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'The Elder Scrolls Online' makes subscription model optional

tech reviews Updated: Jan 24, 2015 11:36 IST

Bethesda's multiplayer roleplaying game, leveraging the success of 2011 blockbuster "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim," is dropping its monthly fee in favor of a one-time charge and a premium membership tier.

Released on Mac and PC in April 2014, and destined for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this June, "The Elder Scrolls Online" started out as a $15 per month subscription title that brought the legacy and look of "Skyrim" and its predecessors to the "World of Warcraft" MMO genre.

But with both PlayStation and Xbox already charging players a membership fee to play online, "TESO" will be dropping its mandatory charge across all three platforms, adopting a new name in the process, "The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited."

Monthly premium membership, now called "ESO Plus," grants subscribers an all-access pass to additional areas, a monthly allowance of in-game funds, plus faster progression for their characters and equipment.

The switch to a $60 retail package -- albeit with that optional $15 subscription -- is accompanied by another change, as "TESO:TU" publicity material quietly retires all mention of the Massively Multiplayer Online genre.

It's an approach that may help to further broaden its appeal as console launches beckon, allowing players to more strongly associate "TESO" with a multiplayer version of the "Skyrim" experience.

So is "TESO" a failed attempt at ousting "World of Warcraft" from its subscription-based throne, or was the switch planned well in advance?

Gamasutra contributor Isaac Knowles thinks such moves are increasingly scheduled as part of an online game's long term financial model.

"Repeated initial use of subscription with later conversion to an F2P option is not a failure of publishers to come to grips with reality," he suggests. "[Publishers] are trying to make the most money they can over the lifetime of the product that they sell."

"It may be that the subscription has delivered to [studio owner] Zenimax precisely what it wanted, and the move away is a logical step planned well in advance," he wrote.

"The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited" will relaunch on Mac and PC this March 17, with a June 9 date reiterated for the two consoles.

Publisher Bethesda issued two cinematic trailers to coincide with the announcement, one at 7 minutes and a supercut that clocks in at 23 minutes.