Category Archives: The Elder Scrolls Online

WildStar Goes Free to Play

Two years ago I was wondering if The Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar were throwing themselves under the bus by declaring for a monthly subscription model in an era when only a select few games seem able to hold enough customers to make that model work for their vision.


Back then the team doing TESO said that a subscription model was essential to deliver the experience they wanted while the WildStar team felt they could offer a PLEX-like option and declare themselves free to play already.

The subscription business model champions of 2013 have come around to free to play in 2015.

TESO went first, going free back in January, while WildStar, after a precipitous drop in revenue, reflected in the NCsoft quarterly results… I believe somebody said that WildStar might end up bringing in less revenue that City of Heroes when NCsoft shut that down… announced that they were going free to play back in May.  This staved off closure by the trigger happy team at NCsoft for the time being.

And today is the day.  WildStar is now officially free to play, another such title in a veritable forest of free to play MMORPGs.  I cannot name a single factor that would set it out from the crowd of other options.  We shall see if free is sufficient inducement for players to keep the game going.

The WildStar site has been updated and there is a FAQ spelling out what free to play means for the game.  As with the game itself, nothing in the FAQ stands out as new and different enough to separate it from the pack.

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.

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.

My MMO Outlook for 2015

Another of those regular end of the year posts where I either try to reflect on the past or peer into the future.

I don’t do this post every year, but once in a while I am driven to it for one reason or another.  Last year it was because I could come up with five good candidates for what new things I might be playing in 2014.

Granted, one of them was a new expansion, Warlords of Draenor, rather than a new game.  But at least I had four potential new games.

Okay, three potential new games, since I had EverQuest Next on the list, and that was beyond a long shot even a year ago.

Or maybe really two potential new games, since Landmark, still burdened with the EverQuest handle at that point, was also on the list.  Sure, it was available to the public, for a price.  And I even played with it a couple of times.  But it isn’t even feature complete yet, so SOE calling it beta is purely a political move.

And that will be... December?

And that will be… when?

There simply wasn’t enough “there” there to call it a game.

But there were two potentials, two new games coming in 2014 that raised enough interest in me that I could imagine myself perhaps playing them.  The were The Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar.

And I did not play either of those.  I downloaded the beta for TESO, and while it felt like it had an Elder Scrolls vibe, an opinion based entirely on my few hours of playing Skyrim, which shouldn’t be viewed as being at all definitive, it did not really enchant me.  I was more interested in whether or not it and WildStar could pull off the monthly subscription model and last through to the end of the year without going F2P.  They made it, though things look grim for WildStar on that front.

So, in the end, I played one game on my list, which was just an expansion to a game I was already playing and which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.  I also played EVE Online, which passed the 11 year mark this year, and started in again on EverQuest II, another title in the double digit age range at this point.

I suppose I could throw War Thunder on the list, but that really isn’t an MMO in the sense I mean.  That, and World of Tanks are more lobby based battle match making games than persistent world.  I did take another shot at Star Wars: The Old Republic, but that passed quickly.  I’ve already spent more time in EverQuest II this week than I did in SWTOR all year.

So that was my year in MMOs  2014 was completely rooted in old standards.

And, as I sit here, it looks like that might be the way 2015 rolls, all old school.  Gaff, having patched up EQII and then balked at how dated it feels… and it does feel dated, though for me that is part of the charm… is talking a bit about Lord of the Rings Online.  But I don’t think LOTRO is going to win many points on the fresh-O-meter either.

I cannot, at this moment, bring to mind any new titles for 2015 that I might play.

Sure, I could go do a bit of research and come up with a few.  I know there has to be a few persistent, virtual world-like, MMORPGs slated for 2015, but I figure that if I do not know them without a Google search, then they are unlikely candidates at best.

Yes, I could put up a list like:

  • Landmark
  • EverQuest Next
  • Camelot Unchained
  • Shroud of the Avatar
  • Star Citizen

But I am not feeling it for Landmark really, and of the other four we might see something really playable (not just a badly branded open play test or bits and pieces) from Shroud of the Avatar or Camelot Unchained by next December, given the current state of progress.  Might as well just save those for the 2016 list.  I’m not really interested in doing beta any more.

So there it stands.  My likely slate of MMOs for 2015 appears to be:

  • World of Warcraft
  • EVE Online
  • EverQuest II

Not that such a list is bad.  As long as I am enjoying my time playing, it doesn’t matter if I am playing something new of something I started playing a decade back. And, at least in the case of EVE Online, it is an exciting time to be in the game as things are changing.  But after years of being able to name at least some new stuff coming in the next calendar year, it seems a bit odd to only be looking at the same things for 2015.

Of course, the golden age of the big MMO launch seems to have passed.  It has been a while since there was a list of strong candidates.  The market is too crowded, there are an almost unbelievable number of second or third tier titles, and going forward we seem to be entering the age of the niche title that focuses on a specific strength catering to a specific demographic.

Or so it seems.  I might have missed something.  Is there a new title coming in 2015 I ought to be excited about?  Is there one that you are excited about?

Addendum: And now that I have written this, Massively has a “what are you looking forward to in 2015” post with a list of titles… and most of the staff mention Landmark or EverQuest Next or both.  Their poll lumps the two together in a blatant display of SOE bias. (And the two titles together are still losing to Camelot Unchained, though Mark Jacobs is all over the comment thread, so he might have called out the cavalry.)

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

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?”

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

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):