jump to navigation

The Elder Scrolls Online Wants My Opinion, But Only if I am Quick About it! August 3, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, The Elder Scrolls Online.

The launch of The Elder Scrolls Online came and went back in April.

I played a bit during the beta.  Not that much, just enough for me to get the flavor of the game which, in my narrow point of view on the subject, was an Elder Scrolls game.  The necessary elements were there.

But since I am not a huge fan of the whole Elder Scrolls series, I opted not to buy the game.  It just wasn’t for me, and that was fine.  On to other things.

Bethesda though, they noted that I played in the beta but then didn’t drop $60 on a box, virtual or otherwise.

Late Monday evening they dropped me a note to find out why.  It was a request to take a survey.

Asking for Feedback

Asking for Feedback

It arrived too late for me to consider taking at that moment, and Tuesday turned out to be a very busy day.  But Wednesday morning I had a moment free, so I got out the email and pulled up a blank document for notes to see what they had to ask.

I wanted to give them an honest assessment as well as seeing how they structured their survey.  Bad surveys can be amusing while good ones can be almost as instructive for those taking it as those administering it.

So I clicked on the “start survey” link and… got this:

You snooze, you lose...

You snooze, you lose…

Apparently they had enough responses… or weren’t that interested… or had some sort of artificial time limit.

So they may never find out why I was not among the reported 772,374 people who did join them in Tamriel

What Does It Mean to be a “Subscription MMO?” July 18, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Elder Scrolls Online, World of Warcraft.
Tags: ,

I am on the press release list along with a lot of real media outlets, so my inbox is often stuffed with the raw material that is barely recycled for content a lot of places around the web.

I skim through them every day, but don’t bother to mention 99% of them as they tend to be rather thin on things worth talking about.

This morning through there was a press release from SuperData Research pointing at their June factoid report.  Lots of little bits of data in that from which you can barely come up with to points to draw a line about anything.

The highlight of the report though was a chart listing out revenues for the top subscription-based MMO titles for 2013, worldwide.

Top Subscription MMO Revenue

Top Subscription MMO Revenue

The top spot is unsurprising.  WoW, even down to something like 60% of its peak, still rakes in money like no other.  Then there are a couple Asian MMOs which you might have heard of if you have been paying close enough attention.  Lineage 1 is still NCsoft’s biggest money maker.

And then you come to Star Wars: The Old Republic and Lord of the Rings Online, where you might legitimately ask a question like, “Hey, aren’t those free to play?”

As the title of this post asks, what makes for a subscription MMO these days?  Because if we are talking about needing a subscription to play, several of those titles fall off the list immediately.

But if, as the list here suggests, merely offering a subscription option is enough to be called a subscription MMO, then aren’t we missing a title or two.

Specifically, I would expect EverQuest II to make the list.  I don’t have any hard data to back up that expectation, but my gut impression of the game is that it ought to be somewhere on the list ahead of Lord of the Rings Online, something that is backed up, in my mind, by the fact that EQII has no problems cranking out expansions and interim content for all ranges of player while LOTRO is publicly giving up on raiders for now and doesn’t seem to be able to scrape it together for an expansion in 2014.

But maybe EQII isn’t doing as well as I thought.  Or maybe SOE’s model somehow falls outside of what SuperData considered a subscription MMO.  Or, most likely, maybe SOE just didn’t cooperate with SuperData and its information requests.  And one could also ask about Final Fantasy XIV.

Otherwise, I am somewhat surprised at where LOTRO ranks.  SWTOR is still popular, if not WoW popular, and that its revenue is only 1.65x what Turbine gets for LOTRO seems odd, given the downtrodden way Turbine seems these days.  And Rift seems way down the line.  But that does seem to mostly line up with the 2013 end of year summary for the Digital Dozen over at The Nosy Gamer.  EVE is generally higher on the list than LOTRO, but otherwise it seems about right.  Does that give this chart more validity?  Or the Digital Dozen?

And, of course, one key item missing from this chart is how much subscription revenue played into the totals listed.

Because the follow up chart points out that subscription revenues have been decreasing since their peak in 2010.

Subscription revenue

Subscription revenue

Subscriptions are trending down, while microtransactions are… well…  sort of flat really if you look at that line.  They are not not rising up sufficiently to off-set the loss of subscription revenue overall, which seems to go against what some cheerleaders for the model would have us believe.

