Which downstream revenue model The Elder Scrolls Online would adopt has been one of the big lingering questions surrounding development of the game (apart, of course, from “will there be dragons?”). Until now, ZOS has kept their financial plans a closely guarded secret. However; yesterday evening at Gamescom, Game Director Matt Firor unveiled the big announcement during an interview with German gaming magazine GameStar:
We’re thrilled that gamers are looking forward to diving into The Elder Scrolls Online and we’ve been working hard to deliver the game that fans want – one that’s worthy of the Elder Scrolls name. Choosing the right business model is part of that. We are going with the subscription model for ESO.
We’re building a game with the freedom to play – alone or with your friends – as much as you want. A game with meaningful and consistent content – one packed with hundreds of hours of gameplay that can be experienced right away and one that will be supported with premium customer support. Charging a flat monthly (or subscription) fee means that we will offer players the game we set out to make, and the one that fans want to play. Going with any other model meant that we would have to make sacrifices and changes we weren’t willing to make.
We have seen some mixed reactions to this announcement throughout the community, where some industry followers have even expressed outright surprise at this decision. I personally believe the subscription model is far from obsolete, and given the ambitious scope of The Elder Scrolls Online and it’s post launch plans am not shocked to see that ZOS has opted for a traditional pay-to-play business model. The Knowledge Base on the official ESO website has more concrete details:
We will be announcing exact payment methods at a later date, but globally we will be supporting multiple payment options. Players must purchase The Elder Scrolls Online in order to play it. They will have unlimited access for the first 30 days following activation and can continue beyond that with a subscription of $14.99/month (€12.99 / £8.99).
This is a very conventional setup for the MMO industry, and one that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise despite the arguable success of recent buy-to-play titles. As far back as September of last year, we had a strong indication that ESO would leverage a subscription model. We saw in a briefly-posted job listing that ZOS was recruiting a Finance Manager with specific experience managing subscription-based revenue streams.
While this decision has not been universally popular (we’ve already seen some outrageous petitions begging for B2P), I think it makes a lot of sense if ZeniMax can deliver on the potential of the game. We know of ZOS’ plans to release frequent content updates in the form of the mysteriously titled “adventure zones”, and a subscription based revenue model holds them to this commitment by providing an approximately contractual mechanism between ZOS and the player community. The assurance of subscription revenue means that ZeniMax can fund downstream development while not having to live “paycheck-to-paycheck” on micro-transactions or one-time purchases. This gives ZOS some leeway, affording developers the time required to make sure these patches are polished and balanced before releasing them. On the other hand, the abundance of affordable alternatives in the MMO space keeps ZOS under pressure to make sure the quality of experience they deliver meets the $15 monthly price tag.
One of the reasons I support a subscription revenue model in the MMO space is it enters developers and players into a symbiotic relationship, where both rely on each other for the success of the game. In a world with so many options for our gaming entertainment the subscription model is a brave move, and one that means developers won’t be able to take players for a ride without delivering new content that is both timely and polished. In fact, when pressed on this very topic, Firor explained:
We are already working on content that will roll out to players after ESO’s launch. New quest lines, skills, zones, dungeons -are already in the pipeline. These things, in addition to our end-game content, PvP, and extraordinary customer service, are all part of making sure we’re delivering on that premium service – and that the player feels like they are getting their money’s worth. We won’t know the exact schedule until after ESO launches, but our target right now is to have new content available every four to six weeks.
While the marketing of ESO hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory thusfar, I am encouraged to see that they recognize their MMO as a premium service which must deliver enough value to retain their customer base.
It’s clearly an issue where players have divided opinions, we’ve seen over 1,200 posts on this topic alone here on Tamriel Foundry. Additionally, a survey we conducted several months ago revealed that out of over 1,000 ESO fans, over half preferred a traditional subscription model. It’s clearly a heated issue, but either way I’m glad that we have direct confirmation of ZOS’ plans in this regard. What do you think about the announcement? Is there still room in the MMO genre for a subscription game to be successful? Do you buy the argument that a monthly sub can act as an enforcement mechanism for the relationship between developers and players? Would you rather have seen a different route taken with ESO?