The Elder Scrolls Online – No Subscription Required

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...

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.

6 thoughts on “The Elder Scrolls Online – No Subscription Required

  1. HarbingerZero

    I agree about the winning hand! I can’t help but think the failure of Two Worlds helped play a part in them shying away from model, and if so, it was the wrong lesson to take from that failure.


  2. bhagpuss

    Given that I have never liked any of Bethesda’s previous games and have absolutely no affection for or interest in the world they are all set in, I found ESO surprisingly enjoyable. It really is only the action-RPG controls that are stopping me from giving it some quite serious attention.

    Now that it’s F2P and I have it installed I imagine it will be somewhere I come back to fairly often to potter around and do the odd level or three. I very much doubt they’ll get any money out of me past the price I paid for the box but that’s more than they would have got if they hadn’t changed the payment model.


  3. Isey

    I think more MMOs could benefit from the private server concept. These games are largely lobby games now anyway for the most part, and the best interactions tend to be with your immediate guildmates and friends. Other people just get in the way. THis way your character is yours but you can visit and enjoy different worlds. You could have the kind of permanence (housing, etc.) that could exist on a private server, because you aren’t fighting with 1000s of others for prime real estate. BEst yet, game companies could charge a premium for it.

    I wrote about this for WoW 5-6 years ago – I was part of a BAttlefield Clan and we rented our own server space there and could make our own rules and whatnot. It was great. I’ll probably revisit this thought in a future post.. but just came top of mind after reading your idea of making it co-op.


  4. Athie

    I’ve been fiddling around in ESO this week — no great epic journeys through endgame, as I’m still just at level 11. But it’s interesting and seems legitimately improved since my last stay. The combat is — par for the action-MMO course — exceedingly shallow. But the character progression feels fun and the world is nicely built.

    But? A huge word of warning. For months I’ve been hearing about how great the ESO community is. I don’t know if it changed with Buy to Play or what, but wow. Great it is emphatically not.

    Many of the quests are confusing or ambiguous. But when people ask for help, they just get trolled over and over. “I can’t seem to figure out this dog whistle quest. Where do I use it?” “In the dog whistle using place.” “^^^” “Yeah, dummy, use it in the using place.” And the macho sexism, wall to wall. And the vacuous aggression. Random instructions to “Quit the game. Uninstall. Never speak of ESO again.”

    It is, bar none, the nastiest game environment I have ever played in. Be prepared, I guess. This is likely to be the reason I’ll leave the game when I do. Do I really want to deliberately spend my free time in a deranged frat house environment?


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