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Matt Firor justifies Elder Scrolls subscriptions; "We’re not that worried about getting people in the door"

Despite the slew of subscription MMOs shifting to the free-to-play business model, The Elder Scrolls Online will demand a monthly fee, it was revealed earlier today. Where once such a practice wouldn't have raised a single eyebrow, it's a bit trickier to justify in the face of countless free titles. 

That's exactly what we got Matt Firor, The Elder Scrolls Online director, to do when we caught up with him at Gamescom. His response? "The reason why we don’t need F2P is we have a huge IP behind this. We’re not that worried about getting people in the door." Bold words, but will they come back to haunt him? 

The Elder Scrolls might be a massive IP with a substantial fanbase, but can it really claim to be larger than Star Wars? Getting people in the door is rarely a problem for these big-name MMOs; it's keeping them from leaving that's the issue.

The strength of the Elder Scrolls franchise isn't in question. I'm not remotely interested in playing an Elder Scrolls title with a horde of other, immersion-breaking, players - but have no doubt about it, I'll be there at day one simply because it's another game in the universe that I adore. Whether or not I'll stay and pay a £8.99/$14.99 a month subscription, well that's to be decided.

Firor at least acknowledges that it's about more than simply giving players a compelling reason to visit Tamriel. ZeniMax Online Studios are already working on post-release reasons for players to stick around. "Our teams have already rolled off of launch content, a lot of them, and some are going to polish the launch, and some are driving straight ahead to post-launch." And Firor is aware that its schedule of new content will be what makes or breaks the MMO.

With the likes of Guild Wars 2 churning out update after update in quick succession, ZeniMax has its work cut out for it, but Firor hints towards a similar cadence of post-launch updates. "Our target is a month to six weeks," he told us. On top of this, Firor hopes that the 120-150 hours of content per alliance (of which there are three), not including PvP or dungeons, will keep people interested before the teams start churning out the new stuff.

It's seems like a common sense approach to maintaining subscribers, but Star Trek Online, Guild Wars 2 and many other subscription-free MMOs manage to produce frequent patches, extra missions, new storylines and massive events that are available to all players, not merely the premium lot. It will be interesting to see how ZeniMax differentiates the type of content it will be adding from that of its F2P competitors.

Firor cites the overheads and maintenance of a global IT and support infrastructure as one of the main reasons for needing subscriptions, though this is something all MMO developers must consider. Hopefully we'll see more robust servers and better customer support result from the subscription fees.

When Firor compares what Elder Scrolls will offer its premium players to free offerings, he brings up issues that F2P titles once had in abundance, yet are not as prevelant now. "Elder Scrolls is about being in a giant world, where you’re exploring, and you go to a dungeon, and you don’t get a paygate in front of you saying you don’t have this dungeon," Firor says. "Which means, to us, you need to monetise it outside of the game." While paygates are increasingly less common, some barriers still persist. Certainly, the penny-pinching tactics found in The Old Republic are not desirable.

And there's something to be said about not being confronted with extra costs while in the game itself. "You go outside the game, you pay your month, you go in the game, and when you’re in the game, you’re in the game," Firor clarifies. "There’s no real world stuff reaching in to grab you." Few things break immersion quicker than a game telling you that you can spend cash to unlock chests or get special gear.

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles for any subscription-based MMO, especially a fantasy one, is the comparisons with World of Warcraft. Even with subscription figures shrinking, it continues to have a mind-bogglingly large userbase, one that The Elder Scrolls Online surely wants a piece off. Firor doesn't appear to be worried about the comeptition, though. He's confident that he can stack Elder Scrolls against the competition, like Blizzard. "We’re set up just about as perfectly as you can be. The fantastic IP with the next-gen consoles that are coming out… Blizzard doesn’t do consoles."

I have no doubt that there are those betting on how long it will take before The Elder Scrolls Online goes the way of so many of its forebearers, but I'm not a gambler, and the persistance of subscriptions in World of Warcraft and EVE still shows that there are some who remain happy to pay. 

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TenClub's picture

 "The reason why we don’t need F2P is we have a huge IP behind this. We’re not that worried about getting people in the door."

Where has this person been? Umm...SWTOR? A far, far, far bigger IP than Elder Scrolls and look where it is now. Free to play.

It's not about getting people IN the door. It's about keeping them in the room. They're in denial. I'll wait for the inevitable F2P or B2P transformation because I'm not going to invest into a P2P game again and have it be a ghost town in a couple of months.

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elvismiggell's picture

Anyone else think this all sounds a bit "Microsoft"?  Didn't we just learn an excellent lesson in the dangers of being bullish and how that can upset people.  I understand their argument, but as I said in a previous article, I won't pay a regular subscription when my available gaming time varies.  (Not to mention the fact that I like to play other games too!)

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Gwathdring's picture

Exactly. Someone else in the thread also made an excellent point that a lot of people who have the money for a subscription still won't find it worthwhile simply becasue they won't be available to play even amounts every month; it's playtime that creates the value not license-to-playtime.

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I'll accept the subscription model again when they charge for my actual time played.  Or at  least for each day you log in.

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Gwathdring's picture

Indeed that would make the model substantially more sensible. If it wouldn't be cost effective, that's something they should sort out before making a game that's too expensive to play at a worthwhile cost.

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I don't mind games being a P2P, but they need to be worth it to start with. Elder Scrolls has failed so far to prove that it is worth it.

Having Elder Scrolls in the name doesn't mean its automaticaly worth it.