Which might be why we saw a couple of subscription based launches this year.  SuperData pulled out the very exact number of 772,374 for The Elder Scrolls Online subscriptions.  That would make for a nice revenue stream.  WildStar was mentioned, but since it just launched in June, there were no numbers.

I would really like to know how much of the revenue for a game like SWTOR or LOTRO comes from subscribers.  If that chart is to be believed, subscriptions still make up most of the revenue.

And what does all of this mean?  This isn’t the range of data I would like, but you look at the industry with the data you have, not the data you want.  But I am not prepared to go all Massively comment thread, where the trend seems to be “lying liars lie!” for everybody whose pet theory is not supported by the data provided.

Anyway, as noted, the full report is here.  If you want more data, you have to pay.

Addendum: Azuriel makes an interesting comparison between the above chart and other MMO data available.

Addendum 2: And Flosch takes the numbers and extrapolates a bit.

The Elder Scrolls Online – It’s Here April 4, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, The Elder Scrolls Online.

Today is the official go-live date for The Elder Scrolls Online.  I was a bit skeptical about them hitting their target in good order, especially after a couple of the beta weekends, but here we are.

I'm skeptical about that date...

The Date has Arrived

And what I have read online so far seems to indicate that things are going well.  SynCaine, something of a bellwether on this front for me due to his past investment in Skyrim and such, making him a good point for telling whether this is really an Elder Scrolls game or not, seemed to be happy during the head start.  I will take that as a good omen.  And I like his advice on how to approach such a game.

I am still not ready to dive in.  The game isn’t off my list, but I really don’t feel the need to go some place new right now.  I am still in the midst of reliving 2008 or some such with WoW and Pokemon and the like.  But when the usual Summer instance group hiatus comes and I have ground out all the factions in Azeroth I can stand and it is time for a vacation in some different world, TESO is very likely candidate.

Others looking at launch day (as I find them):


The Elder Scrolls Online – Mission Accomplished February 17, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, The Elder Scrolls Online.

In which I type the word “Skyrim” over and over.

My to “beta or not to beta question” of the other week was answered in the affirmative.  I did download the client and I did go play in The Elder Scrolls Online beta weekend of the 7th through the 9th of this month.


The client download for the beta was big… at least as big as World of Warcraft is these days… I had to download a fresh copy to my daughter’s new computer late last year… but thanks to high speed internet and a couple of movies the whole thing was set and installed in a pretty reasonable amount of time.

I did not get to spend as much time playing as I wanted.  Since it was the load test weekend, part of the testing seemed to be focused on the login queue, where I spent a chunk of my time.

Waiting to get in

Waiting to get in

However, I did play enough to answer what was for me the burning question of TESO:  Is it an Elder Scrolls game?

I said previously that Zenimax pretty much had to do one thing to make an Elder Scrolls MMO work.  They simply had to scratch the “I want to play Skyrim with my friends” itch.

Yes, execution is important.  If the game doesn’t actually work, then there is no point.  But if they failed to make you think you were playing un-modded Skyrim, then they were doing it wrong.

Well, now that the NDA is down, I can say that the game feels like Skyrim.  I have the advantage of having first played Skyrim this past summer, when I bought it as part of yet another Steam Summer Sale, so my impressions are pretty recent, all things considered.

The character creator felt about the same, and I was able to make a non-traditional character to play.

Wilhelm as you've never seen him

Wilhelm’s Abyssinian cousin

The game intro… the first act or whatever… felt about the same.  There are only a few standard tropes for starting an adventure game as a fully formed person who happens to have nothing.   Escape from prison, come back from the dead, or survive a ship wreck spring to mind as being over-used.  TESO manages to combine two… you escape from a prison for the dead… which I am not sure gets them bonus points or demerits… but it was close enough to Skyrim, where you escape from prison, that it feels about the same in spirit… if you leave out the dragons.

The intro is very linear, as with Skyrim, and everybody is extremely patient while you get your bearings and try to find your way out… as with Skyrim.  In fact, I am going to try to stop writing “as with Skyrim” at this point unless absolutely necessary… like when I talk about the UI, which… yeah, Skyrim.

