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Bethesda Softworks is dropping subscriptions for Elder Scrolls Online

Another blow to the old school MMO profit model


Dennis Scimeca

Internet Culture

Posted on Jan 21, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 5:28 pm CDT

Bethesda Softworks announced today that the massively multiplayer fantasy game The Elder Scrolls Online will drop its monthly subscription model and reboot as The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited.

This does not mean that the online version of the Elder Scrolls franchise is going free-to-play. The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited will be a traditional game where players buy a copy and play as much or as little as they like. Existing Elder Scrolls Online players will transition from the old model to the new model on March 17.

Elder Scrolls Online players with paid subscriptions that would have extended past March 17 will be automatically enrolled into ESO Plus, a paid membership service that bestows exclusive bonuses and a monthly stipend of a new currency called “crowns” that The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited players can spend in the Crown Store. 

This new Crown Store will sell “convenience and customization items,” which in massively multiplayer online (MMO) games usually translates to “consumables and clothing.” Expect things like temporary stat boosts and ability potions, and costumes, for example.

Bethesda Softworks also made the announcement today that the long-awaited PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of The Elder Scrolls Online will be released on June 9, also under the banner of The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited

The PC version of The Elder Scrolls Online launched on April 4 of last year. Bethesda Softworks announced a delay of the console versions on May 8, and again on Dec. 4.  The switch from a subscription model to a traditional pay-to-play model likely had everything to do with the impending console releases.

Today’s news about The Elder Scrolls Online is a punctuation mark in the ongoing discussion as to whether or not the subscription model is still viable for massively multiplayer online games. Ever since World of Warcraft all-but-officially established the user interfaces, game design, and moment-to-moment play mechanics of the modern MMO, new massively multiplayer online games like The Elder Scrolls Online have struggled to make money off the old subscription model. 

BioWare’s MMO The Old Republic was released as a subscription-based game on Dec. 11, 2011, and switched to a free-to-play model in November 2012. Lovecraftian horror MMO The Secret World launched as a subscription-based game on July 3, 2012, and switched to a one-time “pay to play” model only five months later. Both games follow the basic formula of play mechanics laid down by World of Warcraft.

EVE Online, on the other hand, offers an MMO experience unlike anything in the traditional WoW template, and EVE Online continues to draw profits off the subscription model.

Bethesda Softworks released further information on the Elder Scrolls Online FAQ.

Illustration via Bethesda Softworks

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*First Published: Jan 21, 2015, 3:08 pm CST