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What Will the Elder Scrolls Online's Pricing Model Be?

Updated Fri, Apr 12, 2013 by gunky

What Will the Elder Scrolls Online Pricing Model Be?

The Elder Scrolls Online is in closed beta testing right now, and though ZeniMax Online has been generous in their revelations about the game's setting and background lore, they have yet to address one of the most crucial issues about its impending launch: how will we be paying for it?

The question can really be applied to any Triple-A, big-budget title entering the MMO market. Back in the day, it was easy - charge ten or fifteen bucks a month and everyone's happy. But times are different now. The economy is still horrible enough that you can use it as an excuse for pretty much anything. And perhaps because of this, free-to-play is the new go-to financial model for new games. But not all F2P models are created equal, and big-name games have some options.

Option A: Subscription-Only

ESO Pricing Model - Subscription Only (WoW)

Game developers need their MMOs to earn money. That's a simple fact. If the game stops earning profit, it gets shut down. It stands to reason that a big, ambitious game like the Elder Scrolls Online will have ongoing maintenance costs proportionate to the scope of the game, and the size of its player base - in other words, quite high. The easiest way to meet those costs and turn a profit is to charge players a monthly fee.

This was the industry standard for years - an initial fee for a copy of the game, either digital or on physical media and in a fancy box with books and such, and a monthly access fee. Eventually, after an expansion or two, the original game might be offered for free download, though a subscription is still required to play it. But this method has fallen out of favor recently, and proven to be less economically viable than it had been in previous years. Except for Blizzard and CCP.

World of Warcraft and EVE Online continue to make this model work and have been using it since before most other games ever saw the light of day. But the fact is, not every game can be an industry titan like WoW or a niche-market champion like EVE. In fact, most of them can't. Most games, with their sky-high aspirations, strive to be the giant skyscrapers in Dubai or Kuala Lumpur. WoW and EVE are the Pyramids and the Parthenon.

PROS:

  • Tried And True - This method has been around for a long time, and it has been known to work. For a while, anyway.
  • Built-in Customer Loyalty - Gamers who pay for game time generally try to make that money count, and tend to take the game more seriously.
  • Exclusivity - A monthly subscription discourages casual players who will check out a game for a short while and then move on to something newer and more shiny, without ever spending any money.

CONS:

  • Outdated Model - The times, they are a-changin'. What worked five years ago doesn't work so well anymore, unless you are Blizzard or CCP.
  • Unsustainable - Even huge-budget Triple-A games have a tough time sustaining this model. Star Wars: The Old Republic is a good example - its subscription-only model lasted less than a year.
  • Limited Market - Paying a subscription requires a monthly income and a means of paying the monthly fee electronically. Young people, who make up the majority of the game-playing public, often don't have jobs or credit cards. 

CONCLUSION:

The Elder Scrolls Online is not likely to launch as a subscription-only game. The failure of Star Wars: The Old Republic to make that model work for more than a few months serves as a warning: even massive IPs backed by enormous development budgets will need to look at other options for long-term sustainability. The fact that WoW and EVE (and an ever-diminishing cast of other characters) can continue to run as subscription-only titles is a testament to their longevity and large, dedicated player base, rather than to the viability of the financial model in a modern MMO market.

This analysis is flawed. SWTOR lost the subscription market because the game wasn't good enough to merit it. People would have continued to pay for it, if the game had been sufficiently engaging, but it wasn't. Holding it up as a paragon of why P2P no-longer works is just faulty reasoning.

P2P is still the AAA of MMOs. But, like AAA games, there are some which are good and make a lot of money, and some which are bad which don't. However, MMOs are a much bigger investment than your average AAA game, which is why we see much fewer of them each year. It also means that even if they are bad, you need to leverage some form of revenue from them - which is why we have seen the proliferation of other models.

So, the important question is really: Is ESO good enough fo justify P2P? The answer to that is: We don't know yet. It has certainly impressed a lot of people, it has a lot of good buzz about it and people are excited. But, until more significant hands-on impressions are obtained, no-one can answer that question. I think that Zenimax would *like* it to be good enough to be P2P. While we have no concrete information, there has been some indications of that intent. Certainly, Nick Konkle has said that they want to make it a premium service, which implies P2P.

Game isn't a sandbox and won't have millions of subs within the first month whom are stuck in a frustrating but rewarding enough skinner box to continue playing ergo this game will at best be B2P, it may even be freemium/full F2P.

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