Sony has confirmed that Elder Scrolls: Online for PS4 will not require a PlayStation Plus subscription, in order for users to access the game’s massively-multiplayer functionality. Online multiplayer on the PS4 usually requires a PS Plus subscription (Sony’s analogue to Microsoft’s Gold-tier membership for Xbox Live), but an exception is being made for Elder Scrolls: Online, a major third-party MMORPG title that’s being released on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. A game-specific subscription will still be necessary.
ESO is due on PC in April, followed by its console ports in June. Servers will be both regionally split between Europe and North America, and ring-fenced by format. The standard monthly fee for game access is $14.99.
This move is a significant step in the stilted, ongoing story of how service-based gaming has transitioned to dedicated consoles. With Xbox 360 and PS3 having defined the first majorly connectivity-driven generation of games hardware, there has been room for the potential of console MMOs to be explored for several years now, but actual ventures have been few in number.
The barrier has been a loggerhead between payment and operation. Service-based games require ongoing maintenance and investment, and operational policies of console manufacturer can be as much an obstacle as facilitator in these regards: the ‘service’ aspect has more constituents than on PC. Moreover, and pertinent to Sony’s decision here, is how ongoing revenue is to be sourced and shared. Historically, manufacturers and operators have not seen eye-to-eye on this matter, leading to a paucity of console MMOGs.
Sony’s move to waive its first-party sub fees for Elder Scrolls: Online is decisive and progressive, helping to bridge the abovementioned rifts that can occur between platform holder and operator. If Microsoft refuses to follow suit, then Sony’s stance will positively differentiate the PS4 from the Xbox One, in both consumer and industry perspective.
However, while this is a step forward, it’s not a full solution in the eyes of players: many PS4 owners will already have a PS Plus subscription, and so will be doubling up on monthly fees by default, albeit not through obligation. We think that the platform-based ring-fencing surrounding Elder Scroll Online could be eased by introducing packages whereby game/subscription offer cross-platform access. Such initiatives are already present in both PC and console gaming, e.g. paying a reduced fee to upgrade from PS3 to PS4 versions of Battlefield 4, or how Sony Online Entertainment or Wargaming now offer portfolio-wide umbrella subscriptions.
Nonetheless, the console launch of Elder Scrolls: Online will be an interesting testbed for how console MMOGs can perform, especially given the significant cachet enjoyed by the franchise across Xbox 360 and PS3.