'The Elder Scrolls Online: Imperial Edition' Highlights Two Big Business Problems

In a previous article, I discussed the problems that ZeniMax/ZeniMax Online's The Elder Scrolls Online would face in attempting to generate an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) following from a single-player fan base.

My reasons were simple -- the franchise had long been a single-player sandbox affair, the target audience was used to hundreds of hours of entertainment from a single purchase, and ZeniMax didn't properly account for the shift of gaming trends from MMOs to MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena).

This week, ZeniMax officially announced the "Imperial Edition," a massive collector's edition of the game, which will be released for the PC on April 4 and for Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) PS4 and Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Xbox One in June.

Let's take a closer look at what the "Imperial Edition" of the upcoming game actually contains and what it means for gamers.

What is 'The Imperial Edition'?

The Elder Scrolls Online: Imperial Edition contains the following physical items: a statue of Molag Bal, the Daedric Prince of domination and enslavement, a 224-page Emperor's Guide to Tamriel, a Map of Tamriel, and a collector's edition box.

Within the game, players get a white Imperial horse, a pet Mudcrab, two Rings of Mara, and the ability to play as an Imperial in any alliance.

The Elder Scrolls: Imperial Edition. (Source: ZeniMax/Bethesda)

The entire package (physical/digital content) costs $99.99, while a digital version (with only the digital goods) costs $79.99. In addition, pre-ordering the game also grants gamers The Explorer Pack, which contains a pet Scuttler, four bonus treasure maps, and the ability to play as any of the nine races while in any alliance.

By comparison, the standard digital version of the game will cost $59.99.

Is The Elder Scrolls Online overpriced?

This leads us to an interesting question -- at $60 to $100, is The Elder Scrolls Online overpriced for a subscription-based MMO?

In my opinion, absolutely.

For the $59.99 it costs for the standard digital edition, gamers get one free month of online access, after which they must pay a subscription of $14.99 per month.

Let's compare that to several of the top MMOs on the market today -- Activision Blizzard's (NASDAQ: ATVI  ) World of Warcraft, Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and Sony/WB Games' DC Universe Online -- for a clearer comparison.

Source: Industry/company websites, author's calculations. *without expansions, in-game transactions, or taxes included.

The Old Republic, which was initially priced similarly to The Elder Scrolls, became free-to-play last November after its subscriber base fell to under 1 million -- which serves as an ominous warning for ZeniMax's pricey newcomer.

Moreover, the current MMO market is saturated with free-to-play games that rely completely on in-game transactions rather than old-fashioned monthly fees.

Old fans won't be lining up to buy The Elder Scrolls Online, either

Now that we've established that The Elder Scrolls is going to have a tough time winning over MMO players, we need to look at the core market that ZeniMax is counting on to support the game -- the longtime fans of The Elder Scrolls series.

Skyrim. (Source: Nextgengamingblog.com)

Unfortunately, that's going to be a tough sell.

The Elder Scrolls games have always been single-player role-playing games in large, open worlds populated by quest-giving NPCs (non-player characters). The games are also vast and nearly endless, lasting for hundreds of hours in a market dominated by games that usually only last 10.

Today, gamers can purchase The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Legendary Edition (which includes the three expansion packs) for $50 to $60 online. That game alone contains enough content to last most gamers several months. If players get tired of the "vanilla" (store-bought) version of the game, they can modify the game via a vast library of mods available online -- which can add new characters, items, buildings, and quests to the already massive game.

ZeniMax/Bethesda encourages gamers to change the game as they see fit -- the game's launch menu is specifically designed to load extra data files to alter the gaming experience.

Therein lies the problem -- The Elder Scrolls gamers like personal, one-player experiences that last for months, and the freedom to modify their worlds as they see fit. MMOs are the polar opposite -- they force players into a company/server-defined online world overseen by moderators and populated with other living players.

Combine that fact with the $225 per year price tag for the first year of The Elder Scrolls Online, and ZeniMax has inadvertently created a very unappealing package for longtime fans of the series.

