Elder Scrolls Online
ESO (or TESO for The Elder Scrolls Online) was going to be THE next big game for The Syndicate. We have massive numbers of members who love Skyrim.. Oblivion.. and all of the other, older games of the series. That universe has a big draw for Syndicate members so ESO was a strong candidate for a major Syndicate presence. In the end, we had a medium sized presence that was more casual than we thought it would be. ESO is a very visually strong game. It has good character development. It has a compelling story line. So, why did it miss its mark for us and for many other veteran gamers? Why was there a dramatic drop-off in players when the first free month was up? I am sure gamers will debate that for years but I think there are a couple of pieces to that puzzle that are symptomatic of the larger issue.
First, there is messaging. Prior to launch, most players had little, if any, idea of what the end game content would be other than PvP. Most players do not Pvp with any regularity so that was not of interest to them. The messaging around how large scale PvE end game content would occur (if at all) was missing prior to launch. There was a podcast done which The Syndicate participated in (see the Articles section of this site) were a number of other veteran guilds all gave thoughts about ESO before it launched. There is a theme running through their comments that none of them had a vision of where the game was going at the end game other than some PvP. Unfortunately, within a month of launch, those same groups had a massive decline of their active players for those same reasons.
Second is their adoption (or lack of adoption) of some basic social systems players expect. The player base has certain expectations and when developers ignore those and try to force new systems upon them, that often doesn't go well. In ESO there is probably no better example than the Auction House. The developers stated there would be no common auction house. Instead, you had to join trade guilds (which were capped at 500 toons) or you had to Pvp and conquer territory to open a house there or you could sell to your own guildmates. That is just a horrible system. Trade quickly evolved into shouting in chat to accomplish most of it. That method is highly frustrating and players core expectation of an auction house wasn't delivered on. When things that are viewed as "basic" game design are not there, players lose confidence in the overall development process and in the game. It cracks the foundation and lets other problems take on a stronger meaning.
ESO had the potential to be a juggernaut. It ended up not meeting that hope despite being a very visually strong game with lots of fun aspects to it. Another game that had that same exact issue was Neverwinter Nights Online. That preceeded ESO by some months. It wasn't as strong visually but it was a game with a large fan base who loved the Neverwinter series and that failed to deliver on core player expectations and ended up churning through players and ultimately being a mediocre success story rather than a resounding success.