The Elder Scrolls Online recently did away with its six-month subscription option, a change that the MMO's developer and publisher have had very little to say about publicly so far. In the absence of any solid justification about its removal, fans are guessing this mean it's going free-to-play in the near future.
The timing is what set people off here. Back in May, Elder Scrolls Online publisher Bethesda Softworks announced that the console versions of the game would be delayed by about six months. After months of silence, they came back earlier this month to say that while there still wasn't an "official launch date," prospective players could "expect to see lots of news about our console versions in early 2015."
Nixing the half-year subscription option therefore eliminates any chance of newly-minted subscribers having the game suddenly change on them when they're still in their six month window. Or so the reasoning goes.
It's not just a matter of timing, of course. Rather, it's that the timing seems awfully convenient given how...inauspiciously The Elder Scrolls Online debuted on PC this year. The MMO was met with tepid reviews when it first came out, and it's been plagued with systemic bugs and bots. It's difficult to get an exact read on how many people have actually been playing the game, but the consensus among critics and longtime Elder Scrolls fans is that the MMO hasn't been the next great act to truly follow in the footsteps of the legendary single-player RPGs like Skyrim.
Many observers were surprised that The Elder Scrolls Online was going to charge a monthly fee in the first place, given that doing so bucked overarching economic trends that have pushed more established MMOs away from that business model. BioWare's Star Wars MMO, The Old Republic, switched to free-to-play two years ago—less than a year after it was originally released. Even World of Warcraft, the silverback gorilla of the genre and the closest competitor to ESO in terms of high-fantasy MMORPGs made by top developers, has played around with free-to-play offerings from time to time. And that game has had plenty of its own problems holding onto subscribers since its 2010 high of 12 million—at least until Warlords of Draenor made the needle jump back up again.
(Also, just as a side note, when we polled our readers about whether or not they'd pay $15 a month for The Elder Scrolls Online in August 2013 they overwhelmingly said "No.")
Bethesda and ESO developer ZeniMax Online Studios have remained relatively quiet about the decision to ditch 180-day subscriptions. Players first began to speculate about it on the game's official forums after an administrator on the French-language forum stated that six-month subscriptions were done away with because they'd found players "preferred" the 30 and 90-day options. A relevant page on the game's official site now only lists prices for those two subscriptions. It was last updated this morning.
I've reached out to Bethesda for comment, and will update this story if I hear back.