The bottom line

On a personal note, I've been a huge fan of The Elder Scrolls games ever since Morrowind (2002).

As much as I also love Oblivion (2006) and Skyrim (2011), I personally believe that The Elder Scrolls Online is a misstep that will simultaneously fail to dent the MMO market and alienate Bethesda's original fan base. What's worse, the disaster could delay the long-awaited Elder Scrolls VI.

However, as I noted in my previous Elder Scrolls article, if ZeniMax captures roughly 21% of its 16.3 million Skyrim gamers (3.4 million subscribers), the game would generate $51 million in monthly revenues, helping it quickly recoup its original production costs.

What do you think, fellow gamers? Do you think The Elder Scrolls will be the next World of Warcraft or the next Star Wars: The Old Republic? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 30, 2014, at 11:29 AM, Nuke68 wrote:

    My friend, who has been playing Elder Scrolls since the beginning got me hooked on it last year and I haven't played another game since.

    I bought the original version of Elder Scrolls V and the players guide. When I realized the Elder Scrolls V did not include the expansion packs I went and upgraded to the expansion pack, in essence buying the game twice!

    I am not an on-line player and enjoy playing the game by myself, probably more prevalent with the “older” generation that did not have many on-line games to play growing up.

    With NCAA Football, Madden and other sports games, I always purchase the newest year, giving game companies yearly revenue flows. Now that I am hooked on Elder Scrolls, I would have bought newer versions of the game, giving them additional revenue flows. If forced to go on-line, I won’t be making the switch and will end up going back to the single player sports games.

    Hopefully they will not forget about the small percentage of people that like single-player RPGs. Unfortunately with the younger generations being more likely to interact and play on-line, this probably makes better business sense, just now a matter of finding the perfect price point.

  • Report this Comment On January 30, 2014, at 11:46 AM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    Thanks Nuke,

    That's the charm about Bethesda games like Elder Scrolls and Fallout -- all the recorded dialogue, the intricate quests, the personal experience.

    It's that crazy ambition that made the company try to make a virtual country as big as England in Daggerfall despite the tech not being able to handle it.

    It'll be sad to see that vision change for the sake of cloning the WoW model.

  • Report this Comment On January 30, 2014, at 10:34 PM, littleandy454 wrote:

    Amazing timing,

    I'm a huge huge fan of Bethesda's sandbox games. Have been looking forward to this game since the teaser a year or two ago. I'm new to the stock market, my father and uncle always forward me "Montly" articles. I decided to look up bethesda to see if it was public, I was excited to see this article on the search page, figured bethesda must be public and came to find the symbol... reading though, it has totally taken the wind out of my sail. I won't be buying this game now... but hey Montly is about money and investment. Saved me $225, job well done, thanks for opening this nerds eyes, and thanks bethesda for delaying the good games...

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2014, at 9:29 AM, stric7 wrote:

    I think that you make a lot of good points but there is a group of people that are interested in this specific iteration of an elder scrolls game. Since Morrowind I have longed to share my experience with friends and while I agree that a modded Bethesda game is ultimately better since gamers came customize their own experience to their tastes, I believe that the massive amount of vanilla content will somewhat satiate the inevitable boredom that fans feel with just vanilla.

    There is also the opportunity to customize community events and player impacted DLC.

    I'm disappointed by the fact that there is in game purchases. The only reason I have been supportive of the monthly sub model is that micro transaction free to play MMOs tend to unbalance game play. I am also disappointed by the lack of reduced price for lengthier subscription payment options. I'd be willing to sign up for the first year right off the bat if they'd cut some slack on the pricing. You would think it would be in their interest as well since they could recover development costs more quickly.

    I understand if not everyone feels this way but ultimately it comes down to trust for me. I have enjoyed the single player games in the past and am willing to shell out a couple hundred dollars in good faith.

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2014, at 3:33 PM, eridanis wrote:

    There is definitely a group of gamers who will buy this, I for one just purchased it. My wife plays with my so the rings of mara are going to be nice, as well as the free mount and ability to play any race in any faction.

