ESO Sub Fee: Is the Game Worth the Coin?

One of the burning questions since it was announced was whether or not The Elder Scrolls Online  would be worth it’s subscription fee. While the hosts on the show have made their thoughts quite clear (they all think the sub fee is fair as each has the game pre-ordered), I wanted to give my opinion, as well as the opinions of a couple of our fans who were kind enough to send in their thoughts.

Free-to-play Comparisons

Let’s face it, this comparison will be made over and over again in today’s market. With most MMOs either launching for sub-free (Guild Wars 2) or switching to the model after launch (The Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic), a subscription-based game has a lot of competition. So what do we know about why Zenimax will be charging this sub fee? They state that the reason it’s being charged is so we don’t have pay gates to overcome throughout the game, that all the content will be available as you stumble upon it rather than once you put away your wallet. This is the standard that carried other games in the past, but today’s market works a little differently.

I can tell you personally that I hate pay gates. Having played LotRO since launch I have paid both the sub and experienced the switch to Free-to-play. The differences are striking. In the F2P model everything is monetized. And it’s annoying. It’s especially annoying because since I no longer pay the subscription I don’t have access to all of the areas I have already bought. I own three copies of the original game, Shadows of Angmar. I do not have access to all of the content on those discs because I don’t pay the sub. But yet, I have access to all of the content in the expansions packs I have also paid for. The reason why I put up with this and continue to deal with the pay gates lurking around every corner is because the content of the game is superb. So if Zenimax wants to continue to build a game that players will willingly pay the box price as well as the sub afterwards, the game needs to be filled with not just simply content, but extraordinarily good content.

Jason Etheridge, one of our fans who submitted his thoughts, puts it pretty well:

A sub would be worth paying if new content was continually being added (in a regular 2-3 month cycle). But I’m truly skeptical that this is possible for any MMO company. Having the SWTOR experience well in mind, it seems obvious that ESO will have no choice but to switch to free-to-play sooner or later. Given that, why pay now for what will be free later?

Unfortunately for Zenimax, the Star Wars comparison will also too often be made. If a major international IP like Star Wars could “fail” as a subscription based game, what makes The Elder Scrolls any different?

Is the Current Game Worth the Extra Coin Right Now?

All we have to go by right now are our Beta experiences. Once again, I can tell you personally that I hate paying subscriptions fees. With so many great F2P games out there, why should I be willing to shell out $15 a month to play a game I already purchased?

Easy – the game is really good. At least in my opinion.

The only reason why I don’t pay for The Lord of the Rings Online is simply because I don’t need to do so. All of the content I need to access I have unlocked or paid for. There are no pay gates for my main characters to overcome, so I see no need to pay a sub fee to play the game. The Elder Scrolls Online is different because EVERYTHING the game has to offer is behind that sub-fee, and the content that I have experienced throughout my extensive time with the game has me convinced it’ll be worth it to me in the end. 

Yes, I understand that I will be spending a lot of money on a single game in a year. But look at it this way: I will likely not play too many other games throughout that time, so I could end up saving money over the course of the year by not buying other games. Plus, if Zenimax is smart they will offer a lifetime subscription like other MMOs do at the outset (one of my biggest regrets of LotRO is not taking advantage of that!) to gather large chunks of money from their most loyal fans at once. The amount of content already in the game, even the higher end content not showcased in the Betas have me chomping at the bit. I can play three different storylines for that $15 price. Aldemeri, Daggerfall and Ebonheart – all open to me with one price. I don’t need to pay for each one individually, and then pay for each zone, and so on and so forth.

ESOTR Fan Lene Astrup has some experience with MMOs, having played World of Warcraft for many years. She had this to share:

ESO is a MMO, so a subscription fee of $15 is pretty much standard. On top of that ESO has the Elder Scrollsworld, content and graphics … exploration mixed with MMO…To me, ESO revolutionizes the MMO genre.

