Has The Elder Scrolls Online's duping bug doomed its economy?

"Har har, wouldn't be an Elder Scrolsl game w/o a shit ton of bugs!!!!" Having put about 50 hours into The Elder Scrolls Online since it's launch two weeks ago, I've seen about 400 variations of that statement posted to the game's various chat channels. I get where they're coming from; Elder Scrolls is a series known for its bugs and arguably made better because of them (let's be honest: watching a dragon fly backwards is hilarious). Like any MMO--especially new MMOs--ESO has its fair share of problems. Most are typical, minor (and temporary!) annoyances: broken quest chains, interactable objects that can't be interacted with no matter how hard you mash on the interact button. But ESO also suffers from a different kind of bug, one that has done (seemingly) irreparable damage to the game's economy: item duping.

Why the strong language? Item duping makes pretty much everything about the game worse. The bug was active for at least two full weeks, meaning the game's economy is in shambles. Immediately and obviously, any mechanic ESO had in place to control inflation is right out, as an untold amount of gold has flooded into the market. But that's almost immaterial, considering any item that's even remotely rare or hard to come by organically has also flooded the market. Item and character progression are central to any MMO experience, and ESO's has overnight been decimated. No one's hurting for gold, and even if they were, there's no need to spend it when you have a near-infinite supply of anything you could ever want.

Now, I'm not going to tell you how to dupe items, gold, whatever--there are, oh, a dozen or more videos on YouTube that can detail the process for you, should you be interested in cheating. But here's something interesting: according to several posts on ESO's subreddit, the duping bug has been a known quantity since the game's launch. Some even claim the bug had been reported during the beta phases leading up to ESO's release.

The impact of this bug is also bleeding into other core game systems. For one, as a way to halt duping, Zenimax has disabled the guild bank functionality, a crucial component of the duping process. Unfortunately, it's also a crucial component to many guilds' well-being. See, entire guilds have been established for the sole purpose of promoting trade and/or crafting progression. Such guilds actively use their banks, now disabled, as a sort of currency exchange. If you're a member of such a guild, your experience with one of ESO's primary social aspects has been severely limited. Which, you know, is problematic considering MMOs are social games by their very nature. This temporary fix is akin to putting a bandage on an artery that has already bled dry.

So where does Zenimax go from here? ESO is a promising game, and my experience with its community so far indicates that many, many people really enjoy playing it (myself included). But economy is a vital component to MMOs. Is there really a fix? Even if Zenimax bans the thousands of dupers out there, damage has already been done. Is this something that must be allowed to just gradually work itself out? If so, we're probably looking at months of self repair. I suppose there's always the drastic option of rolling back the servers, but that, too, would negatively affect those of us that played fair, even knowing duping was an option. Zenimax can only hope at this point that its final solution won't cause its player base to bug out.

Ryan Taljonick

Ryan was once the Executive Editor of GamesRadar, before moving into the world of games development. He worked as a Brand Manager at EA, and then at Bethesda Softworks, before moving to 2K. He briefly went back to EA and is now the Director of Global Marketing Strategy at 2K.