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News & Features Discussion  » [Dev Journal] General: Pathfinder Online’s Ryan Dancey Defends Elder Scrolls Online and Subscriptions

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  SBFord

Associate Editor - News Manager

Joined: 6/28/10
Posts: 15980

 
OP  1/07/14 7:07:27 PM#1

Just after New Year’s Day Paul Tassi wrote an editorial piece for Forbes.com titled Predicting the Biggest Video Game Disaster of 2014: The Elder Scrolls Online.  As I read this piece it became clear that Tassi’s prediction was based on the choice Zenimax, developer and publisher of the game has made on how to monetize the game – a fixed price monthly subscription.  

Read more Pathfinder Online’s Ryan Dancey Defends Elder Scrolls Online and Subscriptions.

Associate Editor: MMORPG.com
Follow me on Twitter: @MMORPGMom

  brihtwulf

Hard Core Member

Joined: 6/08/03
Posts: 888

1/08/14 8:47:38 AM#2

I'll have to disagree with you completely.  As a player of every major MMO out there throughout the last decade and a half, as well as someone who has worked in the video game industry, I'll have to call you out on your estimates and process.

Firstly, it's highly unscientific and your "estimates" are more of an opinion than based on any actual facts.  Secondly, the original article wasn't talking about the "hybrid" model as ESO is not planning on using that model.  What we DO know, is that with the exception of EVE Online (which we do not know the specific number of North American subscribers), subscription numbers have been plummeting.  Particularly looking at World of Warcraft in North America, which has lost millions of subscribers since its peak years ago.

Your chart on monetization flow is inaccurate.  The number of players in "free-to-play" or hybrid games who do NOT subscribe are the vast majority.  The way these companies are making their money is NOT by attracting new subscribers, but rather their staggered transactions for content.  Most players are not happy paying $15 every month for content.  The number of casual players has increased as the overall MMO player numbers have gone up throughout the last decade.  This means people who don't feel they put in the time to justify a monthly subscription.

Games like The Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Rift are making paying for the content you use easier.  MORE players are in the game making SMALLER transactions.  This is the "high volume - low dollar" method that made fast food explode.  You get millions of people stopping in (a majority of which are spending small amounts on the food they buy).  Sure, you have people dropping $10 at McDonald's, but those people are few and far between.  The situation in the MMO industry is similar.  Small transactions by more players for overall increased revenue and player numbers.

I would agree with the stance of the Forbes article, considering the pattern in the recent years when games HAVE chosen to go with a subscription model.  Most of the games you mentioned started off attempting to get the subscription-only model working, but eventually backtracked to the hybrid model themselves.  The same will likely be true for ESO, unless they stubbornly refuse and buckle under the lack of revenue.  While the Elder Scrolls series is a well-known and beloved one, so is The Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars.  Major names and big budgets cannot guarantee success.

The trends indicate that both ESO and Wildstar will fall prey to the same pressure of previous recent MMO's, and there is no evidence to indicate otherwise.  The information provided was mostly filled with unscientific guesses, without any actual evidence.  Everyone is titled to their opinion, but you can't present guesses as facts.  I can respect what your opinion is and the hopefulness of it, but we'll eventually know the outcome only after the fact.

  Nephelai

Advanced Member

Joined: 1/29/13
Posts: 184

1/08/14 8:56:08 AM#3

None of this matters. If a gaming company produces a quality game with great service people will pay a fair value under any model to be entertained by it. All this reverse engineering trying to predict a games success based on its payment system after we know the results of other games is arse backwards. Games go B2P or F2P because they either don't have confidence in their product/service to command a sub (or even a higher price) or they are facing financial ruin.

  victorbjr

Advanced Member

Joined: 9/13/10
Posts: 181

1/08/14 9:04:35 AM#4

I find this write-up extremely interesting from a theoretical standpoint.

 

I can't commit to agreeing or disagreeing just yet though, because the educated guesses for the revenue streams of the games aren't what I'd call a trustworthy foundation to frame an argument on... BUT I'm the type who appreciates a well-thought out piece like this. Thank you.

A writer and gamer from the Philippines. Loves his mom dearly. :)

Can also be found on http://www.gamesandgeekery.com

  bcbully

Tipster

Joined: 3/03/12
Posts: 8332

1/08/14 9:14:48 AM#5

Yes, swtor has more players and is making more money than GW2. *turns the page* 

 

To the point of the article and like Nephelai said, if the game is good people will pay for it. Up until November 2012, I was the biggest support of the sub and the most anti cash to gold conversion guy. I then found a great game, that I haven't stopped playing yet, even though it has a hybrid payment model with a cash to gold conversion system. 

