Elder Scrolls Online Pricing: Does Business Model Matter?

Zenimax has not announced Elder Scrolls Online pricing yet, however, does the business model they select significantly affect gameplay? Every business model will have pro and cons and some have strong opinions when it comes to Elder Scrolls Online pricing. Business models have three common flavors.


Elder Scrolls Online Pricing with a Subscriptionthe elder scrolls online pricing

The traditional business model for MMO’s is the subscription model. Every account pays a set amount each month for unlimited play, at least in American and European countries. All players start equal and progression is based on the amount of time you play for the most part.

The main advantage of this business model is that no one has an inherent advantage. You have to put in time to advance. Not that you don’t with other business models, but it can be excessive with subscription MMO’s. Faction locking players is most effective with this business model. The main disadvantage is that developers will try to slow down progression to keep you playing longer. Most rewards are earned through investing time and not necessarily being skilled.

Based on a $15 a months subscription, players will pay $180 a year not counting the initial purchase or future expansion purchases.

Elder Scrolls Online Buy To Play

Elder Scrolls Online Price

You purchase the game and can play forever without putting anymore money into it. Frequent expansions are released to keep revenue coming in. This business model is a little bit newer.

The main advantage of this business model is that it encourages frequent content expansions. There is not necessarily any adva

ntage to keep players addicted as long as possible since revenue only comes from expansions. This is also a modular approach since you can buy only the content you want.

Another advantage is you can take a break from a game and not worry about canceling or renewing any subscriptions. Of course the main disadvantage of this is that content expansions may not be balanced. If an expansion is designed to put players that do not purchase it at a severe disadvantage then most of the advantages are nullified.

Assuming one expansion a year at $60, players average $5 a month to access all content.

Elder Scrolls Online Free To PlayElder Scrolls Online

What if there is not any Elder Scrolls Online pricing? What if ESO is free to play? This business model requires an item shop or some form of paid premium content to exist, but requires zero upfront cost.

The main advantage of this business model is obviously the price. You pay nothing to play, at least not for the core game. Faction locking is all, but pointless in free to play games. It only punishes the actual customers that purchase content and support the game. This may be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your opinion on faction locking. To some extent, item shops discourage gold farmers since in-game money is less desirable than it is under other business models.

The disadvantages to Elder Scrolls Online being free to play are numerous. There are no barriers to switching factions. This makes it easy for a fourth faction to exist. If Elder Scrolls Online pricing is free to play, there is very little consequences for people who choose to hack, scam and exploit. Probably the biggest disadvantage is that players are not equal. If not implemented well, item shops can give rise to pay to win gameplay.

If Elder Scrolls Online is free to play the average player will pay nothing. A minority of players, the whales, will generate most of the company’s revenue. This is more apparent in this model, but is true for all business models. A few players buy every accessory, collectable and have multiple accounts. Players with many accounts, 5-10+, in subscription models are not as uncommon as you may think.

Of course there are hybrid of these various business models as well, but they are far less common. Since the Elder Scrolls Online pre-order is already available, I would assume Elder Scrolls Online pricing will be either a subscription or buy to play. What is your preference for business model and why?


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15 Responses to “Elder Scrolls Online Pricing: Does Business Model Matter?”

  1. andrew April 30, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    I personally like subscribtion with ingame time-cards, I mean not extremly-rare-expensive time-cards but those what you can either earn in very limited amount from NPC(lets say 14 days for ding 50 etc) or buy with real currency and sell to other players.
    Why are timecards best? It almost completly kills goldselling and gold spaming. No profit from game goes to 3rd party while the payment model is still fair to players!
    Dont want to pay? Fine, grind a bit more for others who want to pay!
    Need extra money to speed progress? Pay for another player by selling him the timecard and get his grind time.

    • Aerirprown April 30, 2013 at 10:18 am #

      That sounds like a reasonable compromise. I would like to see the try a hybrid model of some sort.

  2. Akkarrin April 30, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    However there is only one fair method of pricing and that is the gw method

    Pay to buy the game after that the game is yours, play as you want; there is a shop for additional decorative items that you can buy if you want…

    Asking players to pay a further $180 a year for a game they’ve already bought is an outrageous policy.

