Can Elder Scrolls Online Live With a Subscription Fee?

Are there enough people willing to pay $15 a month for Elder Scrolls Online, or is a free-to-play shift a foregone conclusion?

News by Mike Williams, .

Today, Zenimax Online general manager Matt Firor announced that the Elder Scrolls Online would have a subscription fee. No free-to-play options, just the classic $14.99 a month deal some have been paying for World of Warcraft since 2004. In a talk with GameStar, Firor said that a subscription fee just feels right for Elder Scrolls Online.

"Charging a flat monthly (or subscription) fee means that we will offer players the game we set out to make, and the one that fans want to play," said Firor. "Going with any other model meant that we would have to make sacrifices and changes we weren't willing to make."

"The Elder Scrolls games are all about allowing the player to go where they want, be who they want, and do what they want. We feel that putting pay gates between the player and content at any point in game ruins that feeling of freedom, and just having one small monthly fee for 100% access to the game fits the IP and the game much better than a system where you have to pay for features and access as you play."

"Plus, players will appreciate not having to worry about being 'monetized' in the middle of playing the game, which is definitely a problem that is cropping up more and more in online gaming these days," he added. "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."

Oh, hey. Skyrim. Hopefully that Dovahkin fellow isn't around. He's kind of a dick.

The problem is others have tried to climb that Mt. Olympus only to get smacked back down to Earth. The list of MMOs that have gone free-to-play stretches on into the void: Everquest, Everquest II, Lord of the Rings Online, DC Universe Online, Rift, Champions Online, Star Trek Online, The Secret World, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Tera. I've played and enjoyed most of them, I admit. The problem is when it came time for me to start paying monthly, it never happened.

During the launch of most of these titles, I was subscribed to World of Warcraft, so that's part of the problem. I was once a raider, but those days are long gone. I don't play WoW everyday or even every week, but it's comfort food: I like it there when I need it. When I run my monthly budget - games journalists don't make a ton! - certain fixed monthly charges are just always there: Phone bill, Netflix, Spotify, and World of Warcraft. I've subbed to Rift, Champions Online, The Secret World, and Star Wars: The Old Republic for a month or two, but nothing has particularly captured my complete attention and their $15 charge wasn't completely off my radar like WoW's is.

The free-to-play shift has allowed me to get in a nice MMO groove, bouncing from game to game. World of Warcraft is my comfort food, but that's backed up by Guild Wars 2, The Secret World, Defiance, and Rift. They went free-to-play (either at launch or after the fact), and I was no longer shackled by the fear of not getting my money's worth. I play them whenever I feel like it. I enjoy all four MMOs for different reasons (I actually can't pinpoint why I enjoy Defiance, but character looks like R.Kelly, so that's awesome.) And a number of them have my money through various means: bank bags, cosmetic items, additional character slots, and pets.

That's what a new MMO is up against. Not a single subscription game like World of Warcraft or EVE Online, but an entire host of free-to-play MMOs that are doing a pretty damn good job of keeping people entertained. So, I wish Elder Scrolls Online luck - it's actually a pretty fun little MMO from what I've played - but I'll also be counting down the time until it goes free-to-play.

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Comments 15

  • Avatar for Shadowfire #1 Shadowfire 4 years ago
    You still have to buy The Secret World so it's not truly F2P yet.

    This honestly seems like the MO for most big MMOs these days - release as a subscription service for a few months, then bust out the cash shop.
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #2 pjedavison 4 years ago
    "...players will appreciate not having to worry about being 'monetized' in the middle of playing the game, which is definitely a problem that is cropping up more and more in online gaming these days."

    I'm glad some devs are thinking this way. Nothing breaks immersion -- something MMOs are supposed to specialize in -- more than a game asking you to get your credit card out. I'm actually fine with a subscription fee for an MMO, so long as I get my money's worth with regular new content and perhaps some veteran rewards like FFXIV is offering.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #3 MHWilliams 4 years ago
    @pjedavison I'd agree, but most of the F2P MMOs I mentioned aren't in your face about it. We're a long ways away from those days.Edited August 2013 by MHWilliams
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  • Avatar for Spazgadget #4 Spazgadget 4 years ago
    As a pretty wet-behind-the-ears MMO player (FFXIV Beta was literally my first foray into the genre) I frankly find both payment structures unappealing in different ways. I'm not at all opposed to a monthly fee, but $15 per month is no joke, especially when I'm getting a service like PS+ for $50 a year. I absolutely understand the need to maintain servers and support new content, but $15 a month adds up pretty fast.

    The in-game purchase tack, as others have mentioned, really breaks the immersion, and I really dislike feeling like I'm being nickel and dimed to death.

