The Elder Scrolls Online Ditching Mandatory Subscriptions

The fact that the word “monetized” exists points to the heart of the issue for us: We don’t want the player to worry about which parts of the game to pay for – with our system, they get it all.

-Matt Firor, General Manager of ZeniMax Online, on the original subscription model choice

In anticipation of the console versions of the game, planned for launch this June 9th, playing The Edler Scrolls Online will soon no longer require a subscription… there will still be an “optional” subscription available that will provide specific benefits… changing the business model to… what do we call it now… buy to play with optional subscription that will likely be seen as mandatory for anybody serious about playing the game?

According to the FAQ on the help page, the big change will happen on March 17, 2015.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you too!

No "separate but equal" message in this picture...

No “separate but equal” message in this picture…

Whatever it is, the game will now fall in the free to play side of the chart in the “subscription vs. free” wars, leaving just World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and Final Fantasy XIV as major titles that require you to buy the box and pay a monthly subscription.  (Oh, and WildStar, because the F2P announcement for that isn’t just around the corner or anything.)  I suspect ZeniMax would do away with the price of the box for TESO if it were not for the console versions coming out, where they will want to get their $59.99 up front.  But look for the Windows version to get cheaper.

All of this has gotten the game a name change.  It is now, officially, The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited.  Because… marketing!

Now the question is, what is the real plan here?  At some point in the past the people at ZeniMax made the conscious decision that, in order to support, maintain, and enhance TESO, while providing player the experience they wanted to deliver, they needed to charge players a monthly subscription.  Right?  They talked about this back when they made the announcement that the game would be subscription only.

Since I am going to take a wild guess and assume that dropping those plans is not in the cards, they have to make it up one way or another.  The FAQ is, unsurprisingly, a bit vague on that issue.

The first way would to be to use the SOE method (at least in EverQuest II) and just make the game really annoying to play without a subscription.  The FAQ however, says:

What restrictions are being placed on the game and players now that subscriptions are no longer required to play?

None. The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited is the full version of the game, with all previous updates and content additions, including the new Champion and Justice systems.

Taking that at face value, it seems that ZeniMax won’t be restricting equipment or auction house access or similar measures.  No mention of popping up “subscribe now!” alerts in the middle of combat, but let’s assume they won’t go that route.

Another way would be to give subscribers benefits that people would really want… and pay for.  So what does a subscriber get?  Again, the FAQ says that for a 30 day subscription a player gets:

1500 crowns at the start of each 30-day membership period

  • Access to all downloadable content for the duration of membership
  • Exclusive character progression bonuses for the duration of membership
    • 10% bonus to experience point gain
    • 10% bonus to crafting research
    • 10% bonus to crafting inspiration gain
    • 10% bonus to gold acquisition

Longer subscription periods, 90 and 180 days, scale on the crowns front, the new RMT currency to be used in the new Crown Store.  So what is the real bennie from subscribing?  Will that be $15 worth of cash shop Crowns plus a minor boost to various player advancements.  10% isn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things, at least to my mind.  I am not sure I would bother, though I do not know what “access to downloadable content” means.  I am going to guess that while all previous updates will be available, all future ones will cost.   But without a look at what may be coming, and how much it will cost ala carte, I cannot really assess the merit of subscribing for that, so we’ll call it a wash for the moment.

Which leaves the cash shop, the soon to be available Crown Store, as the main revenue scheme I guess.  What will they be selling in the Crown Store?  The FAQ says;

Crowns allow you to purchase convenience and customization items (such as pets and mounts) and to access content offered in the in-game Crown Store.

So there will be expansions to the game in the form of downloadable content, the usual player advancement bonus items, experience boost and the like, will be there to tempt both free and subscribing players alike, along with some pets and mounts.

But what else will they offer?

I ask because experience shows that those choices will not be enough.  The Lord of the Rings Online “go free and triple revenue” story has demonstrated that, over time, people will become sated with those sorts of things and you will have to add more ways to spend the RMT currency, because if mounts alone could keep a game going, LOTRO would be set.

Even SOE, which hasn’t gone full Turbine and added a second RMT currency (that you need to buy with the first RMT currency) or stuck “buy now” options on nearly every dialog window in the game (though they do show up in a lot of them now), has shown that you have to have new stuff regularly and that some items need to be exclusive to the cash shop.  Mounts.  Cosmetic items.  Housing.  Subscriber services.  Subscriptions… wait, no… SOE screwed that last one up.