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lenn_eavy's picture

First Wild Star, then Elder Scrolls Online. With this many F2P titles, it could be hard to stay P2P for long. If I would have to gues, I'd say December 2014.

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SkaarjGuy's picture

Hoping when Zenimax ends up reversing the decision (keyword: when, since MMOs are unpredictable and the subscription fee might actually end up being a terrible idea) they choose to go Buy-to-Play instead of F2P.

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Rave's picture

I'd Say 95% of people here are right, £9/$10/13eu is a ridiculous amount of money to pay for a GAME a month not a single person that earns enough money to Justifiably pay for this monthly will have enough time on they're hand to get they're worth out of it!

Not to mention the console player paying they're subscription fee first which bumps up that monthly out going.That said if you play it on a computer that actually can play a game like this you'd have spend about £250-400 anyway.

For example:

I work typically 9-5 monday to friday my wages are nothing to complain about and i love my video games and am very loyal to those that are good to me.

I have a £600 Gaming computer that i saved for until i had more than enough savings to get so i could justify it, a PS4 wrapped up under my girlfriends Christmas tree.

what i spend on games is dependant on the prices asked and what around.

I bought terraria but only when it was on offer at £1.50 because i was unsure if id like it.

I have spent about £30(in Total) on League of Legends and that is only because i have played the game for over a YEAR that's Less than 60p a week.

Now, £50 for a game...okay thats alot (or maybe times have changed and the value of money is less?) then £9 a month (which is £108 a year after your first free month)

thats the price of 2 brand new games or 3 if you include the game price too.

Another thing for you to think about is don't you like a game with progression? you do? as do most people in fact very few don't! So isn't it nice to think one day "im going to just jump onto and carry on where i left off!"

Now what if, all those lovely things that you worked hard for on that account for what ever game it may be has a big "subscription of £9 Required to play" banner on it what are the chances you'll go back to that game for JUST A LITTLE PLAY? i know i wouldn't even start playing it from the beginning.

So here is the question, what is soooo wrong about buying content as it comes out?

Sooo many games have done it and it always works to be fair. And by that i mean like expansions not the "buy this item for £150 and you will take 99.9% reduced damage and you will be able to fly...etc" thats a load of rubbish the one thing they have already said is they want being a solid player will get you powerful gear and put you right up there which personally i always believe in letting your player earn they're status, higher tier players are tough and well gear because they put in the effort IN-GAME not from they're wallets.

And you people going "I'm fed up of game where i play with friend to only hit a "buy to play this area wall" thats the stupidest argument going! your friend more than likely told you to give it a go but after a certain point you'd have to open your wallet, im sure he/she is already paying and thats why they want you to join so you can enjoy it with them,

its like gambling, you put your self in a position to get addicted and you just might!

£9 a month no way not for ESO but how about £5 a month? doesn't that seem alot more likely to get your worth out of it?

If you've taken the time to read my rant give me some feed back, i'd love to hear you argument with or against

but as i said the only people playing will be those who work for they're games or don't work at all. Personally id rather spend the rest of my day with my lovely other half than a month of no lifing a game just to get my moneys worth.

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I can't believe that people are still going on about the subscription model and the constant comparisons to SWTOR are seriously starting to piss me off.

SWTOR was a really bad game with no end game content worth a shout. It was the most boring online experience I have ever had. That's why it went F2P. If TESO can provide loads of content updates and fresh end game content readily (as they say they will) then there is no reason it cant work.

As for you people constantly complaining about a measly 12.99 a month..... all I can say is that i will be having much more fun knowing that you are not playing TESO. Leave the good games to the adults who can afford to pay for it. Good riddance to you all!

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Kr7stof's picture

Paying 60euros for a game and then paying 13euros every month is absurd.

I can not believe they are going to do this. This is very old school.

I think that when the game is out a month or 2, they are gonne have to change there model to F2P.

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I agree it's totally absurd but nobody has taken into account that if you plan to play ESO on the consoles you will have to pay for that to and everything adds up. I'm just very disappointed that it'll cost an extreme amount of money to play in the long run and that sort of money I just don't have.:

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Well, that idea worked out so well for Star Wars, which was an even bigger IP. The Old Republic was an amazing success and hasn't even thought about going free to play yet because of the mountains of money that BioWare are bringing in. So I don't blame them for that, they just want to be as big of a success as The Old Republic was.

...oh, wait.

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How can you guys think that they -weren't- going to do a monthly fee? And how can you gripe about it? This game has been in development for -years- since shortly after Oblivion was released if I remember right. That is -a lot- of time, money, and energy going into creating the game and they probably need to make a lot of money to break even and then make a profit. That being said, I'm -glad- its pay to play. Why? Because now, like he said up there, and this pisses me off in a lot of mmos, have to worry about (A Not having the ability to go to the same area as my friends. (B constantly getting popups for one reason or another regarding buying a damn item off the store. (C Never having the gear that people 'earned' by buying because its a -game.- I'm not buying a $15 helmet or even a $1 helmet. As some one who has payed for WoW, Everquest2, and RS (Which are all monthly if you want full access, just saying.) monthly  for years, never at the same time of course... I'm, again, relieved to see its not free-to-play. I was curious to see if they'd go buy-to-play or pay-to-play (I'm fine with either) but free-to-play.... Eh, no thank you. Game looks great so far though and I'd wager it'll be worth the $15/m.

 

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Kr7stof's picture

I respect your opinion and you make sound arguments but i believe that people are not gonne buy into this. Just look at guild wars 2. That works perfectly fine and its getting major updates. Paying for a game and then paying monthly(13euros is alot!) is not for these days anymore i think. 

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