    There are no disadvantages to the ‘free model’ as suggested; in fact it’s not even free because I would have had to pay for the game!! The only plausible disadvantage would be poorer server maintenance, because there would be less money going to ESO (this is not even mentioned in the page)

    I don’t see how it being free is a barrier to faction switching, and that is not even a disadvantage I personally want to play every faction. There does not have to be a pay2win system the shop should not have items which give advantages (like gw has avoided). And players who hack have their accounts deleted, same as on any other business model

  3. ceiimq April 30, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    As far as I can see, the only real difference between these pricing models is the effective price. Subscription is expensive, free to play is cheap (obviously) and buy to play is in-between. Naive starry-eyed economics dictates that you get what you pay for.

    I think it’s worth noting that MMOs are different from regular games when it comes to cost. I buy and play about a dozen games each year, but I only expect to play one single MMO at a time (because alternating between several MMos just dilutes my progression) and I want to stick with it for, preferably, at least two years (because lasting friendships and allegiances are what makes these games really fun). And I expect to spend as much time on it as all the other games I play, combined.

    Now it I’m going to choose just one MMO every several years then there’s not point in settling for something that’s mediocre, or even simply good. There are bound to be exceptional games out there so why not play one of those? It’d also be stupid to bitch about the price if I expect to get so much out of it. Conversely, if you’re selling a real top-tier product there’s not much point in making it cheap.

    So yeah, I want TESO to be worth spending 200$ a year to play; if it’s not I won’t even bother pouring all that time and energy into it. And if it is worth that then I don’t see why ZOS would sell it short.

    (I’m also a messed-up person who enjoys things more when I payed a lot for them, but that’s not all that relevant)

  4. PerpendicularPenguin April 30, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    The “Buy to Play” model would be fantastic.

    As mentioned, GW has a wonderful setup combining the highly enticing “one-time buy” with a neat in-game shop which allows players to purchase some vanity extras without allowing for any advantages through monetary input.

    I would love to see ESO follow the same model, which is awesome for the players, and also a very decent way to bring in extra cash.

    Of course, it may not ensure such a large and constant income like as a subscription fee would, but it may draw in a larger crowd, which is crucial for a newly-released game.

    Because a notable portion of younger players are hesitant about a game which requires a monthly fee, I think ESO would do just fine if it asked for one purchase; especially since The Elder Scrolls is such a popular title already.

  5. andrew May 1, 2013 at 3:47 am #

    You v got a point: “a notable portion of younger players are hesitant about a game which requires a monthly fee” and thats why I see subscription is way better, it will not be another “WoW freeserver” filled with 9y old “pro” players.

  6. Akkarrin May 1, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    I’m afraid its an imaginary point. GW2 is no-subscription, its not filled with 9yo, infact i only know of a handfull of u16 year olds on it. additionally the mega server is meant to match you with players you want to play with, if that means more mature players, you choose to play with older players.

    also i’d rather not have to pay $15 a month just because there a risk the game may have a young person in it

    ToR died because people saw the faults in it and decided it was not worth a subscription, and they tried to compensate with only giving extremely limited content for free which tbh made it worse. The same will happen to ESO if they decide do subscription fee for a quick buck…

  7. Jerry May 1, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    Free to play models described above are not the F2P model I would consider. Take a look at Wargaming.net with their successful F2P model of World of Tanks, or Piranha Games MechWarrior Online, for example. It is completely possible and profitable to sustain an MMO F2P business model with a balanced approach for paying and non-paying players. The “non-paying” player can earn exclusive items with more of a “grind” than a paying player, however it should be available to both groups to maintain a F2P model and not a Pay to Win as stated in the article above. New armor or weapon designs (esthetic, not stat bonus type) can be available to purchase as well as elaborate “homes” or mundane items that take much effort to obtain the quantity to “create” another item to “sell” to the public. A complete economy can be established and sustained, and I can assure you, if the game is everything the prior ESO titles have been in an MMO, the non-paying players WILL pay for additional special funds to get things they want or need at a faster pace. Also, having a way to earn a “paid for” ESO currency (e.g. creating and buying and selling of wares, armor, weapons, etc.) can drive the non-paying players to “work” the necessary “real life” tedious tasks to “earn” the currency to get more mundane items, designer weapons/armor/clothing, or potions. I’m certain my reply to the above isn’t enough information to set this up, however I know a sustainable F2P model unlike the one described can work and maintain profitability from a business perspective without a subscription, single purchase with additional expansion purchases, or a pay to win issue crushing the overall value of the product before it is available. Bethesda and Zenith employ many great minds that can setup such a balance, adding value to the community of both paying and non-paying players, and support the server clusters, storage needs and bandwidth as well as the staff.

  8. Drew May 1, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

    I’m sensing a smidgen of bias from this article.

