Should Free Trials Begin?
Ever since the switch to a subscription-optional The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited model for PC, along with the console versions coming in less than a month, the chance to get friends to give the game a shot is ever-more tempting. Those of us with time under our belts in the game over the past year can see the improvements in action, and while the game has been busy since the relaunch, and megaserver tech keeps things buzzing, there are two things that would go a long way to help friends get others into the game, as well as one related possible misstep.
Among some players, there’s still some lingering confusion over the model. Some keep calling it “free to play”, which is a mistake many of us are familiar with, but might take some time with less-experienced MMORPG players. Yet, some people find out there’s a box price and decide that isn’t going to be something they want to plunk down for up front. For this, there are free trials. With a couple of minor exceptions, there haven’t been any trials for the game, and this is a mistake. When it was subscription-based, many in the community requested free trials to share with friends, but it was not to be.
The Elder Scrolls Online needs free trials. With the console release so soon, it appears the team wishes to wait until those versions are out before any major shift in practices occurs. Putting it on sale through various online retailers is also a likely plan before trials come to pass. Playing with friends and experiencing a game for yourself is going to be the best selling tool. With the change in model, it was the perfect time to give people a trial of the entire game that those buying the box will get access to when buying the game. I don’t doubt that trials will come eventually, maybe after the console versions are out and those servers known to be steady.
Some might argue that always available trial accounts increase the likelihood of gold seller abuse, and fighting them is a distraction that the team might not want just yet. Yet, gold spammers were in the game when it was box price and subscription required, so this justification might not hold much water.
Like the other buy to play games on the market, it wouldn’t be surprising to see timed trial weekends accompanied by promotional pricing on the game cost. Guild Wars 2 has had weekends for players to try the game, as well as promotional price cuts down to $9.99 at times like when the Heart of Thorns expansion was announced.
But the game needs to have trials. This move would let those people who dismissed the game early after launch get in and poke around for a bit before committing to a box price, and it would let new players try the game without cost. Not having trials could be costing the game customers. Before presuming those players are cheap, it’s simply not uncommon to want to try something before buying. One of the pillars of free to play game releases is not having a barrier to entry, and while buy to play doesn’t have a required subscription, trials are more important since that barrier does exist. I understand not having trials yet while the game underwent its yearlong turnaround on PC, with constant changes happening, but now is the time for Zenimax to allow people to take a limited trip to Tamriel’s MMO side before deciding to put down for a full purchase.
Speaking of time, a related potential misstep happened recently. The deadline for PC to console account transfers, where players could pay to have their accounts duplicated on the console server (or servers) of their choice, passed over the weekend. While on the one hand, the team needs time to have all of this in place for console launch, the availability of this option should extend beyond a month before console launch. Since no one can try the game out via trial, some players who might otherwise buy the game, recommend it to a friend, then want to play with that friend together on console, but be out of luck for the time being. Maybe a friend buys the game on console later and you decide you want to play together at that point.
The number of affected users locked out of the option might be relatively small, and while the option should come back at some point (now that there’s a crown store, I wouldn’t be surprised if it reappears under services after console launch), having trials combined with having this option available could broaden the game’s audience. With ESO’s first impression on consoles about to happen, and the PC audience still with room to grow, these two things could be a net positive for the game and its future. Regardless of account transfers, trials are a must, and sooner rather than later.