 

The funny thing is just 2 months before that I played GW2. I absolutely hated their implementation of cash to gold conversion; I understand now though, that's not why I quit within 3 weeks. I quit because I was bored to tears.

 
 
 

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  collekt

Advanced Member

Joined: 2/05/13
Posts: 276

1/08/14 9:23:12 AM#6
Originally posted by brihtwulf

 Particularly looking at World of Warcraft in North America, which has lost millions of subscribers since its peak years ago.

Not necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with your wall of text, but please don't try to use WoW's decline in users as an argument against subscription fees. It's very unlikely that the sub fee has anything to do with it. People are quitting WoW because they have been playing it for years, and the game itself is going downhill. If anything, WoW should be proof that people are willing to pay a sub fee for a quality game, looking at how long it has lasted and how many users it has snagged to pay it's monthly fee over it's lifespan.

  CrazKanuk

Elite Member

Joined: 10/06/09
Posts: 2342

1/08/14 9:35:48 AM#7

I tend to agree that the Forbes article is completely out in left field. I, also, don't completely disagree with you on your numbers. It doesn't seem entirely unfair. In particular, SWTOR is relatively open about their subscription numbers, if the numbers given are accurate. 

 

What I disagree with is the idea that a games MTX revenues are less than their subscription revenue. I think that a popular misconception is that game companies are going to an MTX system because they don't feel people will pay a subscription for their game. In reality, the F2P/MTX model is MUCH more profitable and scalable. Plus, people feel much more comfortable with these types of purchase, even if they do surpass what they'd pay as a subscription. It's monetizing your game with tangible items. I'm going to Unlock a bag slot for you, give you access to the auction house, give you this sweet smoking jacket, or this house! What do you get with a subscription? The right to play their game? HA! In actuality, you get everything, even the smoking jacket. 

 

There are mobile games a thousand times more mind-numbing than any MMO grind that are making more on a DAILY basis than nearly every single Subscription MMO (Clash of Clans and Candy Crush are prime examples). So the idea that microtransactions are less profitable than a subscription system is completely out to lunch. Sorry. 

Crazkanuk

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  Denambren

Apprentice Member

Joined: 1/03/08
Posts: 327

1/08/14 9:42:31 AM#8
ESO's catastrophic failure will have nothing to do with the subscription model, though I'm sure plenty of people will enjoy pointing to the sub model as the reason the game failed (including Zenimax when they need an excuse to cover just how bad their game turned out to be).
  MumboJumbo

Novice Member

Joined: 7/18/10
Posts: 3213

Veni, Vidi, Converti

1/08/14 9:49:17 AM#9
Originally posted by brihtwulf

Firstly, it's highly unscientific and your "estimates" are more of an opinion than based on any actual facts.  Secondly, the original article wasn't talking about the "hybrid" model as ESO is not planning on using that model.  What we DO know, is that with the exception of EVE Online (which we do not know the specific number of North American subscribers), subscription numbers have been plummeting.  Particularly looking at World of Warcraft in North America, which has lost millions of subscribers since its peak years ago.

Are the estimates in the right region, however? The author does say they are estimates. On the trend of declining subs over the life-time of an mmorpg:

The_Theme_Park_Trap

 

Originally posted by brihtwulf

Your chart on monetization flow is inaccurate.  The number of players in "free-to-play" or hybrid games who do NOT subscribe are the vast majority.  The way these companies are making their money is NOT by attracting new subscribers, but rather their staggered transactions for content.  Most players are not happy paying $15 every month for content.  The number of casual players has increased as the overall MMO player numbers have gone up throughout the last decade.  This means people who don't feel they put in the time to justify a monthly subscription.

Here's my theory that F2P MTX only payment model suits app games that you burn through in minutes or hours even then discard. If there is a huge population that cycle through a game and discard it then fine. But when there is a flood of such mmorpgs on the market each one competing with the next and new F2P mmos coming out each month as the latest flavor of the month? Themeparks because they cost so much are so bland because they are designed to appeal to as many people as possible to recoup. This fits the F2P-MTX direction of volume of new players as well as populate the game world.

I think smaller budget mmorpgs offer an alternative combination of design and pricing and population.

It's interesting Sony are providing a sub option (only recently announced across all their games) as well as their "The Future is F2P" a few years ago speech.

  CazNeerg

Novice Member

Joined: 8/06/04
Posts: 2220

"So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb." Dark Helmet

1/08/14 10:01:56 AM#10
Originally posted by Nephelai

Games go B2P or F2P because they either don't have confidence in their product/service to command a sub (or even a higher price) or they are facing financial ruin.