At the end of the intro...

At the end of the intro…

The minimalist “see the world not the buttons” UI is pretty much straight from Skyrim.  It is all about immersion.  If you are used to raid frames and rotation helpers and hot bars and a dozen quest tracker entries and what not, this will no doubt be confusingly sparse.  You may hate it.  You will not be alone.  If I could find it, I would link to a blog post that Richard Bartle did about Skyrim in which he bagged on the lack of things on screen to poke.

And, of course, the whole UI is designed to work across PCs and consoles, which will make it annoying to PC gamers.  It feels better than DC Universe Online, which suffers from that same cross-platform requirement, but it will still make you angry until you get used to it.  Unless, of course, you liked it in Skyrim.

And, once you get out of the starter area and get situated, there is a linear quest line to follow to keep the completionist achievers happy, as with… you know.  Skyrim had a main quest line too.  But, you can also still says bollocks to that and head off in another direction and run into side quests and other things to do.  These are not post-Cataclysm WoW 1-60 areas with exactly one quest thread running through the whole zone.  Explorers can explore and will be rewarded.

I did not get enough time to run around to be able to say that there were enough side paths as to make it just like Skyrim, but it certainly seemed to be building towards that.  So Zenimax learned its lessons well.

There were bugs.  I ran into a few and I saw people complaining about more.  There was also nearly two months to go until launch when I was playing, so I assume that Zenimax will be working hard to squash between now and then.

And how did I like it?  Enough that I wanted to go back and play it some more.  However, my key appeared to be only good for the load test weekend.  So I guess I am done with any beta access.  But what I had was enough.

And will I be pre-ordering it and playing the game at launch?


Not because I do not like the game.  While I still think a Borderlands 2 4-player co-op model with plenty of post launch DLC was the winning move for an Elder Scrolls game, the MMO version still works.  The lack of mods will annoy the Elder Scrolls purists and the masses of adventurers swarming across the lands changes the essential feeling of the game relative to Skyrim… I often felt really alone in that game, something that drove the desire to play with friends… but those are things that just come with the MMO territory.  So we have a decent MMO based on an established franchise that isn’t a complete WoW clone.  I approve of this.

I just don’t need another MMO to play and nobody with whom I play with regularly is interested in the game at this point.  So I will be sticking with WoW and EVE Online for now.

Maybe come the usual summer hiatus of the instance group Potshot or Gaff will want to go play and we’ll run off to see what has become of the game.  Or maybe I will finally tire of Pandaria dailies and will have ground all the factions I care to before Warlords of Draenor launches.

After my 2014 MMO Outlook post, that was really the best you could expect from me.  It is still higher on my list than Landmark or WildStar.  It could have been worse.

Anyway, that wasn’t much of a look at the game, just a superficial scouting report.  Others in the blogesphere with more passion for the game (and the Elder Scrolls series) have deeper thoughts on the subject.  For me, it was just a matter whether they could make TESO feel like Skyrim to me. They succeeded in my opinion.

For further opinions, I suggest starting with this list.

Wilhelm’s Elder Scrolls Soliloquy February 7, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, The Elder Scrolls Online.

To beta, or not to beta – that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The puzzled apprehension of the outside observer,
Or to download this vast sea of trouble
And by participation, to end all doubt.

TESO-let, Act II, scene 3

There is a beta this weekend.  It starts today.


I have a code.  I have speedy broadband.  I could, should I so desire, participate.

But do I want to?  Do I care?  We are indeed at the point that tests those questions.

I tend to be down on betas in the first place.  If I want to play a game, I will wait until launch so that the game is fresh then.  So betas tend to be for me to check out games on which I am undecided.  My track record on that front favors a “played in beta, avoided at launch” result.

Add in the fact that we are less than two months from the planned launch date on April 4, 2014 and the game is still under a tight NDA and I start to think that my play time might be better spent in Azeroth or New Eden or in any one of the neglected titles in my Steam library.

Soft you now, the fair-to-middling  ESO! –
MMO, in thine temptation be all my sins remembered.

So will you play?

My MMO Outlook for 2014 January 3, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next, polls, The Elder Scrolls Online, WildStar, World of Warcraft.

