Founded in 2009, SuperData is the leading provider of market intelligence on free-to-play and digital games. By collecting behavioral data directly from publishers and developers, SuperData identifies key trends, establishes revenue estimates, and analyzes market changes for popular online games, including MMOs, mobile, and social games.
Before I make my point using Superdata Research, let's lay out the timeline for The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) so far. TESO launched on April 4, 2014. As the game required a one time purchase of the software on top of the subscription model, everyone got 30 days of play time at no additional cost. That was extended by five days on May 2nd after the duping bug and other issues made the first 30 days not as premium as players would have liked. TESO's subscription model kicked in on June 8th, at least that was when I was charged my first subscription fee. Much to my surprise, it is month-to-month; not the 180 days at a reduced price I thought I'd purchased. I'm not certain were the SNAFU happened, but I don't feel like pursuing it right now and that's not the point of this article. The point is, there have been two billings since the free game time ended. The proof is shown not only on my TESO account...
6MNLG4RXPDAFTJE 6/8/2014 30 Day Subscription $14.99 $14.99
M4TF6LWWJD5XWJH 7/8/2014 30 Day Subscription $14.99 $14.99
... but also on my credit card statement. You'll just have to take my word on that last one. ;-)
Do you see where I am leading with this? You know, the really nice thing about Superdata Research is they provide summary data to everyone for free. It's often dated and of little relevance to current games, but once in a while they have a real gem in their writeups. Like their report from last week titled, US digital games market update: June 2014. They provided a nice chart of the top subscription-based MMOs - for 2013. But that's not what caught everyone's attention in the post. That comes in the paragraph titled, Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online Challenge Status Quo. It is in that paragraph they drive a huge nail into the coffin of all those peeps who predicted The Elder Scrolls Online would fail as subscribers ran screaming from the game. That did not happen. Subscribers may have left, but that hardly hurt the game.
When Bethesda Softworks released Elder Scrolls Online, the industry took notice as the publisher fearlessly announced a subscription model, rather than going free-to-play like its direct competitor Guild Wars 2 (NCsoft). So far, a subscriber base of 772,374 (June) indicates that its strategy is working.
Let's put that into perspective shall we? There are nearly three-quarters of a million people playing TESO. That is more than the half million subscribers CCP Games crows about, and they're number six on last year's MMO subscriber list given in the same Superdata Research article. So where would three-quarters of a million subscribers place TESO on that list? We can get a reasonable idea of that. All we have to do is a little extrapolation. Ready?
Premise number one - EVE Online has 500,000 subscribers. That 's a good figure. It may be a little less or a little more, but it's right enough for our purposes. Those 500,000 subscribers brought in $93 million in revenue according to the 2013 chart in the Superdata Research article. That's $186 per subscription. Premise number two - all MMO subscriptions cost the same. That's mostly true, though the actual cost varies by a few dollars depending on the subscription model. I could get fancier and find out the average subscription cost per MMO and factor that in, but this is a thought exercise, not a math final. I'm just going to go with all MMOs cost the same. So, if EVE Online brings in $186 per subscription, so does TESO. What's the point of setting them equal? Well, if we multiply $186 by the 772,374 subscriptions TESO had in June, that pegs TESO's yearly revenues at $143 million dollars a year by extrapolation (rounded down.) That puts TESO into the fourth position on the 2013 list above EVE Online, The Lords of the Ring Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic. That's hardly a dead or even dying game.
And there is good news on the horizon for TESO. Zenimax can finally take all those closed alpha and beta tester recommendations and start changing the basic mechanics of the game. The launch is over. What I am talking about is the replacement of the Veteran Ranks system that currently does not work well, with the Champion System that is more like what happens in Diablo and Borderlands 2 for high-ranked players. Many critics have said the Champion System as outlined is precisely what they told Zenimax they needed to do during testing. You can read lots of love in the reddit post on the subject. There are more than a few "I will re sub when this change happens" in that thread. Don't take my word for it, go read it yourself. The same is happening on the official forums as well. The opinions are positive concerning the Champion System.
And of course, there are other issues with TESO. It is not a perfect game. But then again, what game is? What can be said without a doubt now is Zenimax is taking concrete steps to improve the game, people are not leaving in droves as previously predicted by others, and the future is looking good enough for TESO that Superdata Research attributed Wildstar being subscription based at least partially to the success TESO has had. Read the rest of the paragraph I quoted above if you don't believe me. That leads me to write only one more thing about TESO. Game on!