The Subscription Model is Dead, As Proved by The Elder Scrolls Online
Recently, Bethesda announced that The Elder Scrolls Online will cost players $15 per month. Twitter’s reactions have been negative regarding the news- a quick search of #ESO reveals that people are dropping interest with great speed. This reveals a lot about what has changed in the world of gaming over the last few years.
Elder Scrolls Online (console): $60 XBL/PS+ sub fee: $50+ Monthly ESO sub fee: $15/month 12 month total: $290+. Holy cow.
— Peter Skerritt (@PeterSkerritt) August 21, 2013
This does not bode well for ESO– while the game has generated quite a bit of hype, the backlash generated by everybody’s reaction might be enough to prevent it from getting off the ground. To be honest, I don’t think that $15 is too much per month for a tremendous and engaging experience- it’s not too much for what ESO is offering. The problem is, people today have grown used to free-to-play (F2P) and balk at the idea of paying a subscription for access to all the features of a game. It’s not that people are wholly opposed to paying money for a game- people drop money for cosmetic items in DotA 2 quite frequently- the items don’t affect gameplay, but they do change the way that different characters look.
If you own a mobile device, you probably already know that there are games that are “free” to get started with, but start asking for money to speed the game up so that it’s actually playable at a fun pace- or something else along those lines. People don’t particularly appreciate this model of “F2P”, but it somehow makes money. Then, too, are games that are completely free, but full of advertisements- there seems to be a middling opinion towards these.
When it comes to multiplayer games, subscription fees are pretty rare nowadays- besides World of Warcraft, I can’t honestly think of a successful subscription-based multiplayer game. If ESO is to succeed, it will need to blow players away and keep them loyal- it’s not like Bethesda to release expansions and DLC frequently; they have rather long development cycles, and charging a flat rate for access to an expansion probably wouldn’t do them much good. If they were to charge $60 upfront for a copy of ESO, the $15 fee would be covered in four months- too soon to charge for an expansion.
How will ESO turn out? It’s hard to say for sure- thus far, it looks like a promising MMORPG, one that has could make the Elder Scrolls experience much bigger- whether it’ll be worth playing remains to be seen. For now, however, Bethesda may want to think carefully about it’s business model- it would be a pity for a great game to be largely shunned because it costs a little more than lunch.