So the rumor on the streets is that The Elder Scrolls Online is going free-to-play soon. So, I don't have a lot to say on the subject matter since I mean, it is. There isn't any question to it. Subscription based games are dead and no one is going to even do the PLEX model, because WildStar as fun as it was, couldn't keep past the 30 days because no one is going to pay more than Netflix for less.
I mean it's sad to say it's true, but subscriptions are dead and any game that now has a subscription should just assume immediate failure. Subscriptions used to work a long time ago when server costs were huge because each server was like a super-PC at the time and rack space was limited and bandwidth was crazy expensive. The margin on subscription income was nowhere near as good as it is now and game companies either price their games releative to the market.
For instance, Netflix is $8.99 a month which is six dollars less than the average MMO fee of $14.99. To modern day consumers, what is more affordable? An extra combo meal at your local fast food joint and unlimited access to a large library of television or an MMO that other players don't want to buy into?
Subscription based offerings just can't work because they're a poor monetization option. Players would rather buy items directly in their games, giving a much higher spend than the $14.99 subscription offering, while receiving something quasi-tangible for their purchase. A great example is Star Wars: The Old Republic which while free, doesn't specifically give you a user friendly experience without the monthly fee - which isn't much, although you can also buy most of the subscription benefits permanently if you so desire.
The harsh truth of the matter is that we live in an age where we want control and not the game developers. We want to decide who what when and where we give our money to. So if we like a game, we want the subscription to be an optional component, not a required component. If it's something you can optionally opt-in for, then you're more inclined to want it, because you're already playing the game and the benefits provided far outweighs holding onto your money.
Likewise, providing a free-to-play experience is important, because MMO gamers are very fickle now. We're very scared to try new games, because we get very emotionally attached to the worlds and our characters, but if they're not successful then we have to part ways with what we've worked with, effectively causing some kind of emotional pain - even on a very small level. Having a F2P option lets players stick one foot into the game without having to commit to not only a box purchase but also a subscription in order to continue seeing their character.
I don't know - I think that SWTOR's model, DDO's model, etc. are all proof positive that if a game launches with a subscription then it's launching into its doom. The Secret World is a prime example of a game that when it launched, the collective playerbase begged for it to be F2P because the game would be something that's fun to play around with when you're in the mood, but is in no way something you sit and play all day long.
MOBAs are super hardcore into the idea of "free-to-play." Like SMITE, for instance, the entire game is free and when you make a new account you're given a set of heroes (gods) as free unlocks to start off with, in addition to the free rotation. The more you play though, the more you want to give, unlocking various additional gods, skins, voice packs, etc. The same thing holds true for LoL, Heroes of the Storm, Strife, etc.
To sum it up - yeah, if The Elder Scrolls Online doesn't go free-to-play then Bethesda has some interesting questions to ask itself, about how to properly monetize a game in this market.