The Elder Scrolls series is very much about exploring a world’s past. Tamriel and its nations like Skyrim and Morrowind are steeped in history, and the hundreds of hours players spend in games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are devoted to uncovering those old ways. The newly announced MMO The Elder Scrolls Online will be adhering to the olden ways as well, and not just because the game is taking place many years before Skyrim. According to one analyst, players will likely have to pay a monthly subscription fee to play The elder Scrolls Online when it comes out.
Speaking with Edge on Tuesday, Nicholas Lovell of video game business consultancy Gamesbrief said that though The Elder Scrolls Online will eventually be a free-to-play MMO, it will start as a game with a monthly subscription fee. “It is conceivable that Bethesda will launch with subscription service to attract the early adopters, because that’s the model they understand,” said Lovell, “I still believe that subscription games are on the way out. They will switch to free-to-play later, in the same way that many iOS games go from paid to freemium over their lifetime. EA is struggling with The Old Republic, [but] almost everyone else is transitioning to free-to-play.”
As Lovell says, Electronic Arts is learning well the lesson that MMOs can’t survive on monthly subscriptions like they used to. Star Wars: The Old Republic was built on the fifteen-year-old business model used by Everquest, Ultimate Online, and most successfully by World of Warcraft where players drop cash on the game itself and then pay a monthly fee of $15 or more to keep playing. While the game started off strong, racking up 1.7 million players over its first two months, after five months the player base has declined to 1.3 million players.
Today, The Elder Scrolls Online could support a subscription model based on the series’ popularity alone. Skyrim found an enormous following when it released in November, shipping 10 million copies in its first month. (To clarify, that’s the number of copies Bethesda sold to retailers, not directly to players. Still, since that number doesn’t include copies downloaded through services like Steam on PCs, we can assume that the game’s actual sales are close to that figure.)
If The Old Republic’s current woes prove anything though, it’s that MMO players are fickle, and getting them to pay $15 per month over a long period of time is no easy task. By the time The Elder Scrolls Online is widely available, it’s questionable whether there will be any MMOs left charging a monthly fee.