Pre-ordering games to get early access and often exclusive items is extremely popular in today’s gaming market – for better and for worse. On the one hand: gamers get to play games earlier, receive special rewards for being an early adopter, and sometimes even get special prizes they might not have been able to get otherwise. Even better for some people, they get real-life physical items like art books and statues to further improve their stash of gaming memorabilia.
However, on the other hand, publishers get to take advantage of hype. With smart marketing tactics, embargos on coverage, NDAs on beta testing and other measures to ensure a positive image with the gaming public, hype for a game can often reach ridiculous levels before a release date is even announced. While this is all fine and dandy for companies to build up excitement, it also leads to the adoption of otherwise faulty business practices simply in the name of capitalizing on previously fostered goodwill. So far, this has been the case with The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO), the upcoming AAA pay-to-play subscription based MMORPG from Bethesda Softworks and Zenimax Online Studios. Let’s look at some product listings on the official TESO store:
The Explorer’s Pack, the base pre-order bonus that all players get for buying the game early:
The recently revealed Imperial Edition of TESO includes, for an extra $20, all of the above, as well as the following:
Instead of vaguely writing more paragraphs, I’m just going to dive into my full list below:
The root of the issues with these bonus features and items is that Bethesda Softworks and Zenimax Online Studios appear to be treating TESO as if it were a free-to-play game, rather than a full-on subscription based title. In order to play TESO, you not only need to spend at least $60 to get initial access, but every month after that is another $15 on top of that first purchase. If you play on Xbox One, you also have to factor in the price of a Xbox Live Gold subscription. All in all, for the first full year of play-time, you’re looking at at least $240 and if you bought the Imperial Edition for Xbox One, that would push you over the $300 mark just for a single year of adventuring in the land of Tamriel with others.
Obviously, this isn’t really the issue and it isn’t really news – this is how all pay-to-play games are in some way. The issue here is that this wasn’t enough for the publisher and they didn’t stop there. Not only will there be in-game transactions (an item shop like most free-to-play or buy-to-play games) but we’ll also have players that opt to buy special editions of the game that come with exclusive content. Pre-order bonuses like this are expected in today’s industry for single player and even multiplayer games, but not an MMO. With a subscription based game, everyone is supposed to be on equal footing with equal access to content – that’s the entire point of the monthly fee.
It’s not new for pre-order players to get access to exclusive content like mounts, but these types of bonuses are typically cosmetic only. However, those that pre-order the Imperial Edition of the game are allowed access to an Imperial Horse that is faster than any other mount in the game. This is, essentially, the definition of the buy-to-win methodology that is so heavily frowned upon. In a game like an MMO, where you are playing with millions of other players at any given time and working together, equality and balance is more important than ever.
When you introduce an item that gives a select group of players an unfair advantage – even if it’s just speed – it destroys the entire underlying philosophy. Especially in regards to Player-versus-Player (PvP) content, speed and advantage over others is essentially the death wish for any semi-competent MMO. TESO is touting massive, open-world PvP with players vying for control of Cyrodiil and the rights to the imperial crown – if certain players are guaranteed advantages like speed over others, how is that an equal playing field at all?
This is the big red flag to me, personally, as a fan of The Elder Scrolls franchise in general. I’ve been a huge fan of TES ever since I first played Morrowind and have since gone back and played the previous games like Daggerfall and Arena and have sunk hundreds of hours into both Oblivion and Skyrim since. It is, easily, in my top 3 game franchises of all-time. For this reason, precisely, it makes it extremely difficult to accept what they’re doing to the lore of the franchise with TESO.
When I first heard that it took place about 1000 years before Skyrim, I thought it sounded like a perfect time period. The massive civil war is an extremely exciting setting, ripe with so much potential for storytelling. The inclusion of a player faction system (alliances, in TESO) fed directly into the lore and made perfect sense both narratively and from a gameplay perspective.
However, they are allowing anyone that pre-orders the game the ability to play any race in any alliance. The first thought is of course about how great this is for players that want to play with friends in other factions – this is a valid retort – but it destroys the balance, lore, and impetus for the faction system in the first place.
By the Nine, how does it make any sense for a Nord to fight side by side, in those times, with a Dunmer (Dark Elf)? Could you ever imagine an Altmer (High Elf) teamed up in battle with an Orc? How does any of this make sense, at all? This is the equivalent of Frieza teaming up with a Saiyan army in Dragonball Z, or North Korea and South Korea becoming best friends in real life. It doesn’t make any sense.
As an extension of that, the entire Imperial race is essentially game breaking. Previously, they were labeled as faction-less and unplayable, which people accepted given the time period. Now, for anyone that pre-orders the Imperial Edition, you can not only make an Imperial, but they can join any faction.
When people are paying money to access your game and pledge to pay a subscription fee over the course of several months, it’s ridiculous to lock those people out from 10% of the character possibilities. If TESO really wants to emulate that “do anything, be anyone” mantra the series is so famous for, how in the world are they going to justify preventing non-Imperial Edition owners from playing an entire race that’s so pivotal to the history of the franchise?
In addition to their ability to shed all heritage and identity, Imperials receive unique racial benefits, unique crafting abilities, and special gear specifically for the Imperial race. Hopefully these extra unique items and abilities are purely cosmetic and don’t add anything further, but based on the other offerings on display, I would not be surprised if they got bonuses to stats and extra abilities that made them the undisputed best race in the game.
If Imperials recieve these types of bonuses and buffs from the outset, I cannot even imagine how flooded the servers will be with Imperial clones. What should have been an MMO with one of the deepest and most intricate settings may quickly turn into “just another MMO” because of features like this. Giving certain races and players preferential treatment is the foundation of elitism and will surely poison the water of TESO before it even launches.
In the end, as a massive fan of the franchise, I can’t help but hope for the best. Ideally, none of this will matter, it’s all smoke and mirrors to get people interested in the game and it will be a fantastic MMO unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. However, I can’t help but feel skeptical after seeing information like this. What are your thoughts? Do you just hope to drop down into Tamriel as soon as possible without a care in the world, or are you waiting for more information before taking the plunge? Let us know your thoughts down in the comment section below!