Pete Hines, the Vice President of PR for Bethesda, recently spoke to Gamespot about why they’ve chosen not to go the free-to-play route with The Elder Scrolls Online. Hines claims that the subscription fee of $15 per month is a value for gamers, as the team plans on releasing consistent, DLC-sized expansions for the game to every player. Frankly, I’m still not convinced it’s necessary.
One quote from Hines particularly stood out to me:
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.
To me, this shows a complete misunderstanding of not only the Elder Scrolls brand, but also the target market for this game.
Firstly, I recognize that an MMORPG is much different from a traditional RPG and that they’re is going to inherently be a slightly different market for that. Still, The Elder Scrolls Online is the follow-up to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game which sold at least 230,000 copies on Steam alone within 24 hours of its release, and went on to ship 7 million copies within the first week of its release. To say simply, “we can’t expect this game to sell well because it’s not Call of Duty,” is not only a gross misjudgement of the gaming community, but also a flat out denial of the popularity of your own brand.
Further, it’s hard to argue that a subscription fee is necessary to maintain staff involvement when an in-game shop has been confirmed. I’m a little skeptical that it would be necessary to both charge me real world money for in-game items and charge me a monthly subscription fee to maintain consistent content.
Really, the biggest problem with this argument is that there are plenty of examples of games that consistently add large amounts of content for all players, without using a subscription fee. Guild Wars 2 constantly introduces new dungeons, new areas of the world to explore, and new quests and adventures to partake in. Team Fortress 2 continues to keep its community active with new maps, weapons, and, of course, hats, all subsisting only off of micro-transactions.
I’m not a complete naysayer. If Bethesda can continue to consistently add DLC-quality content to The Elder Scrolls online, it may still justify the subscription fee. But personally, I’m not sold on the game simply because I can’t justify spending $15/month on a game only because they plan on doing something that plenty of other games already do for free. I’m afraid I’m probably not the only potential player who feels this way, too.