After a lot of hype and anticipation, The Elder Scrolls Online launched this past summer to mixed reviews by critics and players. Despite the disappointment, the game quickly garnered over 700k active users, a stat Bethesda was quick to share in July, though little has been heard since.
Adding to the rocky launch was the announcement by Bethesda that the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of The Elder Scrolls Online would be delayed for more than six months after the game launched on PC and Mac. That version has still not seen the light of day, and in fact the only information we currently have about the console version is that it should arrive "early 2015."
Even with the console versions expected soon, little is known about ZeniMax Online Studios and Bethesda's plans for the future of the game. However, a new piece of information may provide a little insight into their strategy for the future of The Elder Scrolls Online. A few players noticed that Bethesda has quietly removed the six-month subscription option from the game, leaving only 30- and 90-day subscriptions available for purchase.
As soon as players noticed this change, speculation began to fly about the meaning of the removal. According to a ZeniMax Online Studios representative (translated), the 180-day option was less popular than the shorter alternatives so that's why it was removed. That explanation doesn't quite make sense to us and so the question remains, could they be going free-to-play? Discussion has been lively in forums and on social media and based on the slow growth of players, and the pending console release, our best guess is that Bethesda is in fact planning to move the game to free-to-play.
While making a move to free-to-play may seem counterproductive, since it would mean losing the revenue gained from subscribers, it may actually help the game. That was the case with Star Wars: The Old Republic and countless other MMOs (Defiance, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Age of Conan, DC Universe Online, etc.) in recent years. Shortly after releasing to mixed reviews and less than stellar subscription numbers, BioWare and Electronic Arts changed the Star Wars MMO to free-to-play shortly after a round of layoffs, quickly doubling the game's revenue.
Could the same thing happen for The Elder Scrolls Online, which itself just experienced layoffs a few months ago? It's definitely in the realm of possibilities, especially considering that console players will not be as open to the dated per-game subscription model as PC and Mac gamers, especially if they're already paying monthly for PlayStation Plus and/or Xbox Live Gold. Currently, there are no subscription-based individual games on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One and it's going to be a tough sell to demand monthly payments to play TESO given its critical reception.
The benefit to ZeniMax and Bethesda for making The Elder Scrolls Online free-to-play is the influx of new players to boost their player counts. Players weary about trying the game – even with free trials – will happily dive in headfirst if the game were available for free and lets them play with friends. And many of those who do so may end up using the microtransactions available to players within the game. Plus, with more players engaged in the game, veterans will be pressured to enhance their characters further to keep ahead of the free-to-play noobs, which will undoubtedly increase in-game purchases or keep premium subscriptions plans in play (for bonus experience and other benefits).
The move away from a required subscription model is something we thought TESO would embrace long before it released and while there's no word on whether or not it's happening, it could by the time the game hits consoles. Even though World of Warcraft saw a big jump in subscribers after their most recent DLC release, that growth isn't typical, as the subscription market as a whole continues to decline.
Do you think moving The Elder Scrolls Online to free-to-play is the best decision for ZeniMax and Bethesda? Could such a move help the MMO find greater success? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
The Elder Scrolls Online is available on Mac and PC, and is set to release on PS4 and Xbox One.
Source: The Elder Scrolls Online