The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a role-playing video game (RPG) released by Bethesda Softworks November 11th 2011 on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (Metacritic, 2011). This is the next chapter in the Elder Scrolls saga, which is characterized with the openness of its virtual world and gamer’s freedom to explore. Moreover, the game engine delivers a stunning and naturalistic graphics, while the gamer is not constraint in terms of character progression (Metacritic, 2011). Skyrim received numerous ‘Game of the Year’ awards and sold over twenty million copies, becoming one of the best-selling games of all time (Finster, 2014). The purpose of this report is to map the Skyrim’s product life cycle. It will provide a comprehensive examination of various social factors such as, organizational structure, marketing, technological developments, political changes and video game co-creation, and illustrate how they affected society’s taste and subsequently Skyrim’s success.
Notably, a number of factors determined Skyrim’s development in terms of its creativity and innovation, timing and game’s introduction to the marketplace. In the video game industry production is project-based around short-term activities, which is characterized by deadlines and production specifications set against artistic and financial goals (Christopherson, 2004). Consequently, during the development of Fallout 3, which was released in 2008, Bethesda already started planning the Skyrim game (Howard, 2008). This was done in order to secure the next project – Skyrim, the work on which fully began after the release of Fallout 3 (Howard, 2008). Therefore, the developers guaranteed themselves a job, which also explains the timing of Skyrim’s release.
Skyrim was developed by a small team of 100 people (Howard, 2008). Therefore, being a medium sized enterprise, Bethesda has high-level managers working closely with the team and working styles are less formal (Huebsch, n.d.). This is a beneficial practice because the video game industry, as a part of knowledge economy, relies on workers’ creativity and innovation (Drucker, 1993; Florida and Goodnight, 2005). It is widely held that creativity cannot be leveraged for commercial exploitation in traditional hierarchic structures (Champion & Hotho, 2011). Consequently, despite the commercial pressures, Bethesda could exercise a bigger extend of creativity (Champion & Hotho, 2011). This notion subsequently pushed to use Bethesda’s IP (the Elder Scrolls series) and create value through explorative innovation. For example, the setting was changed from traditional medieval fantasy locations to a stern Nordic environment with dragons, while the game allows unrestricted character development and further technological developments took place (VanOrd, 2011).
Finally, Bethesda Softworks is Skyrim’s publisher, while the game was developed by in-house Bethesda Game Studios (Mackey, 2014). The two companies have a very close relationship as both the developer and publisher have offices in the same building and their higher-executives have been working together for 13 years (Takahashi, 2012). Therefore, Skyrim did not follow Hirsch model of creative product promotion, where the product is initially developed and only afterwards picked by producers and market gatekeepers, who act as judges of talent, sponsors and distributors (Hirsch, 1972; Caves, 2000). The developers have been constantly consulting with the publisher, while their close relationship allowed exploring a greater extend of creativity and push boundaries to produce a better and more innovative product without funding sacrifices.
After Skyrim’s launch in November the game has entered a growth stage of its life cycle, which is characterized with sales and revenue rise (Hutchinson, 2014). In order to stimulate growth Bethesda Softworks has created ‘buzz’ to promote Skyrim, form audience and increase consumption. ‘Buzz’ refers to the power of rumours and recommendations, which circulate through cultural intermediary networks (Scott, 2012). In order to construct ‘buzz’, Bethesda has implemented its social and symbolic capitals. Bourdieu (1984) refers to symbolic capital as an amount of accumulated prestige and reputation, which is founded on competence and respectability. For instance, Bethesda Softworks is an author of such well-known games as The Elder Scrolls series, Fallout 3 and Dishonored, making it one of the leading studios in development of RPG’s along with Bioware (Mackey, 2014). As a result, the potential audiences were more likely to purchase the game believing in its inherent quality.
Social capital is known as social contacts and networks between the producer and actors that can provide recognition to the product (Scott, 2012). For instance, Bethesda pre-released the game to the critics (Metacritic, n.d.). Critics often have significant impact on demand and society’s views as the consumer has no other source of independent information about the product (Caves, 2000). Subsequently, excellent critic reviews led to the society having a very favourable perception of the game, which encouraged increased consumption (Metacritic, n.d.).
What is more, Bethesda has used networking to facilitate dialogue between game developers, publisher and AKQA digital studio in order to construct and implement a marketing strategy to promote Skyrim (Takahashi, 2012). Their effort resulted in a restrained marketing campaign, where only three trailers were released in the first the months of marketing campaign, unlike the ordinary approach of media outlets saturation. This led to increased fan anticipation, excitement and rumours. For instance, Hacker group LulzSec even tried to blackmail the company into releasing more data (Takahashi, 2012).
