Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Elder Scrolls Online Dropping Subscription Model. Called it!

I’ve been busy the past few months with a legal battle with a former landlord, as well as finding a place to live, finding work, and signing up for classes for this semester.  Thus, my posting has fallen to the wayside while the stress bleeds off, but this single event is bringing me back.

So now it’s come out that The Elder Scrolls Online is going buy to play.  They’re dropping the subscription model altogether for whatever reason, and there are many reasons.  So, this does a few things, all of which are amusing to me.  But we’ll go over why this is a big deal first.

Back when the game launched, it had a decent and solid launch day.  There was no constant lag issues, no servers dropping because of overcrowding or bandwidth issues.  People who preordered the game were allowed five days of early access, so the servers could be tweaked and hardware changed to allow for increasing numbers in incremental stages.  Honestly, it had one of the strongest game launches in memory.  That was a good thing, but it died very quick afterwards.

From Day 1, the game was buggy.  Nodes of gatherable resources would respawn almost immediately, and you’d see piles of people around them, trying to grab it before other people could do so.  What’s more, the vast majority of these people were bots, accounts that had been compromised through many ways.  There was little account security involved, and pointing this out usually entailed the defense of, “Well, Rift and World of Warcraft had botting issues in the beginning!”

And it’s true: they did.  The difference was that as far as anyone is concerned, World of Warcraft came out at the beginning of the MMO craze, and so it wasn’t like they could foresee everything that would happen concerning compromised accounts and the ways that the gold farmers gain access to them.  But Blizzard took it seriously, and they made great strides with-in the first few months to minimize them.  Even when the “play to level 20 for free!” event began, they severely curtailed the ability for compromised accounts to pass on the information that could cause more accounts to be compromised.  But Zenimax had ten years of trial-and-error to draw upon, to look at the security precautions many MMOs have taken in order to prevent compromised accounts and hacking.  They didn’t do that, and so they ended up reaping what they sowed.  There was a lot of anger launched at Zenimax and the developers of the game, from Beta to when I stopped playing, which was about two weeks into the launch.  I actually ended up being permanently banned form the “official” forums for stating why I believed the game would stop requiring a subscription with-in a year at the outset, and on the Tamriel Foundry forums I was decried as a troll by the ardent defenders of the game and company.  But then again, so was everyone who said something negative about the game.

But now it’s come out that we were right: the game is no longer a subscription-based game, or at least won’t be beginning 17 March 2015.  The game didn’t even hit a year before this happened, so you should think about that for a second.  It’s no different than Star Wars: The Old Republic or Warhammer 40k Online, or probably the most infamous to do this, Guild Wars 2.  They all went free-to-play or buy-to-play with-in the first year, and they had all been hyped because they were triple-A names getting MMO franchises!  But the companies banked on the IP being the saving grace, and so they half-assed the actual games, and that’s when shit went down.  To this day, SWTOR bleeds people playing, and they are actively nickel-and-diming the people who have stayed.  The people at Electronic Arts, who published the game, have admitted as much, and have no intentions of shutting down the servers because they fully believe (read: hope) that the release of Episode VII will lead to a resurgence in the interest towards the entire franchise, and thus SWTOR will be saved by the people joining the game.

Zenimax is taking a similar look: the game is coming out to Xbox One and Playstation 4, and since you have to pay to use the multiplayer feature for both systems Zenimax can’t charge a subscription for the console people, and that’s part of the reason the game for PC is going buy-to-play.  I have no problems admitting that I believe this is part of the reason, but it’s a small part of the overall reason.  They made mistakes that they allowed to compound and grow.  They ignored the players and focused on recouping the losses that have happened since launching the game, and gave up on actual quality.  Because of that, they’re hoping a rename to Tamriel Unlimited will somehow unfuck the massive clusterfuck they have allowed to grow.  To use a medical metaphor, they allowed several small abscesses to grow and coalesce, and now they have a much, much larger problem to fix.  Elder Scrolls Online has consistently bled account subscriptions: what the exact number is we really can’t say.  Blizzard admitted in a few press releases that they were losing subscriptions during Mists of Panderia, but Blizzard is also a much larger corporation with a much larger amount of materials and manpower dedicated to each game.  As such, they had to admit this shortcoming to the public, also in part because they are a publicly-traded game.

Even the defenders of ESO admit that anyone who has eyes can see the declining activity overall in the game.

This is part of the reason I’m ecstatic about this news: those of us who stated that the game would no longer charge a subscription have been vindicated.  Those of us who attempted to tell the company that they needed to fix basic things and were rebuffed have been vindicated.  The defenders of ESO are now in an uproar, being told that everything that has been said that is negative is true, and what we predicated has come to pass.  To quote one former defender on Zenimax’s forums:

“OMG! NO! WHY! I thought you Listened to your community! Day 1 in beta, 1550+ hrs live, PTS hrs. Was patient through all the bugs and growing pains from early access. Defended this game with all my heart to all the haters and trolls. Now you invite them? So disappointing!!! And I just re-subbed for 4 mo to fight the F2P "rumors". This hit me in the gut. I can't even log in right now. May stop playing today. This is a sad day for Nirn...... So sad...:(“

Others are simply stating that they are jumping ship, end of discussion.  Still others admit they are not surprised, and are trying to play it off as a “welcome change”.  In the end, what matters is how Zenimax will recover from this decision.  Recently, the other titles that have made this same decision—or gone full free-to-play—have completely failed.  Zenimax’s track record is not looking positive.

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