There are three posts I have done around this time of year for most of the last few years.  There is the looking back post, which I did for 2013 a ways back.  There is the predictions/questions/whatever sort of bigger picture post which I posted on the first of the year.

And then there is a look at what might launch in the coming year that could be of interest to me.  I usually do that one first because it is usually the easiest.  The other two, theoretically, take some thought, while that post is mostly about emotion.  What upcoming game speaks to me?  What will I have to buy on day one just to play it?

This year though, I am just not feeling much of that emotional tingle, the burning desire to stomp around on some new world.  The list of potential contenders did not spring immediately to mind.  Still, I march forward out of habit if nothing else.  Here is what I have.

5 – EverQuest Next Landmark

On the list because… I felt I needed five titles… sort of.

Ars Technica Reports...

For specific definitions of “MMO”

I am mostly uninterested in Landmark because it is billed as a tool not a game.  Not that tools can’t be fun.  I’ve spent the last 15 years working on development environments of one sort or another… tools, in essence… and have had more than my share of fun in doing so.  But for gaming time, I am not sure I am in the tool zone any more.  Somewhere between Pinball Construction Set (or Adventure Construction Set) and the level editor in StarCraft, I fell out of the desire to build levels and such.  I am pretty much just a consumer of content now, at least when it comes to me leisure time.

That said, SOE seems to be on something of an “It’s a dessert topping! No, it’s a floor wax!” riff when it comes to Landmark, so my lack of interest could change when the people who paid to get into the early user guinea pig test cycles start reporting back on what it really is.  Until then though, it is a very unlikely candidate for me in 2014.

4 – WildStar

A step ahead of Landmark by virtue of it being solidly in the “it’s a game!” category.


WildStar is also the latest attempt to break out of the stock MMORPG template with some change-ups to combat and movement and special development paths that you can select for your character. The latter are supposed to represent the different Bartle types,  though I recall Bartle himself writing a bit about such an implementation representing a misunderstanding of what he meant with his types.  Explorer types will want to try all options, as an example, not just the explorer path.  It’s what makes them explorers.  Or something.

Otherwise, it looks to be very much a product of the last decade of MMO development.  Will its “different” bits be different enough to make it stand out while its “same” bits remain familiar enough to not scare people off?  And can it struggle out from the massive shadow cast by World of Warcraft?  And will NCSOFT race to put a bullet in its head if it turns out to be a “3 monther?”

WildStar is a title where I have no real desire yet to be in-game on day one, but I wouldn’t discount it as a title I try eventually.

3 – The Elder Scrolls Online

Now we’re getting into more likely territory.

I'm skeptical about that date...

I’m skeptical about that date…

Despite the reports of boring sameness, seeming to be another MMO in the post-WoW mold, and the annoying official acronym change from TESO to ESO, I actually feel like I might want to play this one.  Maybe even on day one despite… or maybe because of… my prediction about it.  I am guessing it will be a disaster on launch day… well, more so than your typical MMO launch.  But sometimes being part of the disaster can endear a game to you.

Anyway, why am I even looking at this, give the combo of alleged sameness and the potential for day one catastrophe?

I guess that the key here is that I cannot imagine that the developers of this MMO could be so daft as to create a game based on the Elder Scrolls franchise without looking deep within themselves to ask the most important question: Does it capture even a bit of the essence of the series?  Because that is the vital ingredient here, the winning proposition, the thing that would make people knock over their grandmother to grab a copy of the game.  If they can come up with something that feels just enough like Skyrim, but lets me play with my friends, then they will prevail . The only issue I have with Skyrim is that I cannot play with my friends.  Solve that, profit.

Of course, if they fail to do that, they are toast.

2 – EverQuest Next

On the list because, as of a date in early August of last year, this has been the official “next game” for me.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

Will Firiona Vie make it to 2014?

Even after several months of SOE trying to beat any enthusiasm out of me by almost exclusively talking up Landmark while relegating the actual freaking game to inane roundtable discussions on topics like whether or not female dwarves should have beards and what color barbarian toe jam should be rendered in, this is still the only upcoming MMO I am actually really looking forward to at this time.

