Working in video game PR must be a little like putting out fires for a living — just ask Bethesda‘s VP of Public Relations Pete Hines. Having fought off the furore surrounding Prey 2 in the summer, Hines has now returned to extinguish concerns over The Elder Scrolls Online subscription fee requirement.
Back in February, the company’s de facto spokesman defended the concept, as a means to providing consistent, high caliber content. Despite providing a fair enough appraisal of the situation i.e. that studios require cash to continue pumping out quality quests, it seems Hines wasn’t quite finished there.
In an interview with Gamespot, TESO‘s hype man expanded upon his earlier arguments, to try and impress upon gamers the true value of the system, as well as the false economy of a comparable free-to-play model:
“We feel pretty strongly about the support we’re going to have for the game and what you’re going to get for those dollars […] not here’s a new sword or here’s a funny hat–but content that is real and significant and it feels like regular and consistent DLC releases.
[A free-to-play game] just seems like a lesser game, and we’re not going to make a lesser game that might be more palatable […] we want to do the version that we think is the best game and the coolest experience. And that means putting a lot of people and a lot of content creators towards having stuff that comes our regularly; every four weeks, five weeks, six weeks. Big new stuff that you want to do.”
Hines further justified the move as part of Bethesda’s “all-in” attitude towards content updates. The PR rep explained that due to the complex nature of the MMORPG, players were required to remain up-to-date at all times, something a more conventional program of optional DLC additions would prevent.
Asked whether or not the game’s monthly fees might hurt sales, Hines responded:
“We’re not trying to make a game that everybody who plays games will automatically buy […] It is a certain kind of game. There’s no shooter elements. There’s no aliens. It is a massive, ‘Go where you want, do what you want’ game that we think offers the kind of experience that’s worthy of a subscription.”
Despite this rather odd comparison — didn’t the Mass Effect series feature much of the above? — It’s clear what Hines really means here: that MMORPG players are a subset of gamers unto themselves, with different concepts of value based upon the unique and expansive scope of their favourite genre.
Of course, the case could also be made that these fans are just being exploited by publishers, due to their enjoyment of one particular genre over another. Many FPS fans, for example put in comparable hours on their favorite games, though they aren’t made to pay a comparable sum— at least not yet.
The concept that Hines seems to be selling is one of “pro-active DLC,” i.e. content so good you’ll want to pay for it in advance. While the idea isn’t too far removed from the Season Pass deals that are now commonplace within the industry, this system does have a number of weaknesses. For one, a day 1 player will end up paying 6 times as much for the exact same content as the player who joins up 6 months on from release. While the likes of Netflix may have popularized this business model elsewhere, it remains to be seen just how well this monthly system works here.
Are monthly subscription fees becoming a hard sell for studios? What’s the most cost effective way of exploring Tamriel, – by buying in late, not at all, or via the likes of Skyrim and Oblivion? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to check in with all of the latest Elder Scrolls news, right here on Game Rant.
The Elder Scrolls Online arrives April 4, 2014 for PC and Mac platforms, with Xbox One and PlayStation 4 ports set to follow in June.
Follow Sam on Twitter @GamingGoo.