Letters From Tamriel

An epistolary gaming blog

subscription vs. free play

@Zells - sepia stone - smallLast month I decided to sign up for the ESO subscription.  It was a big deal for me; my income is extremely limited and the only reason I talked myself into playing ESO was b/c it was open play.  I bought the base game with Christmas money, and figured the world was more than big enough to entertain me until next Christmas without DLCs.

Historically, I have played without DLCs in the solo games for at least the first run-through, and often through more than one.  I’ve used the DLC content (when I even get it) as a way to freshen the game and make it interesting again after hundreds of hours of play.  And in Oblivion, which I played on the console and with no home internet access, I never did buy or play the DLCs. But when the Thieves Guild expansion was announced, I really wanted that content.  I looked into buying it straight out, just the DLC, and then compared the price to the subscription.  As someone with decades of experience in retail, I’m impressed by how reasonable and fair the pricing structure is.  It really is possible to play with just the base game, and I really could have simply purchased the Thieves Guild and added that in without getting a subscription.  And yes, if I quit the subscription, I will lose access to that content whereas if I’d purchased it outright, I wouldn’t.

However, if I had purchased the Thieves Guild DLC outright instead of getting a subscription, I would not now have access to Orsinium or the Imperial City.  And I would have had to pay again to get the Dark Brotherhood DLC when it’s released this summer.  I know I’m going to want the DB content, too, and the cost of those two DLCs covers six months of subscription, so I decided to subscribe.

As a subscriber, I also get a monthly allocation of Crowns, as many as if I’d spent that same amount of money solely buying Crowns, which essentially makes the DLC access a free benefit.  I had previously purchased some Crowns, so I could buy a costume (Zelliah’s noble dress) and it felt super weird for me, because I rarely waste money buying myself clothes, and paying real money for virtual clothes seemed ridiculous.  I do really love the costumes, though – character appearance means a lot to me – and getting a monthly supply of Crowns means I can pick up new costumes now and then (or a new mount, or a crafting motif, or…) without an additional outlay.

I mean, yes, I’m still paying for the Crowns, I understand that.   I could have played without the subscription or the DLCs or the Crowns, yes, and it still would have been a very rich experience.  I deeply appreciate that they designed a model that allows play with only the purchase of the base game; there’s no “obviously right” answer for subscription vs. free play, it really depends on how you play ESO, what you want from it, and how your budget works.  The “right answer” is going to be different for each player.

But at the end of the day, I’m a huge fan of TES, and I believe strongly that if you enjoy art, you should compensate the artists.  It took some non-trivial budget manipulation to free up that lowly $15/mo, but I don’t regret it at all.  ESO is a great game, and I’m happy to subscribe as a way of supporting the team who creates and manages it for me.  I’m happy to subscribe if it means that the game is maintained, bugs are fixed, and new content is developed.  As far as I’ve been able to tell, those things are true.  ZOS’s plans are to release a new DLC every quarter.  I don’t know that I’ll love all of them as much as the Thieves Guild DLC (which is fantastic) but I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

I see the subscription vs. free debate in chat all the time, and the balance of discussion always seems comes down in favor of subscribing.  There are good reasons for that.  It isn’t the best option for everyone, but if you’ve been considering it, take a closer look at the benefits (which include a 10% boost to experience and crafting skill inspiration pts, btw) and do the math.  If you’re going to want the DLCs, and you like the items in the Crown store, give subscribing a try.


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