Jason has his own thoughts though, showcasing the differences in opinion even amongst fans of the series and genre:

But the more I’ve learned, it seems that they really are doing some innovative things, with the more open-world, free-to-roam style that ES games offer. I’m somewhat intrigued by the possibilities inherent in its apparently unconstrained specialisation system, allowing any given character to be anything (or multiple anythings, based on their equipped weapon). There is a lot of goodness there, freedom we really haven’t seen in an MMO. So my current feeling is that ESO is an MMO worth play.

The irony here is that if given a chance to get into the game, it might really hook me in, at which point the sub would be worth paying. But until I’ve experienced it myself for a sufficient period of time, the box price is actually the bigger impediment than the sub. That’s a big chunk of change to drop, knowing that all I’m actually getting is a single month of access.

So is there anything Zenimax can do to change some minds?

Zenimax changed my mind by allowing me to actually play the game in it’s beta. Originally I was not buying this game. Up until about October I was not planning on playing The Elder Scrolls Online. I was going to be just content on reporting about the game and watching the livestreams. Then something happened. I started to really enjoy the game. Zenimax was making changes for the better in the game, the builds were improving with each test and their customer support if there is an issue was always spot on. My dealings with the members of Zenimax’s community team have always been cordial and pleasant (Thanks Jessica and Gina!). The game itself has sold me on paying the box price as well as the sub. I’m even purchasing it for my Xbox One console to experience Tamriel on my TV as well.

Has Zenimax done enough to have others’ change their mind? In the case of Jason, not yet:

I don’t believe there’s anything that ZOS can do that would be sufficiently convincing to bring me into it on day 1, with the box plus sub business model. I’ll wait for free-to-play, and if I can play then and experience the game in such a way that it grabs me, I’m perfectly happy to pay a sub (or the equivalent in whatever its cash shop offers).

That is the big expectation: that Zenimax will be forced to go Free-to-play due to a lack of willing subscribers. I, for one, don’t believe that will be the case. If Zenimax decides it needs to switch models, I think it will be on their terms. Bethesda really hasn’t had a major flop yet, and they’re not about to let the flagship IP start now. If ESO goes Free-to-play in the future, it will be because it was part of the plan all along. Again, just my opinion.

So the big question: Is ESO worth the price tag it’s asking?

In my humble opinion, yes it is definitely worth the sub fee. But not everyone agrees, as stated above. Having that opinion is perfectly fine and reasonable as well! I can see many valid points as to why you shouldn’t have to pay to play a game you’ve paid for. Here’s why I think the game will be worth it in the end:

  • While you’re buying the boxed content now, your sub fee will go towards paying the developers working on the next great addition to your journey in Tamriel
  • It will keep those out of the game that you would otherwise have ruining the experience for everyone. Once LotRO went free-to-play, a very vocal minority made it so I can no longer walk through Bree without muting region and local chat. A sub fee keeps some of those, if not most of those, players out.
  • It will keep you playing the game. I know if I’m spending $15 a month on a game, I’ll be playing it as often as I can.
  • You will not be forced to pay for a quest line, region or certain items.
  • The quality of your PvP player experience will be based on yours and your PvP enemy’s skill, not the limit of their wallet

What do you think? Do you think that ESO is worth the price tag? Let us know in the comments below, or on our forums!


  • I was gutted when I first found out there would be a P2P model, but then I managed some research… The price to play at $15 a month, converted into my native £, really isn’t an excessive amount SO LONG AS we’re getting extensively regular updates. After seeing an ESO representative claim that even now teams of devs are producing large amounts of free DLC to release as updates, I was left assured this was the right way to go. I’m scared Zenimax Online will go the ‘way of the Warcraft’ and produce a P2P scheme and CD based PURCHASABLE DLC, and if it comes to that the easy option would be to, I don’t know…. Just not play, perhaps?
    The Elder Scrolls Online is an exciting idea, and one I’ve wished for since Oblivion was released for the PS3, a year or so after the PC version was released. Zenimax Online now have the power in their hands to either comply with the gamers’ greater interest (i.e. A large fee for a large return in free downloads) or will prise money from our willing fingertips as we play this spectacle religiously!
    Happy gaming,

  • $15 you can spend easily on anything where i live you can’t even go to the cinema once a month for that especially as I have to get the but

