testing those waters, what advice would you give them. What would you say to convince them of the merits of microtransactions?

Like you said, we have to keep the lights on. It’s not cheap to keep the game up and running. That being said, all of our monetisation in game is cosmetic and convenience only. The mantra that we continually recite inside the studio is ‘do no harm’. Anything we put in the crown store can’t provide players power, can’t break the balance of the game. We have done an exceptionally good job of keeping to that mantra. That’s what I would say to those kinds of players – you don’t have to participate in it if you don’t want to. You’re not locked behind anything, there’s no velvet rope for those players that want to pay or purchase premium or microtransactions. So, give it a try.

To say that the Elder Scrolls series has a particularly passionate fanbase would I think, be a bit of an understatement. The original Morrowind game in particular has massive fan following. In exploring a world that is so loved by those Elder Scrolls fans, was there a pressure to meet the expectations of those fans?

Absolutely. I won’t lie, and say that I was kind of scared shitless when we decided to go this route because it is such an iconic and storied game. It’s probably the most iconic. I think more players have played Skyrim than they have Morrowind, but there’s more of a cult following for Morrowind. There was a lot of pressure. More so from ourselves than anybody else because we wanted to make sure we were doing Morrowind justice.

For those who might be experiencing the Elder Scrolls universe for the first time with the Morrowind expansion, do you have any particular advice?

Just play at your own pace. Wander the world, explore, talk to all the NPCs. You don’t need to understand any Morrowind lore or any Elder Scrolls lore in order to get into Morrowind and just play it. The team has done a lot to explain why The Tribunal was so important, why Vivec is so important, all those kinds of things. You can just get in and play. It’s a cool story. If you know what Morrowind is or you’ve been there 15 years ago, then you’ll be really excited because all those places are pretty familiar.

What I loved most when I first played The Elder Scrolls Online was how quest-based and familiar the game felt. I think often MMOs can become quite problematic in terms of having a concentration on world building and characters, rather than plot, and plot doesn’t seem to be as important in some MMOS. I feel that with The Elder Scrolls Online, [the team] really tied all of those elements together, and the campaign itself is so deep. It goes alongside great characters and extensive customisation, as well as the world building. Was it a conscious decision to focus on building plot-driven stories within that MMO setting?

Absolutely. That is the core experience for the Elder Scrolls, that really strong storytelling. We knew that if we didn’t hit that right, then the Elder Scrolls fan wasn’t going to play. They weren’t going to accept it as an Elder Scrolls game. There were other aspects to Elder Scrolls as well, but storytelling is a huge part.

As a fan of the game, I’m consistently impressed by the continuous rollout of extensive DLC chapters and additions to the base game. Obviously, Morrowind is the newest chapter, but is there still more on the horizon?

Yep. I’ll just say ‘yep’.

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Our thanks to Rich for taking the time to chat with us! The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind releases June 6 on Playstation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC. For the latest news and updates, follow us on Twitter or Facebook!