    Both of my brothers in addition to my wife are huge Elder Scroll fans and we have been wanting to play together for years.

    I played the beta and dont want to break any NDA so all I can say there is I already know I like the game. It feels like both an elder scrolls game and an mmo, and (3) faction pvp with keeps hasn't been done or done well since DaOC, a game that was hugely popular in the pvp community.

    I have been playing sub based mmo's for years and to me its the cheapest form of entertainment available. I recently got bored and tried "Free" Neverwinter. By comparison their collectors edition is $200 and while you can grind until your eyes bleed to get anything for free getting an end game geared character you can easily sink thousands into it, which some players have done. I learned my lesson and the $12/month I am spending on FFXIV:Reloaded until ESO releases is a pittance by comparison.

    Bottom line is FTP models generate more money and that's why the industry is switching to them, not because they cost the player less.

    The only concern is if the micro transactions/store in ESO are anything besides cosmetics. If their store is more like GW2 and less like Neverwinter all will be well in the universe.

    No one can predict the future but I agree to disagree with the author and I think the mmo market is ripe for a good new sub based mmo.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2014, at 10:12 AM, trevor557 wrote:

    The original base cost of WoW when it first came out was not $20. It may be $20 now, but it was somewhere between $50-60 when it first came out, with each expansion also being $50-60.

    Digital deluxe editions (which didn't start until recent) were are around the same price at about $70-80.

    Physical collectors editions were each $80-90. I would also like to note that all WoW collectors editions to date did not include a collectible 12 inch statue which would be priced around the 15-20 dollar range if purchased separately. Similarly the most recent physical Diablo III Collectors edition contained a small (4 inch wide by 2-3 inch high) Diablo skull statue with USB and the cost was somewhat higher than that of the rest of the collectors editions to date.

    IMHO, author, if you want to make a fair market analysis on all of the games, at least use the PROPER market information, and do a bit of research.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2014, at 1:34 PM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    Yes, the base cost of WoW was higher when it was first released. In the chart I provided, I stated as much and used the $19.99 currently listed on Blizzard's website.

    Those are CURRENT minimum base costs WITHOUT expansions, collector's editions, etc. (Please read the note I included under the chart.)

    The total cost is for a new gamer starting TODAY and playing a full year.

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2014, at 4:35 PM, thegriff98 wrote:

    Undauntedone could you tell me where you saw those deals because i have not been able to find them

    also thank you for this article is was very helpful to me

  • Report this Comment On February 05, 2014, at 10:36 AM, mbower wrote:

    I used to be a complete cynic about this game like you, but then I took a Beta Invite to the knee.

    Seriously. I went through the same arc as the lawyer in the original Jurassic Park. "We have a lot of serious concerns" turned to "OMG they're going to make a fortune with this place." All that's left now is to get eaten by a T-rex on a public toilet, I guess.

    What may be missing here when looking at pricing is the fact that 3 years after release, Skyrim is still selling within 15% or so of full price. In fact, used games and the expansion packs for older games are still selling in the neighborhood of full price, because people are willing to pay them.

    I won't break the NDA to give any details about the beta, but seriously. A FORTUNE WITH THIS PLACE. As long as the Daedra don't get out and eat all the players.

  • Report this Comment On February 05, 2014, at 12:36 PM, Comentator wrote:

    I think that it is fantastic addition to the elder scrolls line of games. I love all of the elder scrolls games and have played them from Elder Scrolls Arena which was originally on DOS clear up to Skyrim for the 360. I love my single player experience but at the same time I have always wanted to enjoy that experience with other players. This just adds even more variety of playstyle to the Elder Scrolls lineup. It is tru that you can have 100s of hours of single player adventuring but even that gets kind of old after a while. Everything trends. I cant wait. Its not like you have to choose between playing single player versions of Elder Scrolls or the online version. I will likely alternate between the two. I can not wait to enjoy the Elder Scrolls experience WITH my buddies.

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