Zenimax/Bethesda have announced that the Xbox One and Playstation 4 versions of The Elder Scrolls Online have been delayed six months. The reason given in a press release from Zenimax is because of challenges adapting the game to Microsoft and Sony’s online environments:

“We continue to work on the console versions of ESO, and game development has been progressing steadily, but we are still working to solve a series of unique problems specific to those platforms. Integrating our systems with each console manufacturer’s networks — which are both different from the PC/Mac system as well as different from each other — has been a challenging process. It has become clear that our planned June release of the console versions isn’t going to be possible. Though we have made great progress, we have concluded that we’ll need about six months to ensure we deliver the experience our fans expect and deserve.

We know that the news of an ESO console delay is as disappointing to many of you as it is to us. We want to do what we can to make it up to our fans who want to start playing now, so we have worked out the following arrangement with Sony and Microsoft:

Via a special offer, anyone who purchases and plays the PC/Mac version of The Elder Scrolls Online by the end of June will have the opportunity to transfer their character(s) to either console version when they are released. The offer will allow you to begin playing immediately on the PC/Mac, and then add the PS4 or Xbox One version and transfer the character(s) you have created and developed. And, you don’t have to pay full price for the game twice. For AUD $20 (About the same in $US – Ed), eligible PC and Mac players will have the option to add a full, digital version of ESO on either the PS4 or the Xbox One with your character transfer(s), and another 30 days of included game time“.

The idea that issues with the online console services has caused this big a delay is fairly credible for the Xbox, which has no significant MMO activity at this stage. The PS4, however, has several that are not only running smoothly but in some cases doing very well for themselves. That said, we’ve seen enough times in the past that we should never doubt the console giants’ ability to be difficult to work with, especially when it comes to the online space.

eso2Perhaps more plausible, however, is the possibility that ZeniMax Online simply feels that the game needs a little longer in the pot before they put it on the much less update-friendly consoles. I haven’t played enough ESO to warrant a full review, but what I will say is that while I’m enjoying it, a lot of the criticisms re: bugs and the online economy are justified. There’s a lot to like, too – a lot of the quests are a cut above the usual MMO fare in terms of writing and complexity, and the Elder Scrolls ‘rank up by doing’ skill progression system feels ideal for an MMO – but it has the feel of a game still trying to settle in its own skin and, most of all, find a way of sustaining itself that will secure it a willing player base.

It’s a common birthing problem for MMOs, only on a grand scale in ESO‘s case. I that way, it feels most reminiscent of Bioware/EA’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, a game that was also plagued with content issues and turned a great many people off by trying to replicate World of Warcraft‘s ‘full price game plus monthly subscription’ model. TOR survived and eventually thrived by eventually adopting a free-to-play model and has evolved into a genuinely strong game, but it was clear that EA tried to keep up pay-to-play as long as possible, presumably to cover its huge production cost.

eso3ZeniMax are in the same boat, meaning that while F2P is an inevitability it will be a while coming – at least long enough to try and make the console versions thrive.The transfer option is certainly good news, though the game’s success on consoles is far from assured. Again, this seems more likely on the PS4 than on the Xbox One, but there’s no reason to say that it can work. DC Universe Online and Warframe on the PS4 are perhaps the strongest indications yet that an MMO will eventually hit big on consoles: it’s just a question of who stumbles upon the magic formula. ESO has a ton of potential, both as a game in its own right and as a potential crossover title for console-bound MMO beginners, but right now ZeniMax need to make sure the PC ship is sailing straight. They’ll need to if they now expect to launch ESO in the Christmas launch window.