What Will the Elder Scrolls Online's Pricing Model Be? - Page 2

Updated Fri, Apr 12, 2013 by gunky

What Will the Elder Scrolls Online Pricing Model Be?

Option B: Free-to-play

Free-to-play is not the dirty word it may once have been. Back in the day, there were only a handful of sleazy, small-time F2P games with dodgy cash shops selling pay-to-win items and disproportionately huge populations of Asian gold-sellers. Then some forward-thinking Western developers took that model and made it legitimate and respectable, attaching it to big-name games. Converting flagging titles from a subscription model to F2P has proven time and again to be a game-saver. It worked well for Star Wars: the Old Republic, and even better for DC Universe Online.

ESO Pricing Model - F2P/Freemium (SWTOR)

Turbine's hybrid "freemium" model, used in Dungeons & Dragons Online and the Lord of the Rings Online, set a standard for the industry, and would probably work really well in the Elder Scrolls Online. There is an option for players to subscribe if they prefer, and subscribers gain certain advantages over free-players (a monthly allowance of cash shop currency, unlimited access to all game features, etc.), but players can enjoy essentially the entire game for free. Dedicated players can also earn cash shop currency through gameplay, usually through grinding for achievements or running specific content over and over.

Cash shop items in these games tend to be cosmetics (outfits, skins for mounts), convenience (XP buffs, consumables, stuff that can be earned through extended gameplay) or character unlocks and upgrades. Items that offer purchasers a particular advantage over other players are generally considered taboo, but some games do offer "statted" items for direct purchase through the cash shop. Some of the starships sold through the C-Store in Star Trek Online, for example, come pre-packaged with leveled weapons, but these ships are not really any more powerful than the same-level ships earned through regular gameplay. 


  • Current Standard - This model has proven popular with the gaming public and profitable for developers. Games that cannot sustain a subscription-based model thrive when they convert to free-to-play or "freemium."
  • Broad Market - Allowing access without requiring a financial commitment allows players to play the game at their convenience, without feeling like they need to make the most of their subscription fee. And since so many players no longer spend all their game time with just one title, players feel free to come and go as they please, hopefully leaving some of their money behind.
  • Microtransactions - Players who don't want to spend $10 or $15 a month for a subscription are often perfectly happy to spend $5 a month in the cash shop for cool stuff. Some players will spend even more than the cost of a subscription, a buck or two at a time, for the cash shop items they feel add value to their game experience. And some players (like me) will spend extra money in addition to their monthly subscription for those must-have cosmetics and cool toys.


  • Nickel-and-Dime - Monetizing every tiny aspect of the game can make the game feel cheap. Super-restricted UIs and a hundred per-character unlockables can make the new-player F2P experience unpleasant.
  • Zero Accountability - Free-to-play can weaken a game's community by making it easy for miscreants to create disposable accounts for the sole purpose of causing trouble - trolling, griefing, spamming and other such disruptive, selfish behaviors. These players don't feel compelled to spend money on the game, and since their only investment is the time taken to download the game client, they feel they can get away with anything. When it stops being "fun," the jerk players bail, having never spent a dime.
  • The Razor's Edge of Pay-to-Win - It's a very fine line between cash shop items that offer convenience and items that become mandatory for certain kinds of content. If a careful balance is not struck and cash-shop items become a prerequisite for raiding, the game becomes "pay to win" and players feel ripped off. 


This is a much more likely option for the Elder Scrolls Online, but Zenimax Online may take a different approach than Turbine, BioWare or PerfectWorld. Sticking too closely to the established model risks coming off as conventional and possibly cheap, and ESO likely needs to appear innovative in all aspects. The competition in the F2P market is kind of fierce, and all developers are constantly trying to find new ways to make their microtransactions more lucrative than the next guy's.

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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