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!
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.