A couple of months back I wrote an article discussing the reasons behind my predictions regarding The Elder Scrolls Online revenue model. Usually I would be the first to boast that I predicted correctly but in this case I am actually disappointed. Not only because of the recent announcement confirming the pay-to-play subscription model but also because Zenimax Online have also decided to include micro-transactions via an item mall. Have they been living in a cave the last few years? Are they totally blind to the current trends in the MMO world? Do they know something we don’t?
A lot of fans eagerly awaiting their chance to sample The Elder Scrolls Online may not be all that familiar with MMO trends of recent years so I’ll take a quick minute to explain. The pay-to-play model has all but died. Very few MMO games today manage to successfully launch using the infamous payment model and the ones that have launched, against the flow, have changed to a free-to-play alternative within a few months. The Secret World, Star Wars: The Old Republic, TERA and Rift, all of these launched as pay-to-play MMO games but have since offered a free-to-play model.
World of Warcraft is the only game that still manages to support a huge player base under monthly payments, but even Blizzard recently admitted that free-to-play is a possibility for the MMO giant. Pay-to-play is currently the most controversial choice a developer can make regarding revenue models, and a very close second is the option to bleed your community dry of cash with item malls and premium features.
The majority of today’s MMO games have learned their lesson when it comes to micro-transactions. The era of offering broken weapons, mass exp boosts and other game breaking bonuses is coming to an end and games like Guild Wars 2 are pioneering a new way of offering additional content to players. However, even with a balanced item mall; I very much doubt gamers are going to be happy to purchase additional items following a monthly subscription price.
So you’ve paid $60 to purchase The Elder Scrolls Online at launch. You’ve enjoyed your 30 days free subscription time and you’re considering spending another $10 for an additional month. But then you’re also noticing that a lot of players are running around with cooler cosmetic items and clothing, which will cost you yet further investment. So what do you do?
To put it simply, most players will just play something else. Those less interested in The Elder Scrolls franchise won’t even bother with that initial purchase and why should they? The next-generation of consoles are advertising more free-to-play games than ever before, all available without spending a single dime, so why bother with The Elder Scrolls Online?
There is only one single reason I can see Zenimax Online making the choices they have. Many MMO Games have reported massive surges in players after changing to a free-to-play model. I suspect that The Elder Scrolls Online will change to a free-to-play model within 12 months of launching before announcing a new item mall that will include additional items, exp boosts and other negative features to help support the game financially. This will give Zenimax Online a respectable amount of sales initially, before offering those players small rewards for their loyalty following the free-to-play announcement.
Whatever they do. A pay-to-play MMORPG game will struggle to survive in today’s MMO climate. There are a mass of free MMO games already available on PC that can rival The Elder Scrolls Online and the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are only going to increase that competition. What do you think? Are Zenimax Online struggling with their lack of MMO expertise or does the franchise have a big enough following to support a pay-to-play model? Leave your thoughts below.