There is really no evidence supporting this theory.  If we exclude WoW as an outlier (which it clearly is, in many ways) then it is a categorical truth that every MMO with a AAA budget has reached a point where in order to maintain/increase profitability, they have to move away from a sub only system to some form of hybrid model.  Companies always want more revenue.  They don't have to be facing "financial ruin" in order to think an adjustment in their model would be beneficial.

Based on recent history, it doesn't appear to be the case that games start out sub only because the companies actually expect or intend that they are going to stay that way, they start out that way because they know a certain portion of their audience will pay more to be first through the door and not have to wait to play the game, so they milk that audience with a sub for as long as it stays large, waiting until numbers start to drop significantly before adopting the more versatile and broadly appealing freemium approach.

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.

  yaminsux

Hard Core Member

Joined: 12/23/05
Posts: 799

1/08/14 10:05:08 AM#11
Remember TSW? They started with subs but had to scrap it later. ESO will be the same, given with discouraging beta news on how the game is shaping up. I think zenimax realized this but unable to turn back. It's gonna cost them and possibly the IP as a whole. A lot of people see that f2p is the way to go but do they aware that a lot of asian f2p/mtx games went under? There are a lot.
  Tamanous

Elite Member

Joined: 3/22/09
Posts: 2131

1/08/14 10:12:20 AM#12

There seems to be a whole lot of debate over price models and how they make or break games. I wish we could start talking about why games fail ... because the game isn't any good!

 

I have not played an mmo within the last 8 years that has been anything other than "average" or worse. Make a good game and maybe, just perhaps, players will play it no matter the price model.

 

So many excuses, so few good games.

You stay sassy!

  iridescence

Novice Member

Joined: 6/12/12
Posts: 1492

1/08/14 10:23:48 AM#13

The truth is you can have sub games that justify their sub price by constantly compelling content updates which are included in the sub price, you can have F2P games which really are free to play if you only want the basic experience. Both those models are fine with me. Then you have your sub games that only give a yearly expansion you have to pay extra for or your F2P models that nickle and dime you for things you actually do need to play the game properly like extra hotbars or reasonable bag space. I hate both those models.

 

The fault of the Forbes article is saying "Sub is bad!" which is ridiculous. There's no reason a good game can't thrive and be loved by its playerbase with a sub and a bad game will be a bad game no matter what payment model it uses. Sure bad games can sometimes be financially successful with slot machine mechanics and other things which exploit some players' base greed but onl a complete non-gamer or fool would argue for more of those type of games.

 

 

  User Deleted
1/08/14 10:29:12 AM#14
Originally posted by yaminsux
Remember TSW? They started with subs but had to scrap it later. ESO will be the same, given with discouraging beta news on how the game is shaping up. I think zenimax realized this but unable to turn back. It's gonna cost them and possibly the IP as a whole. A lot of people see that f2p is the way to go but do they aware that a lot of asian f2p/mtx games went under? There are a lot.

They still have subs.  It's just not required.  In fact their model is exactly what Ryan says the predominant model is going to be.

  CazNeerg

Novice Member

Joined: 8/06/04
Posts: 2220

"So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb." Dark Helmet

1/08/14 10:33:34 AM#15
Originally posted by iridescence

The truth is you can have sub games that justify their sub price by constantly compelling content updates which are included in the sub price, you can have F2P games which really are free to play if you only want the basic experience. Both those models are fine with me. Then you have your sub games that only give a yearly expansion you have to pay extra for or your F2P models that nickle and dime you for things you actually do need to play the game properly like extra hotbars or reasonable bag space. I hate both those models.

 The fault of the Forbes article is saying "Sub is bad!" which is ridiculous. There's no reason a good game can't thrive and be loved by its playerbase with a sub and a bad game will be a bad game no matter what payment model it uses. Sure bad games can sometimes be financially successful with slot machine mechanics and other things which exploit some players' base greed but onl a complete non-gamer or fool would argue for more of those type of games. 

Here is the thing though; excluding WoW, no AAA game accomplishes that feat.  The empirical evidence indicates that a subscription only system is not a viable long term business plan for a MMO with a AAA budget.  It's not a question of whether a game eventually adopts a hybrid model, it's only a question of how long it takes.  If you think ESO and Wildstar don't already have at least tentative plans for what their Freemium systems would look like, I want to know what you are smoking. ;)

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.

  Vutar

Apprentice Member

Joined: 1/10/09
Posts: 818

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. -George Santayana

1/08/14 10:39:37 AM#16
Originally posted by brihtwulf

I'll have to disagree with you completely.  As a player of every major MMO out there throughout the last decade and a half, as well as someone who has worked in the video game industry, I'll have to call you out on your estimates and process.

