I play this game, y’all: Elder Scrolls Online. It’s an MMO (my first), set in the world of the Elder Scrolls. I’ve played since the beta period, and I’ve had two six-month subscriptions since. I really enjoy the game.
(You might know the deal about what just happened today, so skip down to the part where I say you can start reading again. Don’t make me point you back to this next section, though!)
Yesterday, Zenimax and Bethesda announced they were changing the current subscriber-only basis for the game on March 17. At that point, we only have to make an initial purchase of the game. Anyone with a game purchase and an account can play all content current at that point. This new version of the game will be called Tamriel Unlimited. And in June, when the game launches on XBox and Playstation, their premium subscribers will have the same deal: buy the game and you can play all that content – you only need an XBox Gold or Playstation Network membership to access online content through the consoles. This is a business model for MMOs known as B2P, or buy-to-play. You buy the game to play it, but that’s all the money you absolutely have to spend. We had mandatory subscriptions, and on March 17 we don’t.
However, there will still be a subscription service: the new ESO Plus (ESO+) membership. It’s going to be the same price (looks like) as the old subscription. Now why buy the subscription when it’s free to play the game after you’ve bought the box?
Because Tamriel Unlimited will quickly make a mockery of that last word. Expansions will be coming to Tamriel. These new areas of play will be considered downloadable content (DLC), and access to these areas is only available to plain old players by purchasing them in the new cash shop, the Crown Shop. Crowns are the new in-game currency, a premium one beyond the normal gold currency that will still be used. In addition to new DLC, we will be able to plunk down crowns for new costumes, new mounts, and a whole bunch of other stuff.
And hence the controversy. Once a cash shop and area entry costs enters into the picture, the spectre of free-to-play (F2P) rears its head, a Daedric Prince far more vicious than even Molag Bal. F2P MMOs generally make their money through the cash shop exclusively. They let you download the game for free, but then begin limiting access to areas. Holy smokes, that’s already happening in Tamriel Unlimited! The only limit being your wallet and Zenimax’s greed! WHERE IS THE AMULET OF KINGS??? IN THE CASH SHOP FOR ONLY 4,999 CROWNS, YOU MOTHERLESS DOG OF A NECROMANCER!!!
Ahem. I digress.
That’s not what we have happening on March 17. By keeping your subscription going, you get access to all areas of Tamriel, current and future. There are no barriers beyond the subscription price. Plus there are some other perks for subscribing: a bump to earning experience and crafting advances, as well as a new allotment of crowns for every renewal, 1500 crowns for every month of renewal. Even if you let your subscription lapse, you get to keep all your cool stuff. But you lose access to any DLC. You have to go purchase it like all the other free players. Reupping gets your access back.
(Hey, all you skippers – start reading again!)
So the question of the hour: Joseph, what do you think about all this?
I’m glad you asked. To be honest, I’m a little disappointed. This is my first MMO, and I enjoy it a lot. I’ve considered my two six-month subscriptions worth the money I paid. I would probably have bought another game instead of ESO, so the money I considered a sunk cost. When the game transitions in March, I’ll still have a month and a half on the current subscription.
But Zenimax and Bethesda have made it clear to me that the good times can continue! I can still subscribe and get all the game content they release just like the original bargain we struck. They just want to see F2P on the side. And, hey, here’s a sweet couple of shineys to smooth over any bad blood.
Since ESO isn’t my imaginary lover, I’m OK with that.
I do think there will be some things to watch for, though, that will signal my time in ESO is over and done with.
1. I’m not having fun playing the game.
I think that wraps it up, actually. I have fun playing the game. When I’m not having fun anymore, I’ll quit.
What will make me have less fun playing the game?
Having to pay to enter areas on top of my subscription. Having to buy items in the crown store in order to compete with others. Losing the guild of which I’ve been a part since beta and not finding a worthwhile replacement. Having the subscription model cancelled and losing access to DLC anyway.
All of that is coming. All of that is in the cards. As I understand it, only two MMOs have lasted a substantial amount of time as a subscriber-only service: World of Warcraft and EVE Online. All the others started F2P or went that way naturally, almost like it was a natural progress of MMO economics.
I don’t think Zenimax or Bethesda want it to happen, in the sense of their having planned this to happen all along, ha ha, suckers! I think both companies would happily have replicated the success of WoW and EVE with the Elder Scrolls Online game. And honestly it was worth a shot. The Elder Scrolls community had the best chance of pulling it off.
But it didn’t happen. We tried. We didn’t make it.
Ooooh, that sounds like I’m blaming us, the players, for the transition! I’m not. I don’t see it as blame. I don’t blame people for trying something. The cash wasn’t there – and the cash is and always will be the bottom line here. Please stop excoriating Zenimax and Bethesda for this. Spoiler alert: they are doing this to make money! They care about the product, they do, but if it’s not making enough money, and there’s money on the table over there, they are going to go get that money.
And this is something that people who check every damn pot and crate in ESO for mats ought to understand.
Eventually the game will decline into a F2P model. I can see it happening. The skyshard delves in each zone will be locked, and a key purchased in the crown shop. But not today. Undaunted Pledges will require an up-front bribe of crowns for the Undaunted folk that pass out the pledges. But not today. The Dark Brotherhood and the Blades will charge entry fees to their august organizations, crowns only, please, the Morag Tang didn’t initiate no fools. But not today.
The Imperial City will have a special crown-only portal (right this way across the bridge, sirs and madams) at which the other factions won’t be able to camp.
Want to explore the wonders of Vvardenfell? Gain entry to Solitude? Approach the madness of Labyrinthian? Ship tickets and tolls will be available for crowns wherever you find a wandering merchant. Go ahead and extort those big meanies for 32 gold all you like! The crowns will be whisked instantly away to wherever Stendarr keeps his collection of bitcoin thumbdrives.
Abner Tharn will sell us his knockoff of the Amulet of Kings, granting us god-like powers, and then sell us his special Amulet of Kings Essence to recharge the Amulet every hour, all for a quite reasonable amount of crowns, clink, clink, clink.
But not today.
And so today, I play.