Editorial: The Fifteen Dollar Silver Bullet

World of Warcraft Screenshot 2

World of Warcraft, the game that all other MMOs strive to knock off the mountain.

The Elder Scrolls Online has been a hotly anticipated title since its development was announced back in May of 2012. The Elder Scrolls series has been successful for quite some time, Skyrim sold over fifteen million copies, and the fans of the series have screamed for an online installment for years. Bethesda and ZeniMax, the producer and developer, respectively, for The Elder Scrolls Online dropped an apparent bombshell when they announced that the game would have a fifteen dollar monthly fee. To my surprise, the backlash from this announcement was enormous. Some other websites have even called this announcement a form of pre-launch suicide for The Elder Scrolls Online.

It appears that most people were expecting The Elder Scrolls Online to adopt a free-to-play model right out of the gate. Fans were fine with paying sixty dollars for the game, provided that they could choose to play the game for free. With the monthly subscription fee, ZeniMax and Bethesda are implementing the same base price that World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV use. Fifteen dollars has become the acceptable monthly fee across the board as many MMOs use this amount for their monthly pricing. Besides WoW and FFXIV, Star Wars: The Old Republic, DC Universe Online and EVE Online all choose fifteen dollars as their subscription fee.

The Elder Scrolls Online will not be the first non-WoW, non-Final Fantasy MMO to go this route as Star Wars: The Old Republic and Star Trek Online began in a similar manner, opting for monthly subscription fees rather than a free-to-play model. Both games were unable to maintain subscriber numbers after launch, and eventually both had to change to free-to-play in an attempt to breathe life into the failing games. The failures of both these games should not be solely attributed to the subscription model. Both games suffered from many other issues, an inability to release fresh content, for one, that led gamers to feeling they were being robbed of their fifteen dollars each month. In the case of Star Wars: The Old Republic, another issue was that it borrowed too much from genre stalwart World of Warcraft, a game that many gamers had already spent hundreds of hours on.

Star Wars The Old Republic Screenshot 1

Star Wars The Old Republic represents a potential path for The Elder Scrolls Online.

Unfortunately, those that choose to play The Elder Scrolls Online on the Xbone or the PS4 will also have to pay for the respective Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus subscription. In the past, gamers have been able to play the few console MMO games on the PS3 without a Plus subscription, but that will be changed when the PS4 is released. These additional requirements raises the fifteen dollar mark a bit, and for the poor sap that only plays TES Online, puts it at twenty dollars a month. ZeniMax are working with Microsoft in an attempt to remove the Gold requirement, and if they succeed, I would not be surprised to see Sony follow suit. Although Microsoft has been desperate to please its consumers, I think ZeniMax will likely be unsuccessful in their attempt. Waiving the Gold requirement would mean that Microsoft would have to consider doing the same in the future for other MMOs. Of course, a few million dollars going towards Microsoft could help persuade them.

As with all newly released MMOs, The Elder Scrolls Online is facing a huge uphill battle. I do not think that charging fifteen dollars will handicap the game’s initial growth, provided it is full of good content. However, ZeniMax and Bethesda can not just include the same amount of content that is in a normal Elder Scrolls game, they will need much more. Furthermore, The Elder Scrolls Online can not be full of bugs like the rest of the series. As Lusipurr said numerous times during the Final Fantasy XIV launch, the MMO crowd expect a high level of quality, even from a newly launched game. With over six years of development time, The Elder Scrolls Online will need to be a polished and fun experience from day one. If TES Online fails to approach these expectations, it may not be long that gamers get their wish and the game goes free-to-play.

The Elder Scrolls Online remains high on many gamers list despite last week’s announcement. It is true that launching a subscription-based MMO is quite rare these days, but that does not mean it is instantly a bad idea. Utilizing the subscription model gives the companies behind the game an expected income since a player will have to remain subscribed if they want to keep playing. Should the game not succeed with the subscription model, there is the opportunity to switch to F2P the same way that Star Wars: The Old Republic did. I think that ZeniMax and Bethesda will have learned from their rivals pitfalls, and as long as they can find a way to keep the content coming, they should have no trouble delivering value for their customers on a consistent basis. The Elder Scrolls has a big fan base already, and as long as ZeniMax is able to keep that group engaged in The Elder Scrolls Online, they can survive without having to abandon the current model.

8 comments on “Editorial: The Fifteen Dollar Silver Bullet”

  1. To my mind TES:Online’s only shot of success is to coax console-only gamers into buying into it.

  2. @SN: Those people already play Final Fantasy XIV. And well they should: it’s better.

    Can Bethesda convince people to pay $15 a month for an MMO? No. That group has dried up. WoW players pay it because there are millions of them and they have a huge investment of time already in the game, so they might as well keep paying up. But new players, with no characters, starting at L.1, knowing no one–yeah, not going to pay $15/mo. for a new, unproven MMO.

    FFXIV carries it off because its audience is insular, somewhat backward-looking, and pretty diehard. They’re easier to connive into a monthly fee. Most of them are former XI players, as well–so this is just an upgrade for them. They see it as a continuation of their previous experience.

    No one ever had to pay a monthly fee to play Elder Scrolls before. And I doubt many people would have done.

  3. I think XIV is also selling itself pretty hard to a lot of people as their first MMO, considering its strong console support. XI had console support, but I don’t think the console crowd was ready for it then. With the PS3/4, they totally are. This is XIV’s biggest route to victory and its biggest challenge: selling the game to console players.

    I think, like SN said, this is going to be TES’s strategy as well, but I don’t see them having an easier time of it. If anything it’ll be a bit harder to pitch “Skyrim but online, also 15 a month.” Though that might just be my own disinterest in Skyrim talking.

    And Gyme’s point about bugs is apt. If Bethesda thought making a large offline single player world was too difficult to release without a profusion of bugs, then I’ve got bad news…

  4. @Lusi: I don’t know, TES is huge among console owners, and FFXIV still isn’t WoW. At any rate, not saying this is a major possibility or anything, just that if TES were to be viable then they’d need to find a lot of support from console owners, as that’s the only space untouched by WoW.

  5. He. I had no idea that fans were crying out for an online TES game. I enjoyed Oblivion as a single-player game too much to want it to go online. I like TES and FF and I will probably choose FF because it is already known to be turning into a worthwhile experience. All this time ahead of TES is a big advantage in getting more of the console players on their side. Bethesda bugs are a worry as well. The situation does not blade well for The Elder Scrolls Online.

  6. The situation does not *bode* well for The Elder Scrolls Online.

  7. As Jahan says, Bethesda bugs are going to be an issue here. I doubt even Elder Scrolls fans will be willing to pay $15 a month to ‘beta test’ an almost finished game. I would also expect a rocky start, like any new MMO launch. The combination of bugs and instability will ruin the game for some.

  8. I believe that the game isn’t even being developed by Bathesda, but rather by another internal Zenimax studio – though of course if Bathesda is handling the game’s QA, then naturally there are bumpy roads ahead.

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