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Zenimax Online Studios | Official Site
MMORPG | Setting:Fantasy | Status:Final  (rel 04/04/14)  | Pub:Bethesda Softworks
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The Battleground For Player Cash

Elder Scrolls Online Columns - By Christina Gonzalez on September 02, 2015

The Battleground For Player Cash

With the rollout of The Elder Scrolls Online's Imperial City on PC this week, this is the beginning of new content arriving in the game for the price of a subscription or a paid unlock. We've debated whether or not a subscription for ESO is currently worth it on here before, and ultimately, time will tell what players think, but some new plans from Zenimax may add room to discuss the idea of value further. From ESO to several other games on the market, the mandatory subscription may be (mostly) over, but companies are still working on ways to entice us. Maybe this competition for our dedication and dollars is a good thing?

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We have multiple contingents in the MMORPG community. Some lament the days where mandatory subscriptions included everything in the game as well as provided some sort of gate to keep out certain spammers and tourists. Others say down with subscriptions and barriers and love free to play, only paying for what you want to pay for and being able to log off and come back months later without paying in between. Buy to play fans can fall in the middle, since buy to play games usually come with paid-for DLC and cash shops. But cash shops are a reality for everyone today. Even WoW, which is still a subscription game after a decade, has one. That said, maybe now that the dust has settled, studios are fighting for our cash in a new way. By making subscriptions optional, they have to work hard to entice us to commit the monthly cash again. This might mean restricting a whole bunch of things, or it could mean adding in additional perks to provide more value for those loyal subscribers.

On last week's ESO Live, as part of the Ask Us Anything segment, someone asked “Would it be feasible to offer extra storage slots as a perk of ESO plus?” and the response was that yes, something is in the works to provide ESO+ subscribers with “crafting bags” that would allow the storage of lots of crafting materials. As someone who frequently hits bank or inventory caps in every RPG (Why can't I be over capacity, ESO?), this separate crafting storage is appealing. While some players might balk at this being added as a subscriber perk, it makes sense for a couple of reasons. One, it doesn't affect the game or anyone's raw progression. It's an item that's utility but has no impact. Another, it's something a lt of players would love to have. It's easy to keep stacks of items and while Zenimax did help with bank  storage before, crafting is still important to the game (though some might disagree with some of the nerfs in this patch, but that's another topic entirely), and a lot of us run out of space easily. Yet if the game were mandatory subscription required again, this would also be the sort of thing released in a content patch and cheered.

Whether or not crafting bags will solely be a subscriber perk is the question, however, since selling them in the crown store would likely be successful, though if the point is to entice a few fence sitters to subscribe, it might cannibalize that audience that might subscribe if it’s also available as a simple unlock.

Naturally, the bigger deal is the DLC content. If you think you can be done with Imperial City in a month, a subscription to access it will be cheaper. Compare this to the upcoming Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Subscribers to SWTOR can already enjoy 12X XP bonus (though the game is already years old and the boost is something that is needed to get players to get leveled without needing to meander), and will get various bonuses, as well as early access to the expansion. However, Knights of the Fallen will eventually make it to all players for free. Yet SWTOR's free to play model is more restrictive than ESO's, so you'll likely either have been paying for unlocks down to simple annoyances like the inability to hide headgear slots or dye armor to match without paying if you weren't a subscriber before. ESO, of course, makes you buy the game so fewer restrictions make sense, but SWTOR players who bought the game before the conversion got bumped to a middle tier but also have to deal with many restrictions if not a current subscriber. So in terms of value, SWTOR's team tries to entice people to subscribe through story but also restrictions, yet ultimately giving more content for free if you wait long enough.

In a sense, our game choices are competing for our dollars in more ways than one, but instead of an all you can eat buffet subscription model (which is nigh dead due to cash shops and limited items), it's really about what we value. Crafting bags in ESO would be a hell yes! for me, but on their own, without much more content, it doesn't feel as compelling, which might be saying something great about the existing buy to play model (and I'd say so). Once content starts coming into the picture, as it just has for PC, and consoles to follow, the added value begins to shift. The way these choices have evolved in our games is another way to look at our MMORPGs instead of pitting sub vs non-sub, or free to play, or just buy to play.

Christina Gonzalez / Christina is a freelancer and contributor to MMORPG.com, where she writes the community-focused Social Hub column.