    At the risk of sounding like a naysayer, I'd be happy to pay a slightly higher price of entry for the game and just... be done with it. If other console games can manage something like an $80 "season pass", which includes additional content over the course of a year, I'm not sure why MMO's cannot?
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  • Avatar for weevilo #5 weevilo 4 years ago
    @Spazgadget Well put, I have the same thoughts.

    I was always baffled at how WoW could rake in over a billion dollars a year in subscription fees yet offer comparatively little new content for the price we were paying. I've always thought that they were never really challenged to do so by any meaningful competitor and just banked the huge profits without reinvesting much - does server maintenance really eat very much out of that profit pie?

    And to echo your sentiments about micro-transactions, I don't see myself ever investing much into such a game for similar reasons, and I think it'll take another fixed cost game to dethrone WoW and gain a any kind of critical mass. This is my current theory: if only a fraction of your user base in a F2P MMO is spending any money in the game, even if it's a large enough amount to make the game profitable, the free customers are never going to become heavily invested in the game. They'll come and go as long as there's interest in the game, but you don't get the lock in and retention you get with games like EQ and WoW where people have a forced investment of purchasing the game and being a subscriber. I think EQ Next is doing enough new and interesting stuff to finally topple WoW over and become the new MMO giant, but only if it sticks with a subscription fee or as you mentioned, a discounted yearly pass. And there will be a lot more expected out of the developers in terms of ongoing content than is currently expected out of Blizzard.Edited August 2013 by weevilo
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  • Avatar for Shadowfire #6 Shadowfire 4 years ago
    @weevilo The only game that will dethrone WoW is WoW. The game is slowly bleeding players, and that isn't likely to slow down. Not to say it's DOOOOOOOOMED because hey, it was on the top, no where to go but down, but it's still going down hill.
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #7 pjedavison 4 years ago
    @Spazgadget A number of sub-based MMOs do offer a lifetime subscription option. It tends to be well over $100, but actually represents quite good value if you intend to play a lot. Assuming it doesn't go free-to-play within 6 months, of course.

    That said, even if that does happen, those who purchased lifetime subscriptions do tend to get significant benefits to make up for it!
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  • Avatar for RoninChaos #8 RoninChaos 4 years ago
    Wow's subscription price never bothered me and I've been playing since shortly after launch. There is an astonishing amount of content, and I think as a MMO it offers some of the best value out there for a Sub-based MMO. I'm not hit in the face with things that nickel and dime me like free-to-play MMOs and it doesn't make me feel like the experience I'm having was tailored around finding ways to steal my wallet.

    With that said, I think Elder Scrolls going pay-to-play is a good idea, at least as far as the player experience goes. So far all the f2p models I've seen in games just feel... gross. Like they're designed to infuriate you until you spend money. THAT is a problem across the board with f2p games and it's especially prevalent with MMOs.

    WoW hasn't had to do a lifetime subscription because it's WoW. Hopefully games like Elder Scrolls offer WoW some competition and both games are better for it.

    The biggest problem facing wow currently, and why it's bleeding subscribers, is the mechanics of the game (in terms of encounters at end game) have hit a point of complexity that turns a lot of people off. If you do the "easy-modes" of this content, it's incredibly boring. Blizzard is constantly trying to keep it's hardcore base happy, and it's casual base happy and it's having trouble pleasing both.

    With that said, I can do more in WoW in less time than ever before, so that's great. Hopefully ESO can take some queues from WoW and FFXIV and come up with something else entirely that's new and fresh.
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  • Avatar for lion9889 #9 lion9889 4 years ago
    I remember playing Oblivion the 1st time on XBOX 360 wow, what an amazing open world, how much adventure and story line, and the ability to gain strength, magic, and speed how fun and engrossing. Then Skyrim came out and I was entranced into the Icy World of secrets.

    When I heard Xbox One was coming out with Elder Scrolls i wanted to get the console immediately. However....
    After learning that the system was $500.00 and there would be a monthly subscription fee. I lost that spark... why...well maybe because after the cell phone bils, extra insurance, cold callers, i feel fee'd out. I mean another monthly fee is not what I WANT. This is only my Opinion, but if you gave me a cool game similar to Skyrim with better Graphics. I WOULD BE HAPPY. But the fact when i buy a game i have to pay for monthly fees seems disappointing. I want the best bang for my buck. I work and sometimes take work home. I play at my convenience. Do you really want me to hurry to play... I don't feel like it. I would rather not play and miss out on an adventure than feel pressured to pay and play at the end of the month. I know its about the best quality gaming experience but the DLC's seem to be working fine.

    In the end. I won't be purchasing the exciting game. Yeah it won't break the bank but i refuse to get into this per month play fee. When does it end...IT WON'T. Do the math $15.00 a month x 12 months. You will spend $180.00 for the year on a video game not including the $60.00 initial game purchase. $250.00 for the Game seems a bit steep guys.

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