The Elder Scrolls Online dev says the 'metaverse' is sinking because it ignored 20 years of games doing the exact same thing: 'It's not new, and they should stop treating it like it's new'

The Elder Scrolls Online: Shadow Over Morrowind
(Image credit: ZeniMax Online Studios)

When the "metaverse" sales pitch did the rounds in 2022 and 2023, anyone who has been playing MMOs like The Elder Scrolls Online likely had the same thought: "Hold on, I can already do this in a game that lets me have legs."

It's not exactly been panning out, either. Meta has lost billions trying to make a virtual world you can live in, buy property in, and customise an avatar in, that sort of thing. You know, everything that the MMORPG has been providing for players for years. 

Even when virtual reality headsets arrived to make all those Ready Player One-style pipedreams come true, games like VR Chat actually delivered on the process of being baptised by a priest while Winnie the Pooh watches. Heck—I'd trust the powerful furries of Second Life to build me a digital home far more than Zuckerberg's research department. 

That's a sentiment (the MMO thing, not the furry thing) echoed by The Elder Scrolls Online's creative director Matt Firor in an interview with "[The metaverse] was last year's buzzword, right? This year it's all about AI and nobody's talking about the metaverse anymore … My earliest games were text-based, with no graphics at all, and they were very much virtual worlds where people got together, chatted, and had fun."

Frior, who rather sensibly believes that "virtual worlds" like the metaverse need to be backed up by communities (rather than speculative, ugly virtual property going for thousands of real dollars), says that the sales pitch of the metaverse really only worked in the sphere of big tech investments.

"I think the critical thing is that the metaverse talk from last year was very much a tech discussion, which is very big in Silicon Valley when you're looking for investment. But nobody will play a virtual world if there's nothing to do inside the virtual world, so it's really a content and systems discussion. The tech's been out there forever. Maybe AR goggles are new, but we've had the tech to display virtual worlds for decades now just on monitors, and that's where the magic is."

I had a taste of that in The Elder Scrolls Online earlier this month, when a few of the game's housing enthusiasts were kind enough to give me a tour—but MMO players have been carving out pixelated nooks and living full virtual lives for themselves for years. In FF14, there are straight-up night clubs that hire actual DJs to perform at them, with one even getting big enough to buy several billboards in the flesh-world to advertise it. Which was, ah, a bad idea for several major reasons, but still.

It's a nail that's been hammered so often it feels redundant at this point, but Frior nonetheless hits it square on the head: "We've been doing [it] for 20 years. It's not new, and they should stop treating it like it's new and get input from people who have been doing this a while".

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.