Bethesda's VP of Marketing tells us that a subscription model is "the right decision for the right reasons".
By Tim Colwill on April 1, 2014 at 8:49 pm
The Elder Scrolls Online launches this week, and despite some very positive feedback from beta tests, Zenimax Online’s decision to use a subscription model instead of being free-to-play still gives prospective players pause.
We caught up with Bethesda’s Global VP of Marketing and PR, Pete Hines, who explained to us that the decision was reached mutually by Bethesda and Zenimax together.
“It would be fair to say it was a mutual decision,” said Hines. “It wasn’t like they decided it, and we didn’t mandate it. There was a lot of conversation around it.”
“I worry about it,” admits Hines, “but I worry about everything. That’s my job, to worry. But I think it’s the right decision for the right reasons.”
“What’s going to determine whether or not it succeeds or fails is not really tied to what anyone else has done, it’s tied to ‘do we make a strong enough argument for the value that you get for your fifteen dollars?’. If we’re providing the kind of content people want to see where they’re like ‘This is awesome, I’m having a blast, this new stuff is totally worth it and I’m having fun’, then the subscription totally works. If we’re putting out stuff that doesn’t make a case for it then we have a problem on our hands and we have failed to meet that value proposition.”
“But I would argue that other games that have or haven’t succeeded with this: it’s more about that, not the model itself. It’s about ‘are you giving me my money’s worth for what you’re asking me to pay?’ If yes, then they don’t have a problem with it. If no, then they have a problem with it.”
I put it to Hines that $90 — in Australia, at least — was a hefty price to pay just to see if you’d like to pay even more in the future, but he explained that didn’t see that as an issue.
“If you don’t like the game, of course you’re not subscribing to it,” says Hines. “You get the game, you get your first month without having to pay for a subscription to see ‘is this thing a thing I like’? If your approach that you want to take is that, for example, you love Skyrim, you played it for 125 hours, but after three or four weeks you were done, then you can do the exact same thing in Elder Scrolls Online.”
“You can buy it, play the hell out of it for four weeks and go ‘Eh! I’m done. I did everything I wanted to do, I did a bunch of single-player stuff, I did a bunch of PVP, and now I’m out.’ Then you’re out. The subscription is irrelevant. The initial purchase is exactly the same as any other PC game because you don’t have to pay for the subscription until your 30 days is up.”
Hines wouldn’t be drawn on the subject of a free trial, something that other high-profile MMOs, like Warhammer Online, implemented far too late. He argued that it was far too early to start discussing the need for incentives, saying that it was “all hypothetical”.
“If there are ten million subscribers after a month, then a free trial is not something I have to worry about because I have ten million people who are playing the game. If I have just ten people playing the game, then that’s a different scenario and we’d have to do something, because there’d only be ten people playing the game.”
“In between there are literally a billion different possibilities to be managed and figured out. Right now our focus is on one thing, which is make the best game possible.”
The team at Zenimax are “pretty agile” if things need to change, says Hines, but he’s confident that they won’t have any major surprises. His voice takes on a slightly weary note as he explains the sheer amount of testing that the game has been through, and how they continue to learn more and more about the different types of players playing their game.
“I don’t see us learning something that’s like ‘we never saw THAT coming!,” says Hines. “We do so much testing.”
“But I don’t know. I think it’s TBD.”
The Elder Scrolls Online launches on Friday April 4.