Of course, part of that is no doubt the stunning lack of tangible information available about the game.  Between the inane, like the beards, and the broad stroke terms, like “sandbox,” and the promise of Storybricks technology and voxels and what not, there are huge gaps in which one can build castles in the sky founded on hopes, dreams, and aspirations that might not enter into the reality of the game when it ships.

But, even now, knowing all the gaps, it is still the game I lust for.

Which is a pity, because I cannot imagine it being in any sort of playable state in 2014.  Still, if it shows up, I am there.

1 – Warlords of Draenor

This one, this is the gimme.  The default choice.  The Meryl Streep nomination.

The New Expansion

The New Expansion

Unless something radical happens, this is the one game… well, expansion to a game, because frankly I couldn’t even come up with five NEW MMOs I would consider… that I know I will be picking up this year.  Maybe even the collector’s edition this time around.

Yes, I know, for every new feature in Warlords of Draenor there is going to be a dozen re-skinned or re-used items and that they are pulling out the time travel gimmick yet again and that we’ll be fighting a bunch of orcs… the same thing we do every night, Pinky.  I’m not even bursting at the seams, “gotta have it now!” excited about this expansion.  I’m content to let show up in good time.

But I didn’t end up back playing the 9 year old fantasy MMORPG (along side the 10 year old internet spaceships game) because they don’t know how to make a smooth, comfortable, playable game with plenty of attractive rides/treadmills for me to while away the hours on with my friends.  Yes, it isn’t the early days any more, or even the 2006 heyday of classic WoW, but I am back and have found I like it.  And I expect that I will like Warlords of Draenor as much if not more.  Go boring old me.

And Into 2014…

The new year is upon us, and what I say at the start of a year doesn’t always come to pass by the end.  At the beginning of 2013, where I lumped my predictions and outlook into a single post… hey I was in Hawaii at the time… I said I would “finish” Rift and and make it to tier 8 in World of Tanks.  Didn’t happen.  In past years I have also declared myself for such titles as Star Wars: The Old Republic and Neverwinter, neither of which ever gained a lot of traction with me.  So this is just the usual stake in the ground, declaring the lay of the land as I see it today, not knowing what tomorrow might bring.

And since, in looking back on these sorts of posts, I always seem to end them with a poll, I will keep with tradition, adding in a couple more titles that did not make my list.  Which of these will you likely play in 2014?

Conspiracies, Immersion, and the Secret Life of PLEX August 26, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, The Elder Scrolls Online, WildStar.
Tags: , , , , ,

In which I attempt to set a record for insulting the most gaming industry professionals in a single post as I meander towards a conclusion you probably saw coming a mile away.

The business model announcements last week for WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online have gotten a lot of people writing about subscriptions and free to play.  The subscription-only model, declared dead and buried after SWTOR got through with it, is now generally cast as a proposition that is all downside.  Any perceived benefits of subscriptions are illusory, or so says the man who failed to make it work.  So he ought to know I guess.  Just don’t disagree with him, he gets upset.

But then WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online inexplicably threw in with the model.  And the question of the day became “What the hell are they thinking?” as people declared en masse that they would never play a subscription only game.

My completely uninformed opinion is that the TESO team is just hopelessly naive, though in an endearing sort of way.  Down there at the Hunt Valley end of the MTA light rail line, life is good, the air is clean, and the atmosphere just fills you with hope that it is still 2001 and you can launch an MMO that is simply better than the original EverQuest and have a winner.

Cynics… whose outlooks have no doubt been shaped by the industry… have opined that the ZeniMax Online team has an evil plan to launch as subscription, cashing in to the maximum amount possible, only to be ready to swap to a F2P model as soon as the sheep realize they are being shorn.  Then it will be flying pig mounts, pinwheel hats, and hotbars for sale all day every day, with regular in-game pop-ups to remind you of the latest currency specials.  Because fuck immersion… as far as I can tell only about 6 people on the internet believe there is such a thing… and these are just video games, so why not turn them all into a carnival midway?  Just crank the crap volume to 11 already and be done with it.

In my world view… and really, the only thing driving my world view in the regard is the TESO team’s seeming lack of understanding as to what drives the popularity of Elder Scrolls games… hint: It isn’t the availability of something like Barrens Chat… the team at ZeniMax is planning a picnic on a nice green median strip in the midst Interstate 83 and are going to get hit by a semi-truck while crossing the blacktop.

