When ZeniMax Online Studios was first founded, it licensed the HeroEngine that was utilized by BioWare for Star Wars: The Old Republic. However, the final version of ZeniMax's Elder Scrolls Online will use brand new tech instead of the HeroEngine. This unnamed engine will come with several advantages.
Game director Matt Firor explained to GI that the studio used HeroEngine for the early stages of development. This third-party engine enabled them prototype certain aspects of the game. At the same time, though, they started work on a new engine specifically for Elder Scrolls Online.
"Think of HeroEngine as a whiteboard for us – a great tool to get some ideas in the game and start looking at them while the production engine was in development," Firor said.
ZeniMax wanted an engine tailored to ESO in order to make the game "tighter and more stable." It also gives them greater control over the features included in the game. While Firor didn't divulge many details, he did hint at "advanced social features." He also said that ESO will be designed to run on a variety of systems.
"Our plan is to have ESO run on just about any PC or Mac – laptops included – that have been bought in the last five years. Of course the better your computer’s graphics capability, the better the game looks, but we want to be sure that just about anyone can play the game and have a great time exploring Tamriel."
Lenient system requirements tend to translate into stronger sales for PC games. The computer-melting graphics of the first Crysis received a lot of admiring glances but few people had rigs powerful enough to run the game. The result was a well-reviewed shooter that sold pretty poorly. It's no surprise that Crytek made scalability a high priority for the next iteration of CryEngine.
Blizzard is another good example of the important of scalable games. They're one of the few studios out there that makes a killing by developing core games exclusively for the PC. The thing that their games all have in common is that you can pretty much run them on a toaster. They don't whittle down their potential customer base with stringent system requirements.
Obviously system requirements aren't the only reason a game succeeds or fails, though. It's cool that Elder Scrolls Online will run on most computers but ZeniMax will need to convince players that their MMO offers them something new and fun. Expect to hear a lot more about the game as we approach its 2013 launch date.