So The Elder Scrolls Online just announced its first expansion, and naturally it’s already found itself entangled at the center of the game community’s drama du jour. Now as much I love to get into the ol’ whining on the internet, in this case, I find the drama a lot less interesting than the potential questions it raises.
The drama itself stems from the game’s longstanding promise that the game’s optional subscription would grant, and I quote, “access to all downloadable content“. The news that access to TESO‘s Morrowind expansion will not be included with an active subscription has struck some players as a reneging on that original promise, and I have to admit, my original reaction was, well, somewhat in line with that:
If expansion rumors are true: "Here's a DLC we don't have to include with your subscription!" – @TESOnline, probably.
— Isarii (@ethanmacfie) January 31, 2017
After a bit, I reconsidered. Though an annual release is a bit more aggressive an expansion schedule than what you’d find in a most MMOs, the general cadence pretty much matches up perfectly with what you’d expect from a standard MMO.
In a standard subscription format, you have a box, a subscription that covers access to the game, intermittent “free” updates, and then separate expansions. In ESO, you have a box, free access to the base game, the updates that would usually be free are either included with the subscription or bought separately, and then separate expansions. It’s functionally the same, at least when speaking specifically about content updates.
Expansions also enable the team at ZeniMax to significantly increase the scale of one update per year, which is something I feel the game sorely needs. So yeah, I’m on board.
But there are still plenty of people who feel that the promised terms of their ESO Plus subscription aren’t being met now that it’s clear expansions won’t be included, and while it’s easy to hand-wave those concerns away with a semantic distinction between a full retail release update and a DLC, that feels too much like an adherence to form over function; while that particular philosophy works admirably in a legal context, it’s unlikely to reassure many consumers that they aren’t getting screwed.
This is the part I find interesting. What is it that makes an expansion different than a content update, or a DLC? What expectations do players hold for an expansion’s content? What will ZeniMax have to deliver to demonstrate value to the subscribers whose ire they’ve currently drawn?
There’s obviously the factor of scale. Expansions should be significantly larger than their DLC counterparts, and it could be argued that this is the key point of differentiation between the two. A DLC in your standard MMO might include a minor zone, but with an expansion, the expectation is something more on the continental level. Given what we know about Vvardenfell’s size, ZeniMax seems to already be delivering on this point.
On some level though, I think we all expect more. Expansions differentiate from DLCs not just in terms of scale, but in scope, as well. A good expansion doesn’t just add to a game – it offers fundamental changes in the way the it’s played. Typically this comes in the form of a new class, new game modes, and significant additions to existing class designs.
So far TESO: Morrowind seems to be delivering there, as well. We have the Warden returning from its early-alpha exile as the game’s next playable class, while battlegrounds introduce a brand new mode of PvP. We’ve yet to hear anything about changes to existing classes *crosses fingers for new weapons*, but it’s too early to conclude that as an indicator that such changes aren’t coming. And either way, it’s not like the game is required to hit every single one of my own personal check-boxes.
From everything we know so far, I’m not worried about TESO: Morrowind‘s value proposition. It seems flush with content, making it a welcome addition to a game that hasn’t always felt as if it were growing fast enough. I’m sympathetic to those who feel as if they’re now getting less for their subscription, but even though this new update structure may feel like a violation of the spirit of ESO Plus’ original promise to some, it ultimately seems to be making for a much more engaging game for everyone in the long-run. And I’m okay with that.
So what about you? Do you feel let down that expansion access isn’t included in the game’s subscription? What do you think sets an expansion apart from a DLC? Do you think it would be obnoxious if we made a change.org petition to get new weapons added? Let me know in the comments!