    But if they want me at a later date to pay for extra content like Dark Brotherhood then i will be angry and probably not want to play any more even though I love ESO

  • I agree that ESO is an awesome game based on my Beta experiences and is worth a subscription to avoid “pay-gates” in game. However, $15 per month seems a bit steep to me. That’s $180 per Year just for the ability to play this one game (not counting the purchase price). You can buy 3 band-new, high-end games for that.
    I love Elder Scrolls and would very much love to have the Imperial Edition (the Molag Bal statue would look great next to my Alduin statue) but I just can’t justify the price.
    Bottom line, if the monthly fee was more like $5 I probably would have already pre-ordered but as is it looks like I will just keep to Skyrim and patently wait for the next one from Bethesda…

  • One point that you missed or didn’t cover is that while I understand maybe a subscription cost MAY be the best one for ESO – doesn’t mean it has to be so bloody much per month. What 15 American ? So that’s 20 New Zealand ? I can’t bloody afford that – I’m a student trying to feed myself ! I mean come on

  • Same for me I was not interested till I played it and I’ve played all 9 of the Es game but after the last 2 tests, I’m hooked

  • 15 is worth the price, I would Luke to know how they are going to handle expansions and new content, and also if accounts can be played cross platform.

  • Gaming can be a lifestyle or a hobby depending on who you ask. At $15 a month that’s a cheap price-tag for what I’ve seen so far in the beta alone.
    On the topic of comparing it to Star Wars: The old Republic, you have to remember that the biggest reason stated for that game “failing” and going over to “Free-to-Play” was the lack of endgame content.
    From my stand point there are far more benefits to box-price + subscription compared to “Free-to-Play” or just box-price MMOs.
    I for one was encouraged to hear that they were going with the more traditional approach with ESO since that generally ends up giving us subscribers a better product that continues to evolve over time in a manner that gives us content that are meant to encourage us spending time in game doing what we want to rather than herding us to the next pay-gate.

  • I’ve been watching this game for a few years now and it’s just been reeling me in with every update. I pre-ordered the physical Imperial Edition and I’d be happy to pay ZOS $15 a month. When it’s broken down by how much time I’ll be playing, it’s miniscule. If I only played 4 hours a day every day for a month (which is less than I usually play by a fair amount), I’m basically paying 13 cents for each hour played. Or .50 a day. That’s nothing. And comparing that to what it costs to go see a movie at the cinema is quite flawed. The movie only last a few hours for that ONE time you go see it. I’d say your money is better spent on constantly updated quality game play with ESO.

  • Hell yeah its worth it im a massive Tes and MMO Fan and im hooked on eso the combat is epic, the crafting is great, the story and quests are amazing and the graphics are sexy as hell. they can take my money and my soul im in love with Eso

  • swtor failed because the end game wasn’t there. if its there on release sub is fine.

    • Also I hope people will be waiting forever for it to go free to play. Free to play has ruined most of the games I use to play, and I’ll be jumping ship on this one if it goes f2p as well. Which i seriously doubt it will, I think pay to play is coming back as it should. Pay gates >SUCK<

      • yea im going to laugh as all those people are all like “im gonna wait for f2p” are waiting for the next 4 years or more lol

        • Kanati Siquayetsga

          I hope you are right, but I suspect that ESO will go F2P either within a year or never. It all depends on the drop-off in subscriptions in the period between 30 to 90 days after launch. It usual to see MMO subscriptions drop to 30 their high-points during that window. If the company has the intestinal fortitude to weather that drop, the population then tends to climb back up and stabilize. It’s a well-known phenomenon, but it never ceases to cause panic among the suits.

  • Seriously, i do not get the fact that people who use so many hours having fun, having fun! – With a game, do not want to pay the silly low 15 bucks. If you spend what 40 hours a month on the game, 15 bucks for a fun time seems like dust in the wind.

  • The major issue with f2p games is that every game design decision is made with money in mind, and the quality of the game suffers. A lot.
    The day ESO will become f2p i will uninstall and never look back.

