At Gamescom 2013, the creative director of the upcoming MMORPG The Elder Scrolls Online, Matt Firor, made an announcement regarding the payment model of the game. It is to have a set monthly fee of $15/£9. Almost immediately gamers took to internet to voice their dissatisfaction with the announcement. They were angry that they are going to have to pay over and over to play. But is a monthly subscription really as bad as people are making out?
Now, it’s absolutely no secret that the pay to play MMO model has not done well for a while now. A prime example of this notion is Star Wars: The Old Republic from Bioware. At launch, the game had 1.7 million subscribers. Not a bad number by anyone’s standards. Then, around three months later, it dipped to 1.3 million. Then, by the time July had rolled around only a couple of months later, it had lost around another 300,000 subscribers. Not so good.
There have been a lot of reasons cited for the percieved failing of the game. A lot of people were very vocal about how truly awful the game was. Lack of endgame content, bad customer service, empty servers, to name but a few. Odd then that after the game went free to play, people were willing to overlook and be less vocal about the failings, as it has added over 2,000,000 subscribers since adopting that particular payment model, according to BioWare executive producer Jeff Hickman.
The problem is that there haven’t been very many successful P2P MMO’S in quite a long while. Evergreen titles like World of Warcraft still make their money, and while the subscription numbers have steadily declined over the years, it still holds a base of 7.7 million subscribers willing to part with money for monthly subscriptions, annual subscriptions and game cards. So why are some gamers so wary about paying money for another MMO?
Of course, a lot of recent MMO’s have felt generic and like they have come from a cookie cutter mould without any real innovation. They have all been the same basic fetch quests and raids that every other MMO on the market has done before. And without innovation, gamers are understandably a lot more wary about parting with their hard earned cash. If they are essentially going to be paying for the same game experience that they can get with another MMO, why should they pay?
A good example of a free to play MMO is Guild Wars 2. It has a slow but steadily growing fan base, It generates revenue for the makers with in game transactions, and the players only have to buy the game once without necessity of paying every month for playing it, just like a lot of free to play MMO’s out there. So why can’t Elder Scrolls Online follow this model?
Zenimax Online Studios, Bethesda and indeed Matt Firor have made it clear since the reveal of the game that this is intended to be an AAA release MMORPG. And Bethesda have a lot of reputation to uphold. The wildly popular single player Elder Scrolls franchise and the Fallout franchise are testament to this. They are not taking this game lightly. The are wanting to appeal to two groups of fans: The Elder Scrolls fans and MMO fans. A big task to satisfy both groups, methinks. And that will take a lot of work.
There will need to be server maintenence, updates and patches (which, Zenimax have mentioned that they are going to be on from day one) and content updates, expansions, etcetera. And all of that costs money. Not to mention the millions of dollars that they have already sunk into the game. “”We don’t want players to hit monetisation fees when they’re in the world,” said Firor. Meaning they feel that microstransactions would feel out of place in an Elder Scrolls game. And some people do tend to agree with that.If it truly is to be an Elder Scrolls experience and an AAA experience, wandering through Whiterun in Skyrim, for example, may feel a little odd seeing virtual peddlers selling “1000 gold for £10″ or something along those lines.
The biggest crowd to win over of course will be the console gamers, who are not used to paying a monthly fee to play a game. MMO’s have not been greatly successful on consoles, and in addition to paying the yearly fee for Xbox Live or PSN, they will, it seems, be expected to pay the additional fee for the game which is quite an alien concept to console gamers, who are used to paying once for a game and then paying for additional DLC and season passes if they so wish.
Can Zenimax win console players over with the prospect of a huge, persistent, online version of Tamriel, battling along side their friends and hook people in on that promise?
With the release of Final Fantasy XIV not too far away now on PS3, which also adapts the subscription model, I am sure that Zenimax will be watching those figures very closely indeed.
But with the notion of traversing the entirety of Tamriel in one full game (each province will be around the same size as their single player counterparts) I am sure a lot of gamers, MMO fans and Elder Scrolls fans are watching Elder Scrolls Online very closely, subscription or not.