Nicholas Lovell, founder of videogame business consultancy Gamesbrief, believes that ZeniMax will launch the recently announced Elder Scrolls Online MMOG under the monthly subscription model, but will eventually switch to free-to-play.
Details are thin on the ground about The Elder Scrolls Online, which was revealed by US magazine Game Informer last week, and arguably the most interesting question is which business model developer ZeniMax Online Studios will use when the game, which has been in development since 2007, launches next year.
"I still believe that subscription games are on the way out," Lovell told us in an email. "It is conceivable that Bethesda will launch with a subscription service to attract the early adopters, because that is the model they understand."
It is widely accepted that the traditional subscription model is on the way out. Blizzard Entertainment has ramped up development of expansions for World Of Warcraft in a bid to arrest a decline in paying subscribers – two million left in the space of 12 months.
EA, meanwhile, admitted last night that its recently launched Star Wars MMOG The Old Republic had seen subscriber numbers dip by 24 per cent in three months. While both Blizzard and EA remain confident in the subs model, their fortunes are in marked contrast to the rush of games which profited from the switch to free-to-play last year. Lovell went on to say that, in the fullness of time, he expects Zenimax to join the latter camp.
"They will switch to free-to-play later, in the same way that many iOS games go from paid to freemium over their lifetime," he said. "EA is struggling with The Old Republic, [but] almost everyone else is transitioning to free-to-play."
It's a fair point: it's hard to see ZeniMax taking a perceived risk on free-to-play, especially given that, when development on the game began in 2007, the monthly subscription was the only model in town. It's therefore highly likely that The Elder Scrolls Online has been designed with subs in mind, rather than tailored to free-to-play's focus on microtransactions and virtual items.
The Elder Scrolls Online was announced last week, and is due in 2013 for PC and Mac. You can watch the announcement trailer here.