How Zenimax’ Gambit Could Pay Off
With the recent lift of some press NDA restrictions for The Elder Scrolls Online, there are some reactions (and reactions to the reactions) that seem to be of the mixed variety, focused upon a few points. The subscription cost has been torn apart, the future of The Elder Scrolls called into question, and the console release looked upon critically. Zenimax has a hand it's playing, and the results, if successful, could represent a new beginning of sorts in the genre.
First off, the subscription seems to be quite the lightning rod. For a game that will be released both for PC and consoles, charging a monthly subscription fee is something that has only worked in limited capacity before. Console gamers, some argue, are already paying to play on their respective networks, and adding a sub fee on top of a game purchase will scare them away. It remains to be seen, though Final Fantasy XI is a long running example of how it can work. But that's such a niche, you might say. And that would be a fair argument to make. With TES having broken firmly into the mainstream across multiple platforms with TES V: Skyrim, there's ground there for more.
Some have also said that Skyrim's success and player response to that game is a demonstration why making ESO was a bad idea, sometimes expressing concern about the future of TES if the game does well. Yet, in a world where World of Warcraft exists, saying a successful, beloved series or IP is the best reason not to make an MMO is baffling. Yet WoW left the Warcraft RTS series behind, disappointing many fans, but that's not going to happen here, even if ESO does well.
Development on The Elder Scrolls Online began before Skyrim was released. So to argue that 'the community' wanted a multiplayer/co-op Skyrim and Zenimax decided to commission an MMO instead is inaccurate. These games are coming from two different studios within the Zenimax corporate umbrella. The Elder Scrolls as a series, as Bethesda's core franchise, is not going anywhere just because there's an MMO happening from its sister studio.
As to whether or not the subscription fees will hinder the game's potential for success, I can only say this – Zenimax has its gambit in the game's sub fee. In today's market, people can scoff at a sub fee, but in applying a fee and in accepting the game's M rating, Zenimax seems to be standing firm. And it is a gambit. There's potential lost revenue and player numbers in choosing this model, but much to gain as well.
Games like Final Fantasy XIV are working with subscriptions. WildStar will have one. EVE and WoW are still going strong (though a new game coming out now can compare with neither of those two stalwarts), and games like SWTOR saw an uptick in subs and profitability after converting to freemium models. DC Universe Online converted well to freemium and sees its largest audience on console, leading to more content creation in the form of expansions.