I mentioned a while back that The Elder Scrolls Online was ditching their subscription required business model and heading down one of the various paths to free game access. Well, that date arrived this week, overshadowed a bit by St. Patrick’s day I suppose. I got a note via email pitching the new tagline for the game, Tamriel Unlimited.
And so it was that the reality of the current MMO market overcame some of their initial guiding principles, such as:
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
Things will now be “monetized” in Tamriel, the world in which The Elder Scrolls Online is played. The newly added Crown Store will sell cosmetic and convenience items and additional content added to the game will need to be purchased unless you choose to maintain the optional subscription. And, of course, you still need to buy the box in order to play, something that will no doubt stay in place at least until sales of the upcoming PlayStation and Xbox versions of the game taper off.
No “separate but equal” message in this picture…
All of which isn’t to say that this is not the right decision for the game. There was certainly some skepticism about TESO going with the subscription model back when they announced it in late 2013. They seemed to be bucking the trend, heading in a direction that proved false for so many games before it. And, as it turns out, they didn’t even last a year, having dropped the subscription model just shy of the April 4th launch anniversary.
And now we shall see what happens. The market is still crowded with competitors and dropping the subscription model is not a guaranteed key to success. In just the last month or so we have had a look into the turmoil at Turbine, we have seen the newly minted Daybreak Gaming Company shed a lot of staff because its games could not support their financial weight, and just yesterday there were headlines about Perfect World Entertainment cutting staff as well due to financial issues.
Free won’t wash away your sins.
Anyway, TESO still has a few cards in its hand. It can still get revenue from box sales and it has the two console versions headed to market this June. It may not have to monetize every nook and cranny with a button to buy something, as happened in LOTRO.
All that said, I still remain convinced that the best case scenario for Bethesda was to create a four (or more) player co-op successor to Skyrim so that people could roam the wide world with a few friends… Tamriel always struck me as a large and lonely place… maybe even with a Minecraft-style private server option where you could control the setting and apply mods. That, to me, was the winning hand.