Additionally, it is widely held that fantasy-oriented video games and RPG in particular do not appeal to mass markets (Takahashi, 2012). Consequently, the marketing campaign focused to offset these issues by portraying the similarities with popular blockbuster games with their heavy realism and cinematic drama, tapping into ‘emotional core’ of the game (Takahashi, 2012). As a result, Skyrim’s advertisement had a larger focus on mood, emphasizing its heroic nature and yet the dark, realistic tone of the narrative, unlike the traditional technique of selling game’s features and plot (Wagner, 2012). This was done in order to promote the product within broader audience and stimulate growth. However, according to the ‘nobody knows’ principle, this marketing campaign bore an intrinsic risk. Bethesda could not predict the consumers’ reaction and the value they would place in Skyrim based on its advertisement, as audiences have got used to experiencing other types of RPG marketing (Cave, 2000).
Furthermore, in 2011 the Supreme Court of The United States established a law, which banned sales of certain video games to minors (Kuchera, 2011). The court ruled that this violated the First Amendment right to free speech, which protects video games similarly to other types of media (Kuchera, 2011). This was a significant event for the entire video game industry, as the new law identifies video games as art and as “a creative, intellectual, emotional form of expression and engagement” (Schiesel, 2011, par. 1). Nevertheless, the purpose of lobbying was led by economic imperatives, as the video game industry “exists within a capitalist framework” in which profit is the primary goal (Nichols, 2010, p.3).
Consequently, it could be argued that this decision had an impact on Skyrim’s growth. For instance, Entertainment Software Rating Board has rated Skyrim ‘17+’, as the game contains intense violence, gore and sexual content (ESRB, 2011). Yet the new law allowed minors to purchase this game, when nearly a third of all video game players are less than 18 years old (ESA, 2014). In contrast, the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) rated Skyrim 18+, prohibiting minors purchasing the game in Europe, where strong mechanism are in place to reinforce PEGI (Pegi, 2011; Robertson, 2008). Such difference could explain the difference in sales between the two regions. For instance, in US, with a population approximately 300 million people, the game has sold about 8 million copies. In contrast, European sales estimate at 7 million copies, although Europe’s population is twice larger than US (VGCharts, n.d.; Worldometers, 2014).
Skyrim has quickly reached the maturity stage, with seven million copies sold in the first week of release (StatisticBrain, 2015). Technological trends provide a possible explanation in facilitating Skyrim’s rapid growth and sustaining it in a maturity stage. Acceleration of scientific and technological developments leads to a particular innovation imperative, as technology constantly creates new business opportunities (Champion & Hotho, 2011). As a digital game, Skyrim heavily relies on technology in order to deliver developers’ ambition and meet consumers demand. Therefore, technology has a capacity to enhance players’ experience, particularly in terms of the ‘narrative’, ‘interactivity’ and ‘immersion’ - concepts that define the videogame medium (Forcier, 2013).
For instance, Skyrim was developed using the Creation Engine, which allowed a number of graphical improvements (Francis, 2012). For example, Skyrim’s environment is very detailed, featuring beautiful landscapes and increasing render distances, which encourages exploration (Onyett, 2011). Skyrim visual quality suspends the sense of disbelief and aids to completely immerse with the game, as humans have “a universal desire to leap … into the pages of a favourite book” (Murray, 1997, p. 97). This means that people feel pleasure to be transported into elaborate fictional space, such as Skyrim. Moreover, Skyrim employs an advanced
Radiant Artificial Intelligence system, which enhances the world’s dynamics (The Elder Scrolls Wiki, n.d.). Radiant storytelling personalizes gamer’s experience in the game: not only it provides the ‘narrative’, but builds an immersive simulation around the player. For instance, if the player kills an NPC (non-player character), his family may find out and hire an assassin (The Elder Scrolls Wiki, n.d.). Consequently, this also enhances ‘interactivity’. Additionally, Radiant storytelling modifies the level of difficulty, making the quests more randomized (The Elder Scrolls Wiki, n.d.). Players of Skyrim can subsequently enter a ‘flow’ state, as it occurs between the boredom of a task that’s too easy and the frustration of a task that’s too difficult (Csikszentmiholyi, 2014). As a result, Skyrim players enter ‘flow’ and become completely submerged in an activity, providing the feeling of enjoyment and creativity. Thus, technology facilitated a production of a game, which excelled in terms of the ‘narrative’, ‘interactivity’ and ‘immersion’ and subsequently became more appealing to the society, facilitating growth and prolonging maturity.