So where do you think The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited will head with its cash shop?  Do you think they will offer a PLEX-like item or insta-level character boosts or lock boxes, all of which are en vogue in MMO circles right now?

And, probably most important of all, will this get people back and playing the game?

Of course, this will likely be the topic of the day many places.  I will link them here as they pop up.

14 thoughts on “The Elder Scrolls Online Ditching Mandatory Subscriptions

  1. HarbingerZero

    Auction house is already restricted. Only members of fully functional guilds can post up items to sell, and then only after buying out a merchant stall.

    As a current and long time subber of the game, I of course, am not thrilled about this announcement. But hopefully it will pan out well in the long term for everyone.

    Like

  2. Random Poster

    The concept of F2p but offering a subscription I like. In practice it ends up irking me because I feel like if I DO subscribe there shouldn’t be anything I don’t have access to. Basically if I am paying you $180 a year I damn well better not have to shell out for extra BS. If I can’t pay for a month you limit me to what a f2P gets unless I shell out the cash like a normal F2p player,

    Hell I don’t even want the stupid coins to be given to me for free since if you do it like above I don’t need to buy anything from your poorly planned out overly intrusive store.

    Like

  3. anon

    Can anyone help me estimate TTL (Time To Lockboxes) for TESO:TU?

    The moment I discover a game offers lockboxes, I stop playing it immediately, no matter how good the game is, how fair the rest of their business strategy is or anything else.

    I haven’t bought into this “extended paid open beta”, but now that it is going B2P I could be interested in it. I’m not certain if it’s worth though, since I don’t know for how long I would be able to enjoy it before some flashy login screen tries to dupe me into spending money for a chance to earn some awesome equips or somesuch crap.

    Like

  4. Kinless

    The wife and I have a couple of Imperials. We’d certainly go back in if it’s truly free to play and the cash shop isn’t egregious. It’s a big world and we didn’t wind up seeing much of it first time around.

    Like

  5. bhagpuss

    It looks like TSW’s model to me. You buy the box and get to play the game exactly as it would have been at the time it converted from the previous subscription model. Going forward, you get all the systems/engine updates that would come in regular patches for a sub game for free, probably along with some holiday/event content thrown in, but you buy all actual new content of substance as optional Add-On packs. Also you can buy a large amount of fluff in the cash shop.

    It’s probably one of the cleanest non-Sub models from a player’s perspective. I’m going to buy the box just out of curiosity. Doubt I will play much since I have yet to enjoy any of their other games but they’ll get money from me they never would have otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – There is certainly now a “right price” at which point I might pick it up, though that price is pretty low. Amazon has it for $24 (though it is still full list $59.99 if I want the download versus the DVD, as if that made any sense) and I have seen it as low as $15 for the disk at other sites, yet I still do not own a copy.

    However, my problem remains not having enough time for the games I already play.

    Like

  7. Scott

    For me, this switch to a Buy to Play (B2P) is fantastic. Just like Guild Wars 2 or Secret World I can simply buy the game and play all I want. If I want to contribute a little extra to the team, I can buy some Crowns. Done and done. I am firmly in the “more money than time” crowd and I don’t mind supporting studios who make games I truly enjoy. If I do end up enjoying it, I will buy the DLC and who knows, maybe buy some Crowns.

    Today’s livestream was very informative, and while it didn’t answer all the questions I had, it got to most of them. And the PS4 footage looked great, which is where I’ll be playing.

    Like

  8. zaphod6502

    As someone who was playing TESO I doubt I will go back. Apart from my current MMORPG malaise I actually enjoy playing Skyrim far more than I ever did TESO. I do wish there was a way to import some of the TESO land areas into Skyrim. Let’s hope there will be a The Elder Scrolls VI.

    Like

  9. C. T. Murphy

    For some reason, this move seems less desperate that previous conversions. I wonder if they just figured they could make more money with less of a headache (since sub models on consoles are still quite weird)?

    Like

  10. Scott

    Final Fantasy XIV is doing pretty good on PS4 (and PS3 I guess) with a sub, so it’s not unheard of but the console platforms are certainly more accustomed to the “buy a game, buy DLC” scheme.

    Like

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