The big announcement this week came from Gamescom. Elder Scrolls Online will be using a subscription model for their upcoming AAA MMO. Matt Firor made the announcement just a few days after WildStar offered a similar pricing model to players. We want to look into why having the two largest upcoming MMO go back to a subscription based model could actually be a good thing. Many people will argue on the free-to-play front, and certainly using a hybrid subscription model really can work if you do it right.
For Elder Scrolls Online, Matt said the first 30 days will come with the box purchase and then there will be a subscription model which will have a few different pricing options. He explained that the game is very much a go-anywhere, do-anything style game in the vein of all Elder Scrolls titles and he did not want it hindered by always asking the player for money with a loud cash shop flashing away on screen. It wouldn’t fit the world they’re trying to build, the immersion level they’re aiming for.
In recent months we have seen a lot of games go free-to-play or use some very odd pricing models. I do think that these games and price models are now finally getting ahead of themselves. Here are two examples of games that have suffered some backlash because of their free-to-play approach. Neverwinter is a solid D&D RPG and decent enough MMO. The main issue people have is that they’re constantly being hit over the head with offers, deals, or ways to spend cash. It assaults you as soon as you log in. The game is offered for free, but suddenly you realize you will be spending $40 USD for a mount or $15 USD for something else. Sorry Perfect World, but those prices are just too damn high. Not only that, a lot of immersion in gameplay is lost when you have to constantly click through offers and options. Suddenly I am no longer in the Forgotten Realms, but rather a used car dealership.
Another similar experience is with the recently released Ultima Forever. The game is very well designed to play on portable devices and actually is a fun RPG with an open shared world. The main problem is that you are constantly buying potions or repairing your gear (which falls apart fairly quickly), and to do so effectively or to open up the chests in the game and get good gear... you have to spend money and lots of it. This is another case of good gameplay hindered by a poor payment model.
After playing through these games I have reached a point where I welcome a different (but perhaps traditional) payment model. With a subscription model I don’t have to think about buying upgrades to do the next dungeon. I also don’t have to be spammed offers while I am trying to play the game. In the true spirit of Elder Scrolls exploring the open world and accessing so many features in the game for a singular monthly cost makes perfect sense. Imagine if Bethesda hit you with a $1 USD fee every time you wanted to craft something, or even worse nickel and dimed you on iron ingots?
I will say though that ZOS needs to be smart about how much they charge players to play. Do not just offer the $14.95 monthly price and leave it at that. Give players some options. Give them discounts, give them ways to earn free game time. The console players won’t know quite how to take the subscription model either, so be prepared to alter it if things go south. I wouldn’t even fault Zenimax if they flatout copied EVE, TERA, and WildStar’s systems. In the end the real pricing model that will win is one that does not interrupt or hinder gameplay. But most importantly, a good game is a good game no matter the cost.
Sadly, I think the free to play models have gotten too ridiculous as of late, and it’s not surprising to see some players welcome the return of a subscription to big name AAA MMORPGs. Hopefully WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online will bring value to the price and give you an open immersive world to play in without hitting your account for $2.00 every time you want to buy a new sword. But more than that, hopefully both games will keep the content flowing quickly enough to earn our further investment on a month to month basis. That’s the real trick.
Garrett Fuller / Garrett Fuller is the Industry Relations Manager for MMORPG.com, and lover Adventure Time and Space Wolves. Find him on Twitter at @GFulls.