Well, there you have it folks. less than a year after launch, and it's been announced that The Elder Scrolls Online is dropping the subscription and going buy-to-play. A press release revealed that The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited, will release worldwide on 9th June, 2015 for PS4 and Xbox One. Players "will no longer be required to pay a monthly game subscription for extended play. Players will make a one-time purchase of the game and can then enjoy hundreds of hours of content without the requirement of a monthly game subscription fee when The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited becomes available on console in June and beginning 17th March for PC/Mac players."
New players will "make a one-time purchase of the game and play, without restrictions, for as long as they like – without game subscription fees". However, it seems that Tamriel Unlimited will be supported with "special, optional downloadable content" and an "in-game Crown Store for convenience and customization items. Regular updates and new gameplay will be offered to all players to enjoy free of additional charges."
There'll also be a Premium subscription option called ESO Plus, "providing exclusive in-game bonuses, a monthly allotment of crowns to use in the store and access to all DLC game packs while a member."
Is this a good move? Does it make the console versions more attractive prospects? What the hell will ESO Plus mean for in-game balance? We stuck our heads together to chat about our impressions of this fairly monumental shift for TESO.
As The Elder Scrolls Online goes buy-to-play, dropping the subscription in favour of a Guild Wars-esque, one-time payment, it becomes a vastly more attractive proposition... with caveats. The pricing was completely screwed up at launch: £50-70 to get the box, with a premium subscription on top? Zenimax were met with jeers and backlash, and rightly so. We wondered aloud how long it would be before the suits realised their folly and changed tactic. That time has come, and it bodes well for TESO on consoles where subscriptions for single games are anathema to the convenience of those platforms.
The price will shoot back up, of course. TESO will no doubt launch at full whack on PS4 and Xbox One when that freshly announced June 9th release date approaches, but that's to be expected. No one complained about GTA V doing the exact same thing. Prospective PC owners might be a little disgruntled, but given the content updates, the vigorous patching, and the introduction of key new elements this month such as the Justice systems, pickpocketing, and the ability to bump off NPCs, it might just prove worth it. It's possible that TESO might actually deliver on Zenimax's promise to deliver "huge updates to the very fundamentals of the game".
That's a lot of "might" and "it's possible", though.
Removing the subscription is a great first step, but it opens up other questions. And this line from the press release intrigues me:
Tamriel Unlimited will be supported with special, optional downloadable content available for purchase and an in-game Crown Store for convenience and customization items. Regular updates and new gameplay will be offered to all players to enjoy free of additional charges.
How key will the "optional downloadable content" be? And how much will that Crown Store upset the balance of things? And what of ESO Plus - what will be included or, perhaps more pertinently, what will be excluded for standard players? There were fundamental issues with the core gameplay at the heart of TESO to begin with, and though I can see how paying a little money to offset grind would be attractive, that's a cheap fix.
Credit to Zenimax to trying to salvage their sinking ship, though. I'd suspected that we might see the console versions of TESO quietly fall completely off of the map, but this presents an exciting new opportunity for both the developers and us players. At the very least, I'm contemplating a return to a game I found deeply, desperately disappionting with Tamriel Unlimited (all existing accounts will be upgraded come March 17th), and it certainly bodes well for the console versions.
Just how well remains to be seen, of course.
It's about time. Now we know why the console versions were delayed despite being "playable" for months.
I've nothing against subscription MMOs, to be clear. Paying monthly keeps out the worst of the griefers, ensures a decent stream of content and means that the developers get to eat. But a game has to be different, better and offer more to earn a monthly subscription, which is another way of saying that The Elder Scrolls Online took the piss.
Pay for the base game? Pay for the imperial faction? Pay for each month of subscription - of which you'll need at least one more if you want to see through a full season of PvP? No thanks. I can do without entering into a credit agreement with a weird halfbreed that's nowhere near satisfying as The Elder Scrolls' core games nor as enjoyable as most top-tier MMOs out there. So I read Matt's review and quietly forgot that it ever existed.
Buy to play, though? That's more like it. As a fan of The Secret World and Guild Wars 2, I'm all about buy to play and TESO is finally starting to speak my language. Despite the success of Final Fantasy XIV, there's absolutely room for a proper MMORPG on consoles (no, Destiny is not an MMO, don't you even start) and The Elder Scrolls Online is well-placed to fill it, while hopefully attracting back some of the early PC players who since left for pastures new or fell back into their old WoW orbits.
Everything depends on how Zenimax Online had to compromise the gameplay experience, however. Be in no doubt: compromises have to be made when brutally twisting a game to fit a different business model, and something always has to give. With luck, though, it will be something we can live without or pay an appropriate amount of extra money to enjoy, after all I'm always happy to fork out for quality expansions and additional content if it genuinely enhances the game. All being well, perhaps The Elder Scrolls Online might be the fix I need to tide me over until The Elder Scrolls VI.
Or Fallout 4, of course.
To quote a great philosopher, “…and boom goes the dynamite.”’
It’s not quite the Free-To-Play armageddon many thought was inevitable, but it was quite clear after the first month that a subscription plus in-game shop wasn’t going to work for a brand new MMO like The Elder Scrolls Online. That’s on top of my personal feelings that as an TES fan it felt like a shallow entry in the franchise, and as an MMO fan it didn’t do enough to keep me invested in the long haul. Thankfully, this is a move in the right direction for Zenimax Online, especially for the console crowd who are already forking out for yearly XBL / PS+ subs.
The thing is, as far as the PC market goes there are already a host of games offering similar and much more featured experience, both in terms of content and gameplay mechanics. While there have been regularly released updates for TESO (something Zenimax Online should be commended for – they’re one of the few companies to stay on schedule with an MMO) the truth is that it will take something special to not only entice players to give it a go, but to stick around.
With reports of the bigger retailers sending back their unsold copies of TESO, and larger digital retailers now touting a price point of £40, the question will be whether punters will consider that worth the cost. The truth is that considering the poor reception around the game it will need to be significantly lower than that unless there are some obvious – but not game-breaking – benefits. Thankfully, it appears some retailers are still selling it for around £6, which I think is more than a fair shout, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that stock gets snapped up very quickly. For now, Zenimax must prove in the run-up to the date in March why TESO is worth looking at over games like Guild Wars 2 or The Secret World. I’m more than up for giving it another shot, but it’s going to take something special to keep me around.