Firstly, it's highly unscientific and your "estimates" are more of an opinion than based on any actual facts.  Secondly, the original article wasn't talking about the "hybrid" model as ESO is not planning on using that model.  What we DO know, is that with the exception of EVE Online (which we do not know the specific number of North American subscribers), subscription numbers have been plummeting.  Particularly looking at World of Warcraft in North America, which has lost millions of subscribers since its peak years ago.

Your chart on monetization flow is inaccurate.  The number of players in "free-to-play" or hybrid games who do NOT subscribe are the vast majority.  The way these companies are making their money is NOT by attracting new subscribers, but rather their staggered transactions for content.  Most players are not happy paying $15 every month for content.  The number of casual players has increased as the overall MMO player numbers have gone up throughout the last decade.  This means people who don't feel they put in the time to justify a monthly subscription.

Games like The Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Rift are making paying for the content you use easier.  MORE players are in the game making SMALLER transactions.  This is the "high volume - low dollar" method that made fast food explode.  You get millions of people stopping in (a majority of which are spending small amounts on the food they buy).  Sure, you have people dropping $10 at McDonald's, but those people are few and far between.  The situation in the MMO industry is similar.  Small transactions by more players for overall increased revenue and player numbers.

I would agree with the stance of the Forbes article, considering the pattern in the recent years when games HAVE chosen to go with a subscription model.  Most of the games you mentioned started off attempting to get the subscription-only model working, but eventually backtracked to the hybrid model themselves.  The same will likely be true for ESO, unless they stubbornly refuse and buckle under the lack of revenue.  While the Elder Scrolls series is a well-known and beloved one, so is The Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars.  Major names and big budgets cannot guarantee success.

The trends indicate that both ESO and Wildstar will fall prey to the same pressure of previous recent MMO's, and there is no evidence to indicate otherwise.  The information provided was mostly filled with unscientific guesses, without any actual evidence.  Everyone is titled to their opinion, but you can't present guesses as facts.  I can respect what your opinion is and the hopefulness of it, but we'll eventually know the outcome only after the fact.

 

So you just said you needed to call this person out because they have no reliable evidence and then you went on to state your opinion that subs are plummeting with no evidence. Oh right, we are supposed to take you as an authority on all things because you "worked in the industry." I was in the Army for eight years, I guess that means that you can trust me to estimate the financial statistics of the Army even though I had nothing to do at all with that area. But hey, I worked in the industry...

 

  Ziegler

Apprentice Member

Joined: 11/01/06
Posts: 160

1/08/14 10:40:03 AM#17

His premise is wrong...but his conclusion is correct. TESO will be a trainwreck and it wont be because of the sub.

 

F2P is a scam on the consumer. It's whole reason for being is that the whales spend enough to offset the freeloaders, and the gaming company is making more per player than they do with a sub.

Go read the last article about SWTOR...they even admit that they are making like 28.00 a month per player......

 

  GrumpyMel2

Advanced Member

Joined: 3/24/09
Posts: 1835

1/08/14 10:42:24 AM#18

Interesting piece Ryan and my gut tells me that you are generaly on target, I said as much in response to the Forbes piece.  I think one of the other posters here really has the right of it. The monetization scheme (at least here in the West) really is a very minor consideration in the success or failure of a game when compared to the quality of the game itself and it's appeal to it's target audience. It might keep the Publisher from maximizing return on the game or if done poorly harm the appeal of the game but the bottom line, for me, is that if a game is worth paying for and people truely enjoy it when compared to the competition, they will pay for it regardless of how it is monetized. If not....if it's just kinda meh...then they won't period.

Despite what some people here might like to argue, $15 per month is a paltry sum for most adults entertainment budgets....you can't even see a movie with popcorn and a soda for that.....and most adult gamers are NOT going to be playing more then one MMO at a time. It's not even a question of money at that point but simply time constraints. So $15 per month kinda ends up not being enough to register on most working adults budgets as price being a major concern.

One of the things I would love to see you write an article on some day is some of the "gotcha's" or considerations that should be taken into account when trying to impliment a cash shop on top of a subscription. That's got to be a rather tricky concern considering that the real appeal to a subscription is that it's supposed to give you access to the whole game without disturbing your play experience or making you feel like you really need to spend extra. So I think there is a real danger in alienating your subscriber base in making them feel like you've decreased the value of what they were paying for or defeated the purpose of thier subscription when implimenting a cash shop on top of it.