Irony demands that it be THIS truck

Irony demands that it be THIS truck

(Picture stolen from the EVE Online Facebook page, where they were encouraging people to suicide gank this truck, and then cropped and edited.  Don’t view the full-size version. Like people my age, it only looks good at a distance, if at all.)

And then all the subsequent drama will be the result of an emergency team trying to stitch things back together while the aforementioned cynics nod their heads and point out that it was all a setup.

We shall see how that works out.

And then there is the WildStar team at Carbine.  What the hell are they thinking?

You could easily assume that they, too, were just another start up in a self-contained reality distortion bubble where “we can make a better WoW” seems like a reasonable proposition.  They have the experience, the talent, and they have thrown in with the monthly subscription model.  Easy to dismiss as either misguided or, again, hatching an evil plot to bilk players out of money for boxes before jumping to a F2P model.

But then there is the whole CREDD thing.  The PLEX comparison is obvious, but just as easily dismissed due to the nature of EVE Online.

These guys aren’t dumb though.  Right?  This isn’t SOE with its seeming blind spot as to the obvious next question the moment they announce something.  Maybe they have a plan, maybe they feel they can build a player driven market with EVE Online-like participation levels.

And maybe, just maybe, they have their own model where running multiple accounts gives you a serious, tangible advantage in-game.

Because it is that, plus the advent of PLEX, that could be driving growth in EVE Online.

Think about this.

In EVE Online I think we can all agree that playing multiple accounts gives you an advantage.

And that has been the case for quite some time.  Even when I started playing the game, way back in 2006, you were only really serious about your internet spaceships if you has an extra pilot in space.  Multi-boxing was common.  And hey, if you enjoyed the game, then one or two additional accounts wasn’t a huge stretch.

But then along came PLEX back in 2009.

EVE Online was growing before PLEX.  It continued growing after PLEX.  But I do wonder what impact PLEX had on growth.

Because after the introduction of PLEX, it was suddenly viable to run more accounts, so long as you could use them to create enough ISK to buy PLEX to pay their subscription.  Having two or three accounts gave way to having five or six or ten or a dozen.  Seeing formations of mining ships clearly controlled by a single person became more common.

Pretty blue lasers

One fleet, one guy

In fact, CCP has expressed concern about the rising price of PLEX at times.  A single PLEX was selling for over 600 million ISK earlier this summer.  That concern has always been couched in terms of being concerned with the in-game economy.  And it is hard to deny that CCP takes the in-game economy seriously.  But I have to wonder if there isn’t also some concern around the out-of-game economy; specifically the bit that pays the bills that keeps payroll going and servers humming.  Because, while some players play for “free” by buying PLEX, every active account is still paid for by somebody, and nothing says “winning” more than an always increasing subscriber base.  Grow or die, as they might say on Wall Street.

Is that what the WildStar team is hoping to achieve with CREDD?  Because if it is, they aren’t convincing me.

I have been through this before, but I would be hard pressed to name another MMORPG where the player base is as invested in the in-game economy as in EVE Online.  And the in-game is what drives PLEX and enables it to succeed to the point that it likely contributes noticeably to the subscriber base totals.  And WildStar hasn’t said a thing that makes me think that they can manage that.

So I am throwing in with the conspiracy group on this one.  Carbine must be making a cynical cash grab with this “buy the box and subscribe” plan up front, while readying the transition to F2P once the sheep are well and truly shorn.

Did I use that metaphor already?  I can’t help it.  I have seen sheep shorn, and they always come out looking pathetic, cold, and pissed off, in the same way certain MMO players do when their game makes that F2P transition.

Anyway, there is no other logical explanation for Carbine’s plan aside from a complete loss of grip on reality.  And the TESO team will probably claim they own that and sue.

But it sure has given us all a lot to talk about.

Oh, and Brian Green’s hair continues its complete and total migration towards his chin.

I felt I needed just one more insult to secure the record.  Did I make it, or do I need to bring up the NGE?

The Elder Scrolls Online: Throwing Itself Under the Subscription Bus? August 21, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, The Elder Scrolls Online, WildStar.

