The Banned Accounts Highlight Industry Issues
As we get closer to the console release of The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited, it has been predictably slow on the significant changes to the game front on PC, but there have been a few recent moves that bring certain digital goods matters to the forefront. Zenimax alerted some players that their keys weren't legitimate and decided to end their access to the game as of this week. The studio also seems to finalizing all console moves, including which goods would transfer over in one more effort to help future console players get started off right, as well as ushering in some changes that likely reflect the future of the crown store. For a 'quiet' time in the game's life, there has sure been a lot happening lately.
Digital games are now an easy buy for many players in areas with good connections. Pay, get your code, and download the game to enjoy. Well, some players received account termination notices for keys purchased through unauthorized resellers like G2A. Those who did not apply a legitimate key to their accounts before May 26th were to have their accounts terminated. While it is a buyer beware market in buying from sellers whose keys might seem too cheap to be true (and get bitten for it) and companies should want to get paid for products sold to fraudulent accounts, players being caught in the middle isn't always the best solution. Zenimax should be paid for a product that now no longer requires a subscription to access, meaning the payment it missed out on due to resellers' fraud or other methods is the only guaranteed payment it will get from the player on the other end of the account. Several of the players affected by this did take to the forums and Reddit to say they had also purchased crowns and had items on their accounts, others believed Zenimax should simply overlook the actions of others and forgive the players.
There is precedent for player forgiveness for this sort of digital mistake. Just a couple of months ago, some unscrupulous individuals purchased keys for Ubisoft games via stolen credit cards, which were then resold. Ubisoft first deactivated the keys, removing the games without word from player libraries. Then, days later, in a turnaround, the company announced it would allow those players who had activated and played the affected games to keep them. One of the resellers, Kinguin, agreed to a large payment to reimburse affected customers. The major difference in the Zenimax case is that, instead of secretly revoking access, it gave players a grace period to legitimize their keys and take up the matter of refunds with the reseller through which their key was obtained.
What player hasn't tried to get a discount on a digital game purchase? Now that digital games are a significant portion of the market, it might be time to revisit policies that keep digital titles roughly equal in price to the copies in brick and mortar stores. Given that production costs for digital games are lower, players buying digital shouldn't have to pay those costs just so the brick and mortar store companies don't feel like they can't be competitive. It might help if digital stores could price these games as they wanted to, which might drive some players back to official retailers rather than seek out cheaper resellers. It wouldn't solve the issue entirely, but this messier solution Zenimax proposes, as opposed to Ubisoft's forgiveness policy and Kinguin's agreement to pay users back, might have been avoided with a little pricing flexibility.
Another matter from this past week I wanted to touch on was the crown store's introduction of a limited time item, the Black Senche-Panther, as well as a sale on items that would “be removed from the Crown Store for the time being” once the sale concluded on Tuesday. This points to the items potentially coming back someday, but creating an artificial scarcity when it comes to digital goods is, simply, a terrible idea (and this goes for all games). There's no physical store or stockroom where space must be made for new items. I understand that putting items on sale and rotating them, creating a limited window to obtain them all compels some players to buy before the deadline, but it also locks others out of certain items, including those players that joined in later. I know that some people value the status symbol aspect of limited items, but a rotating system of item discounts might be a better idea to drive sales that still makes all items available to players, no matter when they started playing. It's true the store needs to keep being fresh and hooking players into buying new items, but there must be some way to organize the shop that provides a more players-first opportunity. To be fair, it isn't just this game, but all of this fake limited, artificially exhaustible supply, pulling items, and other tactics is not player friendly in the least. Still, I expect we will see more of this in the store over time now, and it's mildly disappointing.