I'll give you an example from LOTRO where I was a subscriber before the switch in payment model and for quite some time after. It started out ok initialy after the switch in payment models but I noted in the last few updates before I quit that they included increasingly loud, bold and brazen advertisements for the cash shop everywhere in the UI and in the game world itself, this despite the fact that I was playing as a subscriber. This annoyed me to no end as it was very immersion breaking and disruptive of my play.....and one of the things I was specificaly paying my subscription for was to NOT have my play disturbed by the cash shop and not have to worry about it or deal with it while I was playing the game. I thought that move was in very poor taste by Turbine.

I'd love to hear your thoughts some day on the pitfalls to be wary of in implimentation of a cash shop. This obviously is of great interest to me due to my interest in PFO and I'm sure might be of interest to other readers here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  JJ82

Apprentice Member

Joined: 12/02/13
Posts: 1205

1/08/14 10:43:53 AM#19

His argument is based on TWO major flaws.

"If we consider the MMOs that generate the most revenue in the Western market (North America, Europe, Russia, and Australia / New Zealand) a sizeable majority of the revenue being generated is in the form of monthly subscriptions."

Remove WoW from that equation and suddenly Subscriptions are not the cash cow. Now factor in that MMOs are made for the WORLD and F2P revenue vastly outdoes subscriptions even WITH WoW factored in.

The second major flaw, his charts are based on HIS estimates of what subscription games are making. There has been ZERO information released from EA on what SWTOR is actually making for almost a FULL YEAR now. Also, LoTRo. Turbine has NEVER released information to the public about its revenue even after the WB buyout because oh how that company lists its online entertainment revenue. Funcom, they have NOT released information on TSW revenue, they are a privately owned company and do not release that information to the public. Also.......club penguin listed as an MMO?!?

The difference between this mans argument and the one presented on Forbes is that this person is using his own opinion as a basis while the other was using ACTUAL market data, movement in revenue streams from business reports AND the fact that many major gaming studios are making the move to full F2P models based on their own revenue increases from them (Like Sony with both upcoming EQ games).

Lastly, where is his list of F2P games he is using for this comparison?!? His saying this is useless and only further proves those clinging to the sub model are out of touch with reality, and like anyone that uses a business model not based in reality, they deserve the world of hurt they are going to get.

I will wait with glee for the firings of those involved with the sub model as they don't meet their unrealistic ideas. Entire development teams will be fired for the decisions of those above them, that's the ONLY sad thing about it all.

"People who tell you you’re awesome are useless. No, dangerous.

They are worse than useless because you want to believe them. They will defend you against critiques that are valid. They will seduce you into believing you are done learning, or into thinking that your work is better than it actually is." ~Raph Koster
http://www.raphkoster.com/2013/10/14/on-getting-criticism/

  JJ82

Apprentice Member

Joined: 12/02/13
Posts: 1205

1/08/14 10:45:03 AM#20
Originally posted by JJ82

His argument is based on TWO major flaws.

"If we consider the MMOs that generate the most revenue in the Western market (North America, Europe, Russia, and Australia / New Zealand) a sizeable majority of the revenue being generated is in the form of monthly subscriptions."

Remove WoW from that equation and suddenly Subscriptions are not the cash cow. Now factor in that MMOs are made for the WORLD and F2P revenue vastly outdoes subscriptions even WITH WoW factored in.

The second major flaw, his charts are based on HIS estimates of what subscription games are making. There has been ZERO information released from EA on what SWTOR is actually making for almost a FULL YEAR now. Also, LoTRo. Turbine has NEVER released information to the public about its revenue even after the WB buyout because oh how that company lists its online entertainment revenue. Funcom, they have NOT released information on TSW revenue, they are a privately owned company and do not release that information to the public. Also.......club penguin listed as an MMO?!?

The difference between this mans argument and the one presented on Forbes is that this person is using his own opinion as a basis while the other was using ACTUAL market data, movement in revenue streams from business reports AND the fact that many major gaming studios are making the move to full F2P models based on their own revenue increases from them (Like Sony with both upcoming EQ games).

Lastly, where is his list of F2P games he is using for this comparison?!? His saying this is useless and only further proves those clinging to the sub model are out of touch with reality, and like anyone that uses a business model not based in reality, they deserve the world of hurt they are going to get.

I will wait with glee for the firings of those involved with the sub model as they don't meet their unrealistic ideas. Entire development teams will be fired for the decisions of those above them, that's the ONLY sad thing about it all.

 

 

"People who tell you you’re awesome are useless. No, dangerous.

They are worse than useless because you want to believe them. They will defend you against critiques that are valid. They will seduce you into believing you are done learning, or into thinking that your work is better than it actually is." ~Raph Koster
http://www.raphkoster.com/2013/10/14/on-getting-criticism/

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