Bethesda's first MMO, The Elder Scrolls Online, has bowed to pressure and made the belated, if not inevitable, switch to a subscription-free model. The game will now operate on a similar basis to Guild Wars 2, with players buying the game itself but getting playtime without cost. Instead, an in-game shop will offer various purchasing options, from the cosmetic to the more pragmatic, such as experience boosts and "services and content."
In addition, players can purchase an ESO Plus membership which will give them regular deposits of in-game currency as well as various boosters and DLC access as long as it's current. These packages are available for 30, 90 and 180 day durations.
Whilst TESO met with a somewhat muted reception, its failure to capitalise on the success of Skyrim is unlikely to be the sole reason for the switch in models. With subscription-based MMOs now a very small and ever-shrinking club, the eleven month lifespan of the subscription fee was a longer one than many expected.
However, it's also possible that the demise of the month fee was helped along with the changing face of the console market and the increasing willingness of Sony and Microsoft to engage with the free-to-play model. With launches on both PS4 and Xbox One on the horizon in June, a decision clearly had to be made on the forward-looking strategy in advance of that date. Now, when it does launch on consoles, that 'subscription-free' tagline could prove to be a powerful marketing tool for an audience hungry for more Tamriel.