ESO Drops Subscriptions & Goes Buy to Play

Zenimax did a couple of huge announcements today.

Starting on March 17 2015, Elder Scrolls Online will be free to play for previous subscribers and buy to play for new players. None of the previous game content will be locked behind subscriptions after Tamriel Unlimited goes live – players can experience every story, class, faction and content update up to at least game update 1.6 (Justice & Champion Systems) without subscribing.

The other major announcement Zenimax did was the release date of ESO for PlayStation 4 and XBOX One: ESO will be available for PS4 and XBone players on 9th June, which is a year later than was originally planned.

ESO Plus – An incentive to subscribe

Zenimax has come up with a premium membership program called ESO Plus. The benefits of ESO Plus membership:

  • An allotment of crowns to spend in the new in-game Crown Store based on your membership period (more below)
  • Access to all of ESO’s downloadable content (or DLC) game packs for the duration of your membership
  • A 10% bonus to XP and gold gain, crafting research, and inspiration

Right now it looks like a new player can get a pretty good game experience out of ESO after Tamriel Unlimited goes live & ESO becomes buy to play. But will that remain true as the game develops further?

Is ESO Really Free-to-Play?

An important ESO plus membership benefit is the access to ESO’s downloadable content game packs for the duration of membership. Right now there are no DLC’s for ESO, but it looks like ESO is heading down the same path Lord of the Rings Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic did; The core game is free but sooner or later you come to a point where you have to pay to be able to see more of the game.

This is somewhat expected – the game needs to get its steady cash flow from somewhere. If it’s not going to be subscriptions, it’s going to be something else. So essentially yes, it looks like a huge chunk of the game will be free-to-play (after you’ve bought it, of course).

No doubt almost all of the stuff that is going to be released in the future will fall into the DLC game pack category though, so that is where the players are faced with a decision: to subscribe or not?

Still, at least up to a point, ESO should be a completely viable game for those interested in picking it up and not paying anything after. Do keep in mind that it’s a long journey to veteran rank 14 & going through all faction stories – for the average player probably hundreds of hours.

Pay to Win?

A question most of us are interested in right now. How much of an advantage does being a ESO Plus member give you?

It’s needless to say that there has to be strong incentives for people to keep on paying money for a game that is free to play once you own it. For me the success of the subscription model comes down to this – will I be punished for not being a subscriber?

Right now, other than obviously missing out on the future game DLCs and therefore end game content, which is a pretty big deal, there aren’t really any penalties for not being a subscriber.

Sure, you could level up quicker, gain crafting inspiration faster, cut your crafting research times and get more gold (10% faster & more to be exact). Some could consider that a penalty for not being a subscriber, but Zenimax has already confirmed that the current pace of levelling, gaining gold and crafting inspiration are NOT being altered. In other words non-subscribers aren’t really penalized – it’s just a bonus for those who do subscribe.

Then there’s Crowns. Crowns will be the bonus currency for ESO. Players can get Crowns by buying the game or subscribing. So far we know that Crowns will be used to buy items from the Crown store which includes costumes, mounts and pets. We don’t really have a way of knowing what else it could include in the future. In fact there’s an official wish list thread on ESO Forums right now, you should chip in!

The Crown Store has great potential to completely destroy the buy-to-play model, turn the game into pay2win and create an unlevel playing field. Let’s hope that Zenimax don’t decide to sell super fast mounts, consumables and superior gear in the Crown Store.

The Need for Change

ESO was not doing well. If it was, these changes would not have happened. We heard the developers say numerous times that a subscription model allows them to create new and great content often. That’s why this probably delivers the biggest blow to those who stuck with the game and played it continuously at the highest level & in end-game. I fail to see how this could improve the pace at which new content is pushed out. It creates a legitimate concern over the game’s quality in the future.

Then again, you could say that this was the only way to make sure that the quality of the game can stay at a good level in the future. You do what you have to do.

Other than that, ESO going buy to play is no doubt great news for the players who once played the game and are looking to return but couldn’t justify a subscription fee. Those who wanted to try the game, but didn’t like the idea of paying a monthly subscription, should also be very satisfied.