    Personally, I’d prefer a $60 upfront price tag combined with free-to-play, and perhaps added expansions with a $20-30 price tag.

  9. Brian May 1, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

    tell me you did not compare World of Tanks to a Triple A quality MMO. its night and day, a quality MMO requires server maintence, customer service, and constant content upgrades. there is no compairing. you get what you pay for and a quality MMO costs money, i peronsally want a great game thats worth paying for, not a free game that isnt worth playing.

  10. zorpi May 2, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    F2p like Lotro or b2p like Gw2 are best atm to people like me who cant play much. I would rather buy quest packs, skins and other stuff like that if i feel like it, instead of paying 15e every mont. If thous two options are out of question then i hope they charge us from time we play(x,xxe/h) instead of monthly pay.

  11. Desmond May 2, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    Personally, I prefer the subscription model. I believe that some of the most anticipated and most critically acclaimed MMOs use this business model to ensure a continuous revenue stream which can be projected and plan accordingly giving the very highest level of customer service, quality maintenance, and can continue to produce high quality content, while keeping the game balanced. Having a subscription model can be off-putting to those who can’t afford to pay month to month and can discourage a number of younger players from playing the game, but is that really a disadvantage to mature players? I don’t think so. I don’t mind the idea of vanity items being sold for premium currency (mounts, pets, etc.) but under no circumstances, should it interfere with the normal in game economy nor should it give any player an in game advantage, or circumvent the tasks required to create items in a profession. Buy to play with a vanity store could be a compromise, but i think the best customer service and quality content is best realized in the subscription model.

  12. Tomao May 4, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

    I think:

    A subscription model would not survive against Blizzard’s titan: World of Warcraft. Only die-hard fans with enough time and cash on their hands would beable to play Elder Scrolls Online then. Afterall, many people will be cautiouse and especialy on the long term quit or even give it a go. Should however these elitists spend enough time to keep the place up and running, it could become the second-biggest cashcow MMO beside WoW.

    A buy to play model is what I expect to work like all the Elder Scrolls games have.

    A free to play model would on one hand attract all people except the most hardcore of players, who for whatever reason tend to think like capitalists: that the more you pay for a game the better it will be and that it will be good for staving off younger players (Yeah… like we’ve noticed in World of Warcraft… and all the other subscription model MMO’s).
    Or it could also be snowed under by all the other free-to-play MMO’s. Afterall, there seem to be quite a few of those already.

    Microtransactions/DLC could create large gaps between rich and poor, for instance: if one is able to buy a massive weapon of some sort at start with cash (I personaly can’t imagine why one want to pay real cash for a mere cheat, but ofcourse some people would) , while the other players have to game their way to power (which is why one plays games afteral?).
    It is however the sort of Hybrid model I expect Elder Scrolls Online will be: Either subscription with expansions, buy to play with DLC or free to play with microtransactions.

    That is what I think, however I am eager to be suprised.

    Yours sincerely,


  13. Zybtec May 21, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    As long as we can avoid having a fourth faction, I’m fine with any pricing method…

  14. Ed June 21, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    It’s not really about being able to afford it, it’s the fact that effectively buying the game 3 times every year (in addition to actually buying the box and any expansions) is BS. Anyone who’s actually looked in to the maintenance cost of online games knows that it is ridiculously low. People think high sub fees are needed to pay for upkeep, but really it’s just an excuse to line the publisher’s pockets. All the info is available if you look for it, many of these games are made by publicly traded companies who have to release that info by law. The problem is players assume there are high costs without bothering to learn anything about it, and pay the sub thinking it is a necessary evil. It really isn’t.

    They’re also cutting out a lot of what makes TES games unique and special. It’s class and level based instead of skill-based advancement. No RadiantAI or NPCs going about their lives according to their schedule. Old fashioned tank/DPS/healer set-up. Highly phased world which may affect immersion (one of the best parts of TES games IMO.)

    On top of that, when was the last time Bethesda released a game that wasn’t completely riddled with bugs? It’s always the player community that fixes the problems, and that won’t be possible with an MMO. Would you really put up with that if you were asked to pay per month?

    A good game can easily support itself from box sales and a cosmetic cash shop while remaining extremely profitable. Unfortunately “extremely profitable” isn’t profitable enough for publishers. The only way to change that is to stop feeding the greed.

    I promise you, if it releases with a sub it will go f2p within a year or two and will be worse for not being designed with that in mind from the start. Look at practically every non-WoW MMORPG that released with a sub in the past decade.

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