The Elder Scrolls Online first released in 2014. At its inception, fans were divided. Some saw it as a fantastic new way to adventure through the realms of The Elder Scrolls, with the happy bonus of having their friends in tow. Another group of fans have have seen it as a cop-out, as it is not a mainline entry in the franchise. No matter what your feelings are, the fact remains that it has become a large and reasonably successful part of the series.
I can recall being very excited when The Elder Scrolls Online was announced. It wanted to travel between various sections of the series' universe, journeying with friends. I was hopeful about seeing existing locations in the franchise, but also many new, unexplored ones. The monthly subscription formula was a bit of a let-down, seeing as how I didn't have a lot of extra funds to spend on that sort of thing. (I never have really; it's the reason I chose Guild Wars over World of Warcraft way back in the day.) But over time, The Elder Scrolls Online adopted a subscription-less scheme, and I was absolutely on board.
As expansions have been released, fans have been able to explore Vvardenfell (in Morrowind), the Clockwork City, and eventually Summerset. The latter is a previously unexplored region within the The Elder Scrolls lore. It's the home of the High Elves and marks the very first time that players will be able to venture to that land. Because of this expansion, it has become clear that The Elder Scrolls Online will absolutely not lose its relevance. Fans were excited enough when already explored realms like Vvardenfell were added to the game, but this puts things on a brand new level.
The addition of Summerset sets The Elder Scrolls Online up as the perfect platform for revealing already known (but unexplored) worlds in the franchise. There is so much lore and so many locations referenced in previous Elder Scrolls games, that the Online title has plenty to play around with. (We want Elsweyr!) Some might see these expansions as a lame side-step from the regular franchise. Sure, you can add Summerset to The Elder Scrolls Online, or you could just make The Elder Scrolls VI: Summerset. But here's an interesting idea, what if that's the plan?
Maybe, just maybe, Bethesda is using The Elder Scrolls Online as a testing ground. I could see this happening in two different ways. First, it could literally be a developmental test and precursor to releasing a full-blown game based on the new expansion. Maybe The Elder Scrolls VI: Summerset is already in the works! The developer could be using the online version as a “kill two birds with one stone” sort of process. They could take assets created for the Summerset expansion, and plug and play them into a separate entry. Or, it could be like they're putting their development team through school to get them ready to graduate with a regular The Elder Scrolls entry.
There's also the possibility that Bethesda is using these The Elder Scrolls Online expansions as a test for the fanbase. They can release the expansions quickly and at a lower cost than a complete title, and judge fan reactions on each one. If people aren't very excited for Summerset, then it wouldn't be worth it to release it as its own game. But if people are super excited for an Elsweyr (yes, I am intentionally pressing hard for this one) expansion, they might considering making the The Elder Scrolls VI: Elsweyr.
This is all suspect and opinion on my part, but frankly it'd be a smart move on Bethesda's part. While some might lament the addition of The Elder Scrolls Online expansions, rather than announcements of new, full titles, I see it as a hope for the future. These new regions will be fun to play in The Elder Scrolls Online and might hint at a new entry in the regular franchise.
What do you think, dear readers?