Finally, after a long slog through the MMORPG scene, Elder Scrolls Online is re-releasing itself as a “buy-to-play” game with its latest update, titled Tamriel Unlimited. Along with some significant updates, the game is being rebranded to attract players who have slowly trickled away since the game’s launch.
And Besthesda knows how to attract those who were most invested in the game when it first started. Everyone who received a beta key in Februrary 2014 are being emailed out redemption codes for “Welcome Back Weekend,” a free weekend of exploring Tamriel once more and deciding whether to invest into Elder Scroll Online as it transitions out of its subscription service.
Elder Scrolls Online has fallen into the rut of so many MMOs before it. While these games are massive in scale, filled with wondrous sites and stories, and can spawn very unique moments of gameplay that attract gamers from all over into the service, they often struggle at retention. MMORPGs were one of the most competitive genres in the past decade, with many derivatives of the World of Warcraft format. The issue arises in convincing thousands, if not millions, of players to continually renew their subscriptions, while also prividing sufficient end-game content to allow those who continue to play the game a reason to stay around.
Three models inevitably emerged. The pay-to-play, monthly subscription model pioneered by WoW has been the go-to for years, at least at launch for many MMORPGs. Buy the base game or expansions, pay a monthly fee, and you have unlimited access for a great game. Few people have been able to support healthy populations with this model, the most prominent examples being World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, and EVE Online. Many other titles who still support this model, like Wildstar, are often waved away by consumers.
Free-to-play has been the most popular as of late. Following in the path of League of Legends, the idea is to launch a game with a massive amount of content and replayability, and hope that people will come back for more and fund the project through microtransactions. This method has proven to be surprisingly successful.
Although it’s not a surprise that free games attract more users, cases like the downfall of Defiance and Firefall show that the F2P model isn’t a paradigm for guaranteed success. However, with so many F2P games emerging, such as Archeage, Planetside 2, and Star Wars: The Old Republic (a converted pay-to-play game), it seems the model is becoming healthier and more desired. It even remains for a host of lesser known MMORPGs, including Vindictus, MapleStory, Mabinogi, Rift, Uncharted Waters Online, and is the first choice for many newcomers to the field, like the highly renowned Korean MMORPG Black Desert.
Elder Scrolls Online is taking a different approach altogether, adopting the less common buy-to-play model. Today, the leaders of this buy-to-play model are the widely praised Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World, which has been critical success despite mediocre commercial success. Gamers may purchase the game for a flat rate and then have full access to the game, free from periodic subscription fees. These games have an interesting appeal, as they decrease the overall population with the initial price wall while lessening the pressure on players to opt into microtransactions.
The question remains: will Elder Scrolls Online gain more success than it has seen thus far with its subscription service? Will a free weekend for those initial beta players be enough to spread word of the relaunch? There has still been a lot of controversy over the game’s phasing and party system, as well as critique of the game’s level design and lackluster story. Simultaneously, the game features a huge open world with lots to see and do, a unique combat system that is a hybrid of the whack-a-mole style of World of Warcraft/Final Fantasy XIV and the traditional feel of an Elder Scrolls game, as well as one of the best character creators in the current MMORPG genre. We’ll see if this pull can bring results when the free weekend goes live on April 16.
Will you be traveling back to Tamriel for Welcome Back Weekend? Let us know in the comments below.