The Worst Of Two Worlds
With the upcoming launch of ESO (The Elder Scrolls Online) there is a lot of buzz going on – a lot of talk – and speculation. Not about whether it will be a good game to play – but about whether it will be a “successful” game. What being a successful game actually means is a hard to pin down but the essence seems to be about money – will it make a lot of money (and since people means money it also means “will a lot of people play it”).
Since the Beta is still protected by the EULA there isn’t much basis for discussing ESO as a game (not that it’s stopping some people from looking at the description of game features and proclaiming they will suck) since I’d prefer discussing that as we are actually playing the game.
As such I feel that the discussion about ESO right now is more and more becoming a discussion about the format of MMO’s. ESO has chosen to set a fairly high price for the game itself as well as a monthly subscription fee for playing (with ambitions for additional content releases every 4-6 weeks). Many people see this as an “outdated method” and that SWTOR showed us that not even a huge brand with a solid fan base can manage to be a subscriber only game. This is something I severely disagree with (I like throwing in the word “severe” whenever I can).
I also think of SWTOR as a sort of cautionary tale but not a tale that informs us that monthly subscriptions is a failed model that no longer works. I see it as a cautionary tale about just how easy it is to buckle and fall into the “free-to-play” trap. A lot of people now consider SWTOR to be a “hybrid” game. It has a free to play option and a subscription model that gives you certain advantages. For me – however – SWTOR is a “pay to get ahead” game and as such completely disqualified from any discussion about the payment model. I wouldn’t mind the microtransactions if they were just for silly vanity items, even mounts or – stretching it – boost items (xp, crafting speed… I’m on shaky ground here) but in SWTOR you can just buy your armor sets or get more in-game money by paying for it (or by using the monthly “allowance” you get for subscribing). As I’ve argued before: a game that severely restricts your options if you don’t pay is not free to play and a game where you can just buy your gear is not a game at all.
I vastly prefer ESO as a subscription only game. The whole discussion about subscription vs free to play is not even relevant for me because I have yet to see a free to play game that I do not consider to be broken (that is my way to try and be polite and not say “cash hungry sell out failure”). It may be true that the subscription format is old. But that as long as there is no alternative that does not break a game I do not see how it can be called outdated.
I also am concerned about ESO dipping it’s toe into pay-to-get-ahead territory with their collectors edition and pre-purchase deals.
I have no problems with a vanity pet (except that I find “pets” uninteresting at best – but to each his own). I can live with the treasure maps – they are a fun addition. The ability to play as any race in any alliance is interesting – I wish there was another way to get access to this than buying it but no better option comes to mind right now. A mount is fine too. But I get really antsy about the ability to play and craft as an Imperial. A whole race with unique skills and a rare crafting form to make money off (unless you can’t sell your Imperial gear) is an as blatant example of pay-to-get-ahead as they come. I am disturbed by this and I cling to my hope that this will be the only instance of this we will see in ESO.
Thankfully this statement from game director Matt Frior gives me some peace of mind:
“And it’s important to state that our decision to go with subscriptions is not a referendum on online game revenue models. F2P, B2P, etc. are valid, proven business models – but subscription is the one that fits ESO the best, given our commitment to freedom of gameplay, quality and long-term content delivery.”
I do – of course – disagree with him completely on what a “valid business model” (or rather what is a tolerable business model) is but since we agree on what the RIGHT model for ESO is – I’m willing to let that go.