Last month, Sony posted a blog entry which revealed that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR is the most played PlayStation VR game on the market. Reactions to this were mixed; some were unsurprised that such a massive RPG would rack up a lot of player hours, while others were shocked (and maybe a little annoyed) that an old game you can notoriously buy on pretty much any device with a screen should be the one that PS VR audiences find so captivating. Skyrim VR doesn't figure in many reports from owners in terms of innovation or general polish; in fact in the early days Skyrim owners were quite vocal about some problematic optimisation choices that Bethesda had made. Despite the view from the outside, Sony have reported that Skyrim is seeing the most play time on the headset.
So why is the game's trophy count so low?
Here's some context for those who have not played or have a hazy memory of Skyrim's opening hours. Although the game allows you to move off anywhere you want after the first quest is resolved, the path down the mountain will lead most players straight to the first town, and from there your ally sends you down the most obvious path straight to the first city. You're guided to meet with the ruler, and after just one fetch quest you are sent to kill a dragon.
Dragonslaying is essentially Skyrim's unique selling point, certainly in comparison to other Elder Scrolls titles. It's a key to who you are as the Dragonborn, it unlocks a whole new system of magic combat, and it represents the real beginning of your main quest. It also unlocks the Dragon Soul trophy — which happens to be that elusive trophy No. 4 in terms of Skyrim VR's acquisition rates. In short, the players of this "most played" VR title are disappearing before they've even gotten started. What is going on?
Skyrim is a massive open world, with plenty of activity to engage in. Some would argue that the main quest is the least interesting activity in the whole game. It seems plausible that VR players, potentially further immersed into the world than the other audiences, have wandered off of the beaten path and engaged in the game's side activities. Unfortunately the bottom falls out of that theory pretty quick when one considers the broad range of activities covered by the trophy list. As you can see in the table below, almost every activity you engage in will be attached to a trophy of some sort, yet Skyrim VR's trophies remain drastically under-acquired compared to other versions.
|Milestone Trophy||Skyrim (PS3)||Skyrim (PS4)||Skyrim VR|
|Dragon Soul (earned early in the main quest)||86%||82%||41%|
|Apprentice (Reach Level 5)||88%||85%||38%|
|Take Up Arms (join the earliest available faction)||72%||62%||20%|
|Hard Worker (engage in casual crafting activities)||56%||48%||9%|
|Explorer (find 100 locations)||60%||52%||9%|
|Delver (clear 50 dungeons)||47%||39%||5%|
|Dragonslayer (complete the main quest)||48%||35%||4%|
If players are more interested in side quests rather than the main quest, surely more than 20% would have at least joined the Companions who reside in the first city. If VR enthusiasts are simply wondering the world, wouldn't we see more players discovering 100 locations? Then there is the Apprentice trophy, which only requires that players reach Level 5. The game has 18 different skills, and increasing your knowledge of any of them contributes to levelling up. We don't know the exact maths behind the game, but typically reaching Level 5 on non-VR versions of the game shouldn't take more than three or four hours. Activities that will increase your skills include attacking with any weapon, casting any magic, sneaking, blocking or even being hit by an enemy (which increases your armour skills). It seems highly improbable that players actively engaging with Skyrim wouldn't hit Level 5 reasonably quickly, if they are allegedly spending so much time in the game.
We're not a fan of the cynical answers, though they have to be stated. It could be that lots of people have ended up picking up Skyrim VR cheaply or bundled in with the headset, or bought it on the assumption that a familiar game might be a good way in to the VR experience. If enough players buy it and play it for thirty minutes, cumulatively that's going to look like the "most played" VR title. The even more cynical theory is that generally people aren't playing any VR games for long; Skyrim might be the "most played", but Sony didn't provide the actual statistics or even any rationale as to how that ranking was calculated — so it could be that even Skyrim isn't getting played anywhere near as much as the average non-VR title. It could also be that players are taking a long time to get to grips with the game's controls in VR.
We personally subscribe to another, less depressing theory - one that a few players on Reddit have backed up. What if Skyrim VR players simply aren't engaging in even minor activities?
We'll likely never know how exactly Skyrim VR has ended up being ranked as the "most played" PlayStation VR title, but the apparent mass exodus from the game's typical progression provides a fascinating enigma for those intrigued by the whole VR concept. If plenty of people really are playing the game, they're playing it in an entirely new way.