Last week Paul Tassi, a contributor for Forbes.com, wrote an article entitled “Predicting The Biggest Video Game Disaster Of 2014: The Elder Scrolls Online.” This article was an interesting read, his prediction, could very well come true. However, his reasoning as to why it will happen are ignorant statements that hold very little merit.
Paul starts his article off claiming that ESO is following Star Wars: The Old Republic’s footsteps. This is where the ignorant statements start.
Once upon a time, way back in 2011, there was another MMO that swore it could compete with World of Warcraft and still charge a monthly subscription thanks to its rabid and devoted fanbase. Star Wars: The Old Republic also boasted a $200M budget, and was based on most beloved series in pop culture history as an added bonus.
Firstly, never has Zenimax stated it wanted to compete with World of Warcraft, nor is it the reasoning behind the subscription based model. Any company that creates a game based on the sole purpose of competing with the monster that is WoW will ultimately end in a failure. Zenimax is making a game that appeals to a totally different crowd than that of World of Warcraft. Elder Scrolls Online is in no way being portrayed as a WoW competitor, other than the fact it is a game within the broad game genre. So how he can make this claim is beyond me.
The reason ESO has a subscription fee isn’t to money gouge the players; if they wanted to do that they’d go with the Neverwinter model. ESO has a pay to play model because they are promising the players, new content every 4-6weeks, top quality customer service, and most importantly, no real money advancements, meaning you do not need to purchase additional items to get anything within the game.
Zenimax chose this model as it best suits the Elder Scrolls style of play, 100% open world exploration, nothing outside of the game required to advance. Imagine if you would, you’re playing Skyrim and you find an old cave. As you crawl through what seems to be endless amounts of spiders, and undead skeletons you find a parchment that mentions a chamber of riches guarded by a Daedra prince. After a labyrinth of tunnels and countless enemies you find the door, when you go to open it you’re presented with a message “Only those who have the Relic of Sul’Thanoc can enter. This relic can only be obtained by purchasing it for $6.99 in the game’s cash shop.
Sucks right? This type of mechanic or similar ones aren’t uncommon among Free or Buy to Play games, and is the sole reason why Zenimax chose not to go with them.
I’m not sure if it’s arrogance, the idea that people love the Elder Scrolls so much they’ll pay $60 for a box copy and $180 a year to play TESO, but it’s bad business sense at the very least. It’s not only subscription fees that are becoming out of fashion, but the very concept of huge budget, AAA MMOs in general. I thought SWTOR was the final object lesson any other studio would need to scale back whatever future plans they had for their own expensive MMO attempts, but it appears that lesson didn’t sink in for TESO, and they may end up paying the price for it.
So in short, because SWTOR failed, the concept of subscription based games also fails. I apparently never gave EA/BioWare enough credit. Not only did they ruin SWTOR, they also ruined an entire business model for every future company. That is a hell of a feat if you ask me.
Subscription models are not dying, in fact my prediction is, we’re going to be seeing more and more of them in the coming future. The only time a subscription model will not work is if the development team can’t make the game require it. If you want your game to have a subscription fee then you need a reason, a hook, for players to continuously log in every day.
I can’t think of a game that started out Free or Buy to Play and has a hook, a reason to login every day. Guild Wars 2, a decent game, but once you hit level cap there is very little to do outside of doing the completion achievement. You could go to into World vs World (pvp), but there is no real progression there either. Neverwinter, same thing.
Progression is what will keep a subscription model alive. That doesn’t mean it has to be a game with raids, or Tri-Realm PvP, it just means the player never stops growing, never stops learning about the world they are in.
World of Warcraft, has exactly that. It doesn’t matter if you’re a PvE player or a PvP one, there is a reason to login, a goal for you to obtain. There is ALWAYS something that you can do to progress your character in a way that makes him/her better.
But Garbrac, you say, World of Warcraft is bleeding subscribers every month, surely that is evidence that the Pay to Play model is dying, is it not?. That is only evidence that the game is starting to show its age. The game is over nine years old, not until Warlords will the game have any graphical improvements. Mechanics and features are virtually the same since launch. That is why they are losing subscribers, not because of the payment model, but because it is starting to show its age and needs a facelift.
I do agree that part of the subscription model is dying: the price of $14.95. Subscription based games have had this magic number for as long as I can remember. This is what is going to change about Subscription based games. I said earlier that subscription based games will become more common, the price of those subs will be lower, I suspect around $4.99 a month. Paul mentioned in his article that he thinks MMOs are a dying genre, this can’t be further from the truth. MMOs are the future of gaming.
Gaming companies are trying to push all their new content to be online only, to use their servers. Look at Microsoft’s announcement of the Xbox One being Online Only. Of course this was met with some serious internet rage, but that is the future of gaming. Battlefield has released 64 player servers, which is an increase from the previous cap of 32 players. This shows the increase in technology and the demand players have to play with more people. It is just a matter of time until we start seeing Battlefield being played on a massive scale map with hundreds if not thousands of people playing at one time.
I’m going to be breaking NDA for this next part, so hopefully I do not receive an email from Zenimax.
A further complication is that Bethesda isn’t exactly famous for releasing bug free single player games, so when they make the jump to an MMO, longtime fans are incredibly wary from the start, wondering if the game will even work at launch. We’ve seen a number of high profile online launch disasters recently, and The Elder Scrolls Online seems like a prime candidate for a similar meltdown.
Bethesda isn’t the company releasing the game, Zenimax Online Studios is. Yes I know Zenimax and Bethesda are both under the Zenimax Media Inc umbrella but they are still two different companies, with different employees and management.
I am a beta tester for ESO, and have been for a very long time. Zenimax Online offers a forum for the beta testers to discuss concepts and ideas that we have for the game. If we are testing a specific section of the game like a quest, a storyline, a mechanic, a feature, or even a tutorial, we provide our feedback and we discuss it on the forums.
Zenimax has taken our feedback and revamped a lot of the game based on our feedback. A big one and probably one of my favourites is the UI. If you go back and look at earlier screenshots of the QuakeCon video and the most recent, Character Progression video, you’ll see a large difference in the UI. It is a lot more detailed in terms of information. Quest lines being revamped, creatures being introduced all based on the beta tester’s feedback.
I’m not saying ESO is going to launch bug free. As much as we all want it to be perfect, there will be bugs, but based on the experience I have had, the development team prides themselves on making sure we, as players, experience the game as bug free as possible.
As for ESO’s official launch on April 4 2014, expect the servers to be down for a few hours, it is going to happen. Also expect to wait in a queue, there isn’t much difference between a DDOS attack and the launch day of an MMO. Both of which tend to result in a massive server crash due to the incredible amounts of traffic they are getting.
The success or failure of ESO can not be determined until it has been launched and played by the masses. It is those millions of people who will make the final decision. As of everything we know about ESO thus far, I have high hopes for the game and I foresee it being a success.