In addition, in order to prolong Skyrim’s PLC Bethesda has released a number of additional downloadable content (DLC). These add-ons are meant to keep the Skyrim in the maturity stage as they add an extra element of ‘surprise’ (Hutter, 2011). As a video game Skyrim’s value does not depend on its physical characteristics but is generated when the game is ‘used’ (Hutter, 2011). The ‘surprise goods’ generate a desired uncertainty, which is associated with strong and positive players’ emotions. However, surprise experiences, like a video game, tend to fade in gamer’s memory and as a topic in social discourse, leading to being replaced by new products (Hutter, 2011). Therefore, Bethesda has developed three expansion add- ons over a period from August to December 2012 (The Elder Scrolls Wiki, n.d.). The Dawnguard and Dragonborn DLC particularly expand the narrative, adding additional quests and new territories to explore. Furthermore, the Hearthfire add-on allows the player to purchase land, build and design houses and even adopt children (The Elder Scrolls Wiki, n.d.). As they add new features to game, the players can experience additional surprise factors and continue playing.
Furthermore, Skyrim strongly relies on its modding community to prolong the maturity stage (Scarbrough, 2014). ‘‘Mod’’ is short for ‘‘modification’’ and refers to player-made digital artefacts, which alter and add new content to a pre-existing game (Sotamaa, 2010). The players are able to create new playable environments and items, which make the game meaningful again. What is more, self-made playgrounds do not only extend the game but also make it more customizable and personalized (Sotamaa, 2010). As a result, the ‘surprise’ element remains much longer in the game and players can experience new content, customize it or even contribute to the community themselves.
In addition, according to Postigo (2007) modders consider their activities as an artistic endeavour and a creative outlet, which is a motivating factor. Furthermore, modding allows players to identify with the game and increase their enjoyment it. Finally, modding is also used as a pathway into paid employment. The latter leads to the notion of co-creation, where consumers and producers participate together in the value creation (Prahalad, C. K., & Ramsway, V., 2009). There is a trend in knowledge based economics to employ the creative potential of consumers as the user can be considered an innovative resource and the key to unlocking new sources of competitive advantage (Humphreys, Fitzgerald, Banks & Suzor, 2005; Prahalad & Ramsway, 2009). Consequently, Bethesda has released The Creation Kit to facilitate the creation of new content. It also actively encourages the players to participate in modding, and have released many video tutorials on YouTube and enabled upload of Skyrim’s mods on Steam and Skyrim Nexus (The Elder Scrolls Wiki, n.d.). Bethesda’s actions lie on the idea that “creativity is also situated in localized and contingent systems of social interaction”, known as situated creativity (Potts et al, 2008). This means that the consumers do not merely engage in production but in innovation processes as well, where the patterned ‘wisdom of crowds’ potentially has large- scale significance (Potts et al, 2008). Subsequently, not only Bethesda has created an artistic outlet for fans, increasing their satisfaction, but established a resource to source ideas from and employ new talent.
In conclusion, a number of social factors have contributed to Skyrim's PLC. Organizational structure and project-based industry work has affected Skyrim’s development and timing, while the marketing campaign helped to attract wider audiences and has generated excitement and ‘buzz'. Furthermore, the new regulation stimulated sales and growth in the USA, while the trend for innovation enhanced Skyrim's visuals and gameplay, making it more appealing to new media audiences. Finally, the new content was released to prolong the maturity stage and co-reaction facilitated further gamers' involvement and generation of new content, which subsequently made the game more personalised for each gamer. Overall, Skyrim had a significant impact on the gaming industry and even changed society’s expectations about RPG, as noted by Mark Darrah, an executive producer at Bioware (Weber, 2014).
Although, even though Skyrim still remains one of the most playable games on Steam, it could be argued that Skyrim has entered a decline stage (Steam, 2015). Despite Skyrim’s huge success on the PC, the majority of the copies have been distributed for consoles (StatisticBrain, 2015). As a result, technology, which helped to attract new audiences and facilitate co-creation, will ultimately results in Skyrim’s withdrawal, as the new generation of consoles (Xbox One and PS4) was launched last year and Skyrim is not compatible with it (Plante, 2014). Furthermore, Skyrim’s competitors are preparing to release games on the new consoles to accommodate consumers demand for the new ‘surprise goods’ and technological advancements in graphics. For instance, the new Dragonage Inquisition is particularly aimed for post-Skyrim audiences, specifically in term of virtual world exploration (Weber, 2014). Also, Skyrim’s success as an RPG affected other niche games sales, such as the fantasy RPG the Witcher. For instance, the new Witcher 3 will also be released on the next generation consoles and subsequently is often prophesized to match Skyrim’s success (Robertson, 2015).