OXM SPEAKS TO THE FOUNDER AND HEAD OF ZENIMAX ONLINE STUDIOS ABOUT HIS CAREER, THE SUCCESS OF THE ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE AND HIS LOVE OF SOCCER
Creating an MMO or online-focused game is a massive task for game developers, and not for the fainthearted. While the initial development period can be as difficult as any other project, it’s the months after an online game’s launch where the real battle begins. a constant stream of improvements and additions are needed to hold the interest of its players, which is hard enough by itself, but even harder when you’re dealing with such a beloved and established franchise as the Elder Scrolls. but matt fire, with his 28 years of experience delivering entertaining and successful online fantasy games, and with the scars to prove it, makes it look easy. With The Elder Scrolls Online reaching its fifth birthday on Pc and fourth on Xbox One, and the imminent launch of the game’s latest chapter, Elsweyr, the game has gone from strength to strength over the years, and Firor has been its driving force.
Let’s begin at the beginning: how did you first get started in the games industry?
Wow, how long do we have? I’m almost as old as the PC game industry, not as old as the videogame industry, but for as long as there have been PC games, and the first game that I was paid to make was in 1986. I was young, but my high school hired me to do some educational reading games, so I did that. But it was really in college, in the late ’80s, that I got into it. At the time there were multiplayer role-playing games, but they were all dial-up on the modem, BBS-type systems, so however many phone lines you installed or got in your house was how many people could play the game. And my first games were for that. Then that led me to form a small hobby company with some friends, and that led to merging with another company, and that became Mythic Entertainment and we did Dark Age Of Camelot. Then I was in the bigger part of the industry.
What was the transition like from when you were working on Dark Age Of Camelot to then running ZeniMax Online Studios and The Elder Scrolls Online?
It’s interesting because Mythic was an entrepreneurial startup that just kind of grew. But I was there for the whole ride, so when I came to Bethesda and founded ZeniMax Online, I was very much parachuting into an established company, an established IP, and an established way to doing business. It made it easier to do the transition because all the rules were already set. With Mythic, we were learning as we went because we had never done it before. And obviously, I got the chance to work with The Elder Scrolls. Skyrim wasn’t even conceived of at that point. Oblivion had just launched when I started, so that was my context for what an Elder Scrolls game was.
So in terms of your current role, was it something you were selected for, or something you sought out?
I think it’s yes to both because Mythic was in the Washington DC area, Bethesda was [too] and there were not many games companies in the DC area. Bethesda was very much singleplayer, Mythic was very much multiplayer, so we knew each other. I knew Todd Howard and I’d been on panels with him and [at] places that he was. So they were really interested in what I brought because I had MMO experience, and they didn’t have that. They wanted someone with MMO, studio-building and fantasy experience, and I had that.
So how did that feel, coming on board and taking control of The Elder Scrolls Online?
Well, it was an interesting time because Fallout 3 was just shipping, and in many ways, I was the first external studio in [the] company, now there’s many. There’s id Software, MachineGames, and those guys, but ZeniMax Online was the first external studio and the first and only external studio to work with Elder Scrolls. So it was very much learning the relationship between Todd and me, but between ZOS and Bethesda Game Studios, we ended up working out a really good working relationship based on mutual trust. So we’ve really done a lot of good work maintaining a consistent narrative timeline because we’re adding to it at this point. We keep them in the loop, and believe me we ask them lots of questions and they ask us lots of questions: you know, to make sure that [what] we’re doing makes sense in the time that we’re doing it. You know, I got there 12 years ago, so it’s been a while, and in those early days I worked out of the office in Rockville – just to get the relationships down and come up with the concept of the game and make sure it all worked with the lore and everything.
What were the lessons you learned from the previous games that you brought to ESO?
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