[Aug 21 2013 Update: TESO will have a subscription fee.]

After months of rumors and years of speculation, ZeniMax officially unveiled The Elder Scrolls Online last week, the first multiplayer game in the long-running series that they had been developing since forming ZeniMax Online Studios back in 2007.

Details were sparse, but we did learn that The Elder Scrolls Online would finally let players explore the entire continent of Tamriel, although we questioned how they’d charge players to do so.

The TESO announcement trailer and first in-game screenshots came a day later, showcasing something that doesn’t appear to belong to The Elder Scrolls franchise. At all (screenshots down below). Reaction was mixed to say the least, and when combined with the details that the game appears to be a typical point-and-click WoW-style MMO, a lot of us at Game Rant found ourselves losing interest.

With most MMOs now employing free-to-play models, many of which made the switch from subscriptions (Age of ConanLord of the Rings Online, DC Universe Online, Champions Online, Star Trek Online, EverQuest, Vanguard etc.), we pondered if TESO would launch with such a model. The last major game to see success when launching with a subscription was Star Wars: The Old Republic, but as we learned earlier this week, they’ve lost 25% (400,000) of their subscriber base in the last few months.

Despite the massive, loyal fanbases still paying for EVE Online and World of Warcraft, the subscription model is dated and players expect better and more involved gameplay if they’re expected to continue to pay. Everything in gaming is becoming more social so that shouldn’t be something players pay a premium for.

So, that puts ZeniMax in a bit of a pickle. With their game seemingly so different in gameplay and aesthetic from the series and it looking almost too similar to other MMOs, can they get away with a subscription model? Who are they targeting?

According to Gamesbrief’s Nicholas Lovell, an industry consultant, expectations are that The Elder Scrolls Online will release with a subscription but will later switch to free-to-play.

“I still believe that subscription games are on the way out. It is conceivable that Bethesda will launch with a subscription service to attract the early adopters, because that is the model they understand.”

“They will switch to free-to-play later, in the same way that many iOS games go from paid to freemium over their lifetime. EA is struggling with The Old Republic, [but] almost everyone else is transitioning to free-to-play.”

Unlikely. Why would players pay for the game, and then pay for the first months of playing it in addition to that? The worst months of any MMO when bugs are worked out and server needs are determined are when it launches. Players are smart and can simply wait for it go free. In this market, with the overabundance of MMOs, TESO simply cannot see big numbers if they launch with a subscription.

It makes more sense that they go free-to-play or better yet, try to be innovative with some new variation of the model. Right now, there’s too much negative buzz and questions surrounding the game to even consider asking players to pay extra for it when they can just play Skyrim with its unlimited quests. And for PC players – the only players who will be able to play TESO, mind you they have and unlimited source of additional content via the Skyrim Creation Kit.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of intrigue surrounding The Elder Scrolls Online and a lot of questions. Game Rant will be getting up close and personal with the game at E3 and we’re eager to share what we learn.

The Elder Scrolls Online comes to PC and Mac in 2013.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.

Source: Edge