Amidst the collective groans of gamers everywhere as news broke during gamescom that The Elder Scrolls Online would require a monthly subscription fee, others were wondering what other console-specific fees might be attached. Given that the PS4 will require a subscription to play games online, an idea standardized by Microsoft this past generation, folks were wondering if the dreaded double subscription fee would be rearing its ugly head. Unfortunately, for the time being at least, it is. As it stands, folks interested in returning to Tamriel for the MMO romp will have to worry about an Xbox Live Gold or PS+subscription on top of an Elder Scrolls Online monthly fee of $14.99. However, if lead gameplay designer Nick Konkle and Bethesda PR and marketing vice president Peter Hines have anything to say about it, that’s going to change.
Speaking to OXM at gamescom, the two opened up about their ongoing discussion with Microsoft to have the Gold subscription fee waived for those only interested in playing ESO. “We have been in talks with Microsoft about that very thing, and seeing whether or not there’s any room to change their minds about that, for folks who are only playing The Elder Scrolls Online and don’t want to pay for an Xbox Live Gold subscription, just to pay for the Elder Scrolls Online,” Hines said.
“The answer right now is that’s the way it works, but it’s something that we’re aware of and we keep pushing on, to see if there’s something that can be done,” he continued. “We’ll let you know if there’s movement there.”
Of course, many are wondering why The Elder Scrolls Online needs to charge a monthly fee at all; considering the drastic migration to and adoption of the free-to-play model this generation; thanks in part to microtransactions and the advent of smartphone gaming. In defense of the subscription-based model, Konkle mentioned that, “what’s cool about having a subscription model for us, is that firstly we don’t have any gates on the content – Elder Scrolls is very much a game about going wherever you want to, and if you’re randomly running into artificial [obstacles] where you have to pay, it just doesn’t feel right.” He also mentions that having a reliable stream of revenue ensures a steady rollout of better premium content, stating that content updates will include more than mere cosmetic updates or weapons and costume packs; instead offering content along the lines of additional factions and new landmarks to explore.
The Elder Scrolls Online is currently in beta testing and still accepting applicants on its registration page. It is scheduled to release early 2014 for the PC, Xbox One, and PS4.
I know that Bethesda is taking a lot of flak right now for their decision to charge a monthly fee. I’m not saying they made the right choice, or that gamers are wrong to be disappointed if not altogether turned off by the idea, but it is what it is. Konkle isn’t wrong about what he said: Charging a subscription fee, from a business perspective, allows them the ability to maintain a larger portion of the team, and put out a higher volume of better quality content more frequently. When a business invests heavily into something like an MMO, a model that by nature is a much bigger commitment on the development side than any other type of game, the free-to-play model becomes a hard sell.
One of the major draws of MMOs is their end-game content, and the more expansion packs and content updates a team puts out, the better their retention rate is, in terms of keeping folks subscribed and actively engaged with the product. But as a publisher, it’s a huge gamble to oversee the development of a game and then, seeing things from the consumer’s perspective, be expected to put out further additional high-quality post-game content when there isn’t an easily accountable stream of income for the product. That’s why so many free-to-play games are becoming increasingly heavy-handed with their microtransactions and reliance on pay-to-win PVP models. In this regard, if an MMO treats loyal consumers correctly, the monthly subscription fee is a symbiotic relationship; offering the developer the financial security to continue making content while preserving a sense of value for the consumer.
From what Bethesda has been saying up to this point, so long as they keep their word, it seems The Elder Scrolls Online will feature enough content to maintain the balance of that aforementioned symbiotic relationship. It’s also a really smart move on their part to lobby fans into their corner as they attempt to convince Microsoft to lift the gate of Xbox Gold so ESO is accessible to everyone. Considering how the next generation chess match has played out thus far, with Microsoft open to the idea of flip-flopping policies to save face and Sony making sure to stay on gamers’ good sides, I imagine if Microsoft decides to keep things the way they are, Sony will step in and say the PS4 will not require a PS+ subscription. Considering some free-to-play MMOs like DC Universe Online and Planetside 2 won’t require a PS+ subscription on PS4, Sony already seems willing to work out some sort of arrangement.
Personally, considering Microsoft isn’t hosting the servers for ESO, there’s really little reason to bar the content behind an additional Xbox Gold fee. I know some gamers will echo Microsoft’s defense that ESO players will likely only be playing that single game for a long time, and thus have no reason to purchase Xbox Gold unless it’s required, but isn’t that Microsoft’s fault? It’s their job to offer a service we find valuable enough to merit a subscription, and if the only reason those RPG fans have Xbox Gold is so that they can pay an additional fee on top to play their MMO of choice, then they shouldn’t have to pay for Xbox Live: Because at that point Microsoft isn’t actually offering them anything at all. And that’s assuming ESO will reach a wide audience on consoles, which isn’t likely considering console gamers are intrinsically not big fans of monthly fees: They’re much more partial to paying one flat rate and not having to pay again until DLC is available. ESO will assuredly do much better on PC, so if console makers want to maximize their profits, they’re better off encouraging as many gamers as possible to pick up a copy of the game on consoles.
I know that got a little ranty for a while, but this whole “subscription fee vs. free-to-play” has been on my mind since gamescom, so I just had to throw it out there. Perhaps an upcoming segment of TL;DR will have to revisit the idea.
Anyway, where do you folks stand on the issue? Would you be more inclined to pay a monthly fee for ESO if you didn’t have to pay for PS+ or Xbox Gold? Or does the idea of a subscription fee for a single game turn you off completely? Share your thoughts in the usual place, and don’t forget to like IGXPro on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or give us the ‘ol +1 on Google+. If you can’t get enough of my shenanigans, (who could blame you?) you can check me out @GamingsNirvana, or add +VinnyParisi to your circles.