Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Elder Scrolls Online - Continuing a dying trend


Very soon we will be seeing no doubt 10/10 scores for the Elder Scrolls Online, Bethesda's attempt at raking in some of that MMO cash currently floating around the gaming space.  The Elder scrolls is one of the most popular and recognisable gaming series in the world today, with hundreds of thousands of hours put into Skyrim alone by it's millions of fans.

I enjoy the series myself, it's a little rough around the edges but open world games like this are never 100% anyway, there are just too many variables for a team to find and fix before launch, but it's never been the bane of the series.  The series has always been capable of keeping a players attention for many hours at a time so I guess it's no surprise that Bethesda wanted to transfer that kind of gameplay to the massively multiplayer environment.

Obviously things work a little differently to cover the requirements of the MMO genre and overall the game looks pretty, going by the beta's but the game doesn't seem like it's worth the asking price.  My main issue is the price it asks for after the initial purchase.  As has been demonstrated by numerous games out there today that do not require a subscription to be financially viable, I am amazed Bethesda went this route at all.

Guild Wars 2 has been rolling on for over a year now, raking in the cash and regularly releasing new content updates and never once requiring the monthly fee associated with older MMO models.  Mechwarrior Online also regularly makes profits and only makes money essentially from releasing paid for content such as hero 'mechs or packs every few months outside of other comestic items.  The list of free to play games steadily grows each year, even the crowd funded mega hit Star Citizen is going to be free to play after the jump and offer future content for free or as paid content packs.

The market has already been cornered as far as subscription models go.  EVE online and World of Warcraft both have a regular group of loyal subscribers who happily drop hundreds of dollars/pounds/euro's each year.  If anything though these numbers are dropping slowly each year as free to play becomes the norm for massively multiplayer titles.  Now this drop isn't anything serious and the two games mentioned above will limp on for a few more years yet making profits until the inevitable fate of all multiplayer games comes about.

This is why I am so confused about Bethesda's decision to go with the subscription model.  I know the name is recognisable and extremely popular with gamers, but taking a game that was once singleplayer only and turning into a massively multiplayer experience is a good idea since fans have been asking for a cooperative elder scrolls for a long time.  Outside of the cooperative gameplay it didn't feel very Elder Scrolls from the beta gameplay, not a bad game just not Elder scroll like.  The experience of exploring the map and discovering a long forgotten ruin is somewhat diminished when a gaggle of other players suddenly run out of it like any other MMO. 

I predict a solid six to eight months of subscriber money and then a decline in numbers before going free to play.  Star wars the old republic suffered this same fate and now makes more money as a free game than it did in it's short time as a subscriber title.  You basically need a hardcore group of players who don't care about the money to fund a subscriber model.  EVE has the advantage of being an open structure for players to exploit and grief in, while World of Warcraft nailed the theme park experience of the MMO with perfection.  ESO will need to somehow be a mix of both titles while offering something beyond both titles to keep people paying.  The game has a clear intention to focus on guild or clan wars as it's end of game content judging by it's slick CGI trailers, but whether or not this will keep people interested will be evident in a few months.

Now for anyone reading this who enjoys MMO games and thinks subscription fees are fine and improve the game etc.  I am not saying you're wasting money or that you shouldn't pay to play these games.  I am only stating that from the evidence that the days of the subscriber game is fading out as players switch to experiences that don't force a regular payment and have them as options.  This doesn't mean any game is cheapened by such things of course, optional purchases allow players to save up for things they want in game.  I don't agree with Bethesda's stance that the fee is required to ensure new content is added further down the line when you only have to look at any number of long running free to play MMO's out there to see they have plenty of content additions that never once needed the subscriber fee to create them.

If you would like proof of such check out these games:

Guild wars 2
Mechwarrior Online
Star Wars the old republic
Mechwarrior Tactics
Marvel heroes
World war 2 online
Battlefield play4free
The lord of the rings online
Flyff
Blacklight retribution
World of tanks
World of warplanes
War thunder
Star Trek Online
Planetside 2

And many, many more.

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