Bethesda’s Todd Howard has made no secret of the fact he wants Starfield to be the next Skyrim. I’d wager he’s uttered the words “forever game” more often than he’s seen his kids over the past few months. I don’t actually know if he has kids, but if he doesn’t then that previous sentence is definitely true. All I’m saying, in an exaggerated manner for comic effect, is that Bethesda really wants this to be a hit.

The problem is, I don’t think you can plan for a game to become the next Skyrim. Skyrim was fun, but its longevity is entirely due to its community, rather than any developer intent. It had a few meagre pieces of DLC, a couple of beefy expansions, and a thousand ports to Nintendo Switches and Samsung fridges, but people still play it because of its roleplaying systems open for imagination and the plethora of mods.

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Bethesda should take Starfield in a different direction. You can’t rely on dedicated fans to make a decade of endlessly replayable content for you. You need to take matters into your own hands. And the best place for Bethesda to do that is its planets.

starfield character exploring a planet
via Bethesda

The marketing for Starfield has leaned heavily into the fact there are 1,000 planets in the game, for you to peruse at your leisure. Except, if you read the fine print, only 100 planets have anything on them. A measly ten percent. Personally, I would have preferred Bethesda to only add planets that it had the resources to fill, but some people want that No Man’s Sky-style exploration where the lonely nothingness of space envelopes them like a cold, zero-gravity hug. Bethesda is catering to both kinds of player, and I get that. But I have a much better plan for those 900 empty planets.

The plan, as you may have guessed from the headline, is to fill these planets with DLC. If Bethesda wants a forever game, filling a new solar system with characters, quests, and civilisations every year is the perfect way to do that. I’d love some sentient alien life while it’s at it, but that might be a stretch too far in an annual release schedule. A new storyline taking place in a single system, though? That’s how to get your players to return to the game year after year.

Let’s say the average solar system in Starfield has the same number of planets as our own, eight. Sorry, Pluto. That gives Bethesda 112 years of new content, provided it adds interest to one system every year. Switch to a biannual schedule and you’ve got 224 years of gaming. It may not be forever, but it’s better longevity than any game made to date, bar chess.

Starfield Skyrim

Would a system’s worth of updates be enough to keep players interested? Likely not. We live in a world where DLC is massive, full games in their own right. Just look at Phantom Liberty, the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 DLC that looks to change the very fundamentals of an admittedly broken game. Bethesda wouldn’t reimagine the gunplay every year, but it might add a new assault rifle or spacesuit. We risk getting into a full live-service title here, with battle passes, microtransactions and all the rest, but there are manageable and less predatory ways to keep players in your perpetually-updating game than following the EA and Blizzard route.

If Bethesda truly wants Starfield to be a “forever game”, it needs to put in as much effort as its hardcore players do. The quality of Skyrim mods never fails to amaze me – the fact that TheGamer’s Game of the Year for 2021 started life as a Skyrim mod is frankly mind boggling – and it’s thanks to players this committed that Skyrim has enjoyed the success it has. Oblivion and Morrowind were both better games in my opinion, but Skyrim succeeded because it captured the imagination of fans across the globe. Starfield needs to do that on a galaxy-wide scale, and Bethesda can only achieve that by putting in at least as much effort into keeping the game alive as its fans will. Fill those systems up, year by year, and you might just have another Skyrim on your hands, Todd.

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