  • Strange talking about pay gates and stuff, when there’s GW2 out there pushing out content every two weeks. Content you don’t even need to pay for, unless you want some useless cosmetics that give no advantage.

    SWTOR wasn’t bad, and It did have some end game (I do remember there was raid, a ”PVP planet”, ”heroic dungeon” and battlegrounds). I had fun playing the ESO Beta,but what do we know about it’s endgame ?

    Exploring is fun and all,but once you discovered something, why go there again and again (unless you have jumping puzzles, like gw2). Crafting will be maxed out at some point ,dungeon will become repetitive, like in any MMO, and unless the Alliance war is perfectly balanced, which is hard in a 1v1v1 situation (look again at GW2 and their WvWvW) it will get annoying pretty fast.

    As some said, I’m pretty sure fifteen a month is too much for a game I have already paid 80 $ (while some paid 100$). Why not 8,9 or even 10 $ ?

  • Unless they do a top notch job with Cyrodiil, they’ll end up like GW2 WvWvW : Unbalanced fight ,usually ending in a 2 faction war, the third one being way behind and getting stomped by both of the other.(That’s the main reason I stopped playing GW2) More so if people play on a diffrent timezone than theirs, because they’d want to play with friends.

    It’s nice taking keep, towers and stuff during the day (or the night), but losing it all once your players leave for work, school and the guys on the otherside which has french, australian or anybody from another timezout coming in and taking everything back, it gets old pretty fast. Moreso when said server still have plenty of players playing from the same timezone you’re in. Their players rotate, yours do not, and you can’t take back your keeps.

    The thing is, without a sub fee, you can leave for a time and get right back into the action. How many time did I tell myself : Hey, I could go back and play *Insert random sub MMO here* and go ”Meh,I really don’t want to shell out 15 bucks and maybe get bored after 2 weeks,or 3 days for that matter”.

    Having said unbalance in Alliance wars(as an exemple) might discourage people from playing after sometime, because losing all the time can get boring pretty fast. Will those players come back 2 months later if they have to pay almost half the price of the standard edition, not knowing if Zenimax managed to fixes some of the games problem ? Some will, many won’t. And after a while, they’ll have to go ”F2P”.

    Yes, this is all hypothetical and all ,but it COULD happen, because it already happened in some games. Some took a free to play route and chose to have an E-Shop with cosmetics item (GW2 and Tera),which is fine, while others went the ”Pay for EVERYTHING, from new dungeons to having the ability to hide your head slot items (looking at you SWTOR)” route.

    Sorry for the ol’ Wall of Text and any errors I could’ve made, seeing as english is not my main language

  • I agree Bradford. $15 is well worth it after having played the beta extensively. I know it can be a little costly for some with the box price then the sub fee but if truly love Elder Scrolls you will find a way to budget and save for this. I know for me I am just going to drink a little less soda and not stop at the coffee shop a couple times and there is my $15+ a month.

    When I played WoW it actually did save me a bunch of money a year on games as I did not buy many other games. So I see ESO saving me money!

  • I came a long way from a F2P game, which I played for over 3 years. Only thing I can say is it cost me, up to today, more than an ESO bundle and 3 years of monthly subscription.

    The game was boring and heavily grinding based, and so hard to play without paying USD 30 per month. Most of the time I was just making gold to pay Item Mall (IM) users for the items I needed to keep playing, and that took out all the fun of the game, making it be more like work and full of bots. Also, the best add-ons like mounts, decoration and clothes came only from the IM, and recently the best mercenaries were also only from IM. Each of these where released at least once per month, with new improved status compatible with higher level areas and each cost at least USD 70. A regular user of IM in that game could be easily dropping around USD 500 or more per month just to stay up to date.

    I decided, together with some friends of the old F2P game to move on and have a new experience, without all the downsides of the F2P model, and I really expect that ESO never goes F2P.

  • As for updates, I am hoping for something similar to City of Heroes. On average they came out with new content every 4 months for almost 8 years. Two of the were for pay, all the rest were included with your sub. And they were a relatively small studio.