I moan a lot about the price we pay… both in cash and annoyance… for games that go free to play.  That is, in many ways, a reaction to people that seem to believe that “free” really means “free” and that there is absolutely no downside to dumping the monthly subscription model.  I try to sum it up from time to time.  But I still see plenty of people giving the free to play model unconditional their love.

That doesn’t mean I have left planet Earth however.  I can see still the scoreboard.

The reality of the situation today is that, if you are a new MMORPG on the market, the barrier to entry for the vast majority of your competitors is pretty low.  A couple games can get away with just a monthly subscription plan at this point.  World of Warcraft, because it remains more popular than any five western MMOs you care to mention.  EVE Online, because it offers an experience unlike any of its competitors.

But after those two, the market is pretty much free to play, with a few niche subscription model games hanging about.  Darkfall stuck with the monthly subscription because it is a niche game.  Camelot Unchained will have a monthly subscription under the current plan, but it seeks a niche and not market dominance as well.

So if you are going to go into the MMORPG market and you want the maximum number of players to play your game, free to play seems to be the only way to go.

Unless, of course, you are bringing a brand new experience to the genre.

I mean, if you have something that people will seriously want and won’t be able to get elsewhere, then there is your market advantage.  If you believe in it, you can skip free to play and move directly to Go, collect $200, and get with the monthly subscription plan.

But you had better well and truly be right.  Because everybody seems to think they have something special.  And the last few who have put their money where their mouths were on being special enough to command a monthly subscription… SWTOR or Rift or The Secret World for example… had to retreat from those positions.

So if you have an MMORPG project under way and you are considering a monthly subscription plan as the sole method of playing your game, you gotta to ask yourself a question, “Do I feel like a special snowflake?”

Well, do ya, punk?

So it was a surprise to me yesterday when WildStar came out swinging with the monthly subscription model.  Carbine has some interesting idea, but for the most part the game seems to be a mild remix of the same old thing.  More evolution of the genre without any “secret sauce” in evidence.  They left themselves a “free” fig leaf with CREDD.  But if that makes a game free to play, then EVE Online is free to play as well.

And, in a one-two punch, I was surprised again today when The Elder Scrolls Online threw in with the monthly subscription model.

Of course, I remain surprised that they are making this game as an MMORPG in the first place.  The primary “win” for this game is to fill the demand for people who love The Elder Scrolls games and who want to play them with their friends.

In playing Skyrim, my biggest disappointment so far is that I cannot play this with Potshot and the rest of our regular group.  My daughter, on watching me play, her eyes wide as she took in the scenery, asked, “Is this multiplayer? Can I play with you?”

So my first question is why this isn’t being developed as a 4-6 player co-op game in the style of Borderlands, with a ton of DLC to help finance things?  I may be missing something here, but that seems like the win.

But no, it is going to go the MMORPG route.  And the team has a reasonable tale as to why they feel it needs to be subscription, which I would sum up as “we don’t want to pollute the game with all the necessary evils that a free to play game requires in order to make money.”  You should read that article in full and soak in what they are trying to say.  It points at a lot of the things I complain about in free to play, and it is refreshing to see a developer in the genre admit that they might be an issue for some players.  The usual line seems to be “suck it up.”

Maybe they are right in going that route.  Certainly the franchise would not be enhanced by an in-game cash shop, crazy mounts, pirate hats, and lock boxes.

And maybe they can afford to.  The Elder Scrolls is a pretty impressive franchise.  That name alone should sell a lot of boxes.

And perhaps they have a plan.  Maybe they are not shooting to eclipse WoW, but to meet a sensible goal that they know can sustain the business and let them keep the subscription plan that they feel best fits the tone they want to set for the game.

Or it could all be a crass attempt to grab as much cash up front as possible while keeping their servers from getting completely swamped on day one while they work on pink cow mounts, pirate hats, and “talk to the hand” emotes for the big free to play transition nine months down the line.

We shall see.

But the monthly subscription model appears to still have some adherents in the industry.  Not everybody appears to have drunk the cash shop Kool-Aid.

Do these two games, WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online, have something special?  Do they have what it takes to sustain themselves on a monthly subscription model?  Or are we just watching two more victims of self-delusion headed for a fall?

And is the move by these two, plus Final Fantasy XIV, a last gasp for the monthly subscription model, just a chance to poke Smed in the eye again, or a harbinger of change?