Back in 2007 when game director Matt Firor started working on The Elder Scrolls Online, he didn’t just have to build a first class game in one of the costliest genres imaginable. He had to build a team, too, since ZeniMax Online didn’t yet exist as a studio.
“It feels like so long ago,” says Firor, when asked about the origins of his development house. “I’ve been in the industry a long time, and if you ask anyone about starting a project, they always have a list of the people they’d want to start that project with. I got to do that. I got to start as the first person on the project, and I had a list of people I knew in the industry who worked for many different companies, and I got a lot of the people that I wanted to work on my game.
"You start with that core group of people that you know, and then the next wave of people that you hire are people that they know. You always try in the early days to make sure there’s a personal relationship and that everyone knows what they’re working on.”
Intriguingly, the team Firor eventually put together is filled with veterans from MMOGs both successful and, well, less successful. Firor himself is a co-founder of Mythic Entertainment, where he produced Dark Age Of Camelot – a game with which The Elder Scrolls Online actually shares a fair amount of DNA. Paul Sage, meanwhile, is ZeniMax Online’s creative director, and he came off the back of Tabula Rasa, Richard Garriott’s overwhelmingly ambitious shooter-MMOG hybrid, which closed down in 2009 after a troubled two-year history.
Sage isn’t shy about talking about his past experiences – or how they’ve informed his current work. “When you switch your company or your game, you switch your focus,” he argues. “Tabula Rasa taught me a lot, just like Ultima Online taught me a lot before that. Did it make me conservative?”
He laughs. “Probably in the right places. Did it also encourage me to become more liberal in other areas? Yes, a bit of that too. Ultimately, you learn because you watch people’s reactions, and you learn what people like and what they don’t like.”
The Elder Scrolls Online stars on the cover of our next issue, E242, which goes on sale June 6 – and throughout the week we're taking an in-depth look at Zenimax Online's ambitious MMOG. We've already spoken to game director Matt Firor about his plans for the game, the return of public dungeons, discovered what makes a good quest and looked at the process of monster design – see our Elder Scrolls Online page for all our coverage in one place. If you still want more, PC Gamer's coverage is also well worth a look.