    I think Zenimax should be able to put out new content every 2-3 months. The real key is they can’t just add one type of content if they want to keep subscribers around. They will need to add both beginning, middle and end game content. Both PvE and PvP. If they focus on just one area they will loose subscribers quickly.

    SWToR is a great example of how not to do it. They promised great story updates and expansions for PvE players, but then ended up focusing on PvP and end game raids. They lost a lot of roleplayers, lower level players and people that wanted to roll alts.

  • Some interesting points to your arguments:

    – Lotro does free to play incredibly poorly. Its the most rude and pointed example of how not to do free to play. If you consider how Rift, The Secret World, and even SWTOR treats free to play, the blocking off content is really a phantom concern, as a developer does not have to do it in a free to play model and can still have many opportunities to monetize their player base.

    – Charging a subscription is by far the most profitable way from a developers standpoint to launch a game. By far. In these discussions, its always worth considering monetization from both the perspective of the player, and the developer. Considering a mutual good i often find very biased towards the developer. The value proposition is for the player simply assumed..

    – It is a false statement that subscription’s maintain the community. Subscribe to wow and assess the quality of the people there. Now create an account to swtor, a game which has been publically rubbished, and assess the community there. You may be surprised at what keeps the children out (being unpopular seems to be the best way to do it)…

    Lets hope zenimax can keep it going. The current assessment seems to be, if you compare it to skyrim its compares poorly, but as an mmo its quite strong. Hope its turns out well!

    • The Secret World is buy-to-play though, not free-to-play. Having said that I would argue that LOTRO is effectively B2P too despite Turbine’s claims.

      As for community, while 9 years of WoW have cured me of any illusions about the positive effects of a subscription towards community quality, I did notice a big big plunge in SWTOR when it went free-to-play, at least on my server.

      But like others I’m more concerned about the quality of the game. F2P content is designed to be not fully satisfying so that you’ll fork out some cash eventually, and then it’s more expensive than P2P because only a portion of players do pay. Forget that, I want to be sure of what I pay up front and then get a complete game out of it.

  • Kanati Siquayetsga

    Kind of a silly question really. If the game is worth _playing_, it is worth $60 + $15/mo. My time is way more valuable than that.

  • Baron Von popenstein

    “So what do we know about why Zenimax will be charging this sub fee? They state that the reason it’s being charged is so we don’t have pay gates to overcome throughout the game”

    Yeah but we have to shell out £80 to get the imperial edition, if that isn’t a pay gate then what is?

  • I believe that the answer depends on the individual. For example, I will most likely will not play any subscription based game because of how I play games. I like to immerse myself in Elder Scroll games and digest them very slowly. I’m still playing Skyrim with no end it site, and yet I bought that on sale from Steam for $30. It’s been over a year now since I bought it and I’m still loving it. That’s a lot of value for my $30 investment. Is ESO an excellent game? From my Beta gameplay, the answer is absolutely! Do I think it’s worth it for me to pay 8 times more for it in a single year than I paid for Skyrim, the answer is no. I don’t want to feel like I’m rushing when playing an Elder Scrolls game just because of a monthly subscription.

    Thanks for the excellent article. When it all comes down to it, I suppose the market will end up deciding.

  • At my place, retail game + monthly sub AND micro-transactions is really too much! And the game could really be successful with some other payment model.

    Look at Guild Wars 2 still profitable with just an retail + expansions. Look at SWTOR, one of most expensive games in history, still profitable with over million of subs and still free 2 play. Look at Path of Exile, free to play, every four months FREE expansion and still profitable!

    So considering all, that payment model is really too much.

    I am long-term ES fan and I really like from what I saw in the beta, but due to this payment model and financial crisis at home unfortunately won´t be able to play it. So I really hope something will change 🙁

  • I guess I would like some concrete definition of “new content.” After 4 months of sub fees, I’ve paid for a new game. Will I get a new game worth of content? I’m not talking about new skins, or gear, but real content. I’m seriously doubting that I will be getting 3 games worth of content a year.

  • If 15$= 150 hrs for playing, I think ESO will have more player for this game.

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