Can The Elder Scrolls Online still be successful on consoles in six month’s time?

If you’ve not yet heard, ZeniMax and Bethesda recently released a statement informing us that The Elder Scrolls Online console version will be pushed back for at least six months. I’m not sure if I can find the words to describe how disappointed I am by this news. I was (and in some ways still am) incredibly excited for the release of The Elder Scrolls Online on the next-gen consoles, and the fact that I’ll have to wait another six months for that experience is quite disheartening. The statement reads that:

“we are still working to solve a series of unique problems specific to those platforms” and that “our planned June release of the console versions isn’t going to be possible. Though we have made great progress, we have concluded that we’ll need about six months to ensure we deliver the experience our fans expect and deserve.” …

This is pretty bad news for any fan of the series, though it could also be bad news for ZeniMax and Bethesda. Below is my reasoning.

If The Elder Scrolls Online had stayed on target for its June release on consoles, there would have been very few ‘competitors’ which could take away its audience. Wolfenstein is a big game for some, but it won’t be one of the heavy hitters of this generation. Watch_Dogs will be one of the big games of this generation, whether or not it is a success is yet to be seen. Still, it will take a large number of sales in the first few weeks, that much is guaranteed. After that there’s Murdered: Soul Suspects and EA Sports UFC – they might do OK, but they won’t be selling in the quantity that Watch_Dogs will and UFC would be appealing to a very different audience than ESO would, anyway – so there would only be a little cross-over. Sniper Elite III will be here in July and Evil Within is coming in August. Still, either side of a June release date there are very few ‘popular’ titles that could take ESO’s audience. And believe me, a large audience to tap into is incredibly important for the success of an MMO, especially one that works on a subscription basis. Yes, they’d have to compete with those still playing FIFA 14, Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty Ghosts (as well as the other smaller games), but the majority of these gamers will be itching for a new title, so they’d be more likely to, firstly, buy ESO and then secondly, be willing to pay the subscription fee.

So now, if we consider that the release date will be six months from June, the picture is quite different. Not only will ESO have to contend with an audience that will, most likely, be playing Watch_Dogs DLC, they will also have to compete with FIFA, Madden, and NHL 15, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Destiny, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Batman: Arkham Knight and DriveClub, as well as games like The Division, Evolve, The Last of Us: Remastered, and The Order: 1886, all of which are destined for a 2014 release. That’s a hell of a lot of competition there, and that’s without mentioning any of the ‘smaller’ games that plenty of people are excited for. A June release would have given ESO the advantage it needed to gain a strong following early on in this generation’s development, instead they’ll now be releasing the game just as the battle’s heating up.

I will still purchase ESO and I’ll happily pay the subscription fee, at least for a few months. But I have no doubt that there will be a huge proportion of their potential audience who will now opt for other games instead of ESO. It’s only natural, why pay £8 a month to play a game that you have to buy in the first place when you have at least thirteen other games to try instead, all of which will not (as far as I’m aware) have a subscription fee. This delay could really damage ESO’s future on the consoles. I really hope it doesn’t, because I can’t wait for this game. But I don’t think that ZeniMax and Bethesda will be getting the grand entrance to the world of console MMORPGs that they had hoped for with a June release. Or at least, they won’t be getting the numbers of initial subscribers that they might have expected.

What does this mean for the future of the title? I’m not sure, but if I were a betting man, putting a couple of quid on the odds that they will have to scrap the subscription fee in the year or so after release, wouldn’t be a stupid move.

BUT! There is some good news, at least. The statement continues by saying:

… “via a special offer, anyone who purchases and plays the PC/Mac version of The Elder Scrolls Online by the end of June will have the opportunity to transfer their character(s) to either console version when they are released. The offer will allow you to begin playing immediately on the PC/Mac, and then add the PS4 or Xbox One version and transfer the character(s) you have created and developed. And, you don’t have to pay full price for the game twice. For £12.99, eligible PC and Mac players will have the option to add a full, digital version of ESO on either the PS4 or the Xbox One with your character transfer(s), and another 30 days of included game time.”

I love the idea that PC/Mac players won’t have to pay full price twice, and £12.99 isn’t too bad a price either. There’s a chance that this deal could convince a few gamers, who were waiting for the console version, to grab it on the PC/Mac first, to help fill those six long months. Still, I doubt it will convince many, and there’s a chance that ESO on the console could be all but forgotten about by December.

But I’ll be buying it when it comes out in six/seven month’s time, and to be perfectly honest I’m glad that they’re delaying the release. The alternative is that they give us a shoddy, buggy game for which we’re expected to pay £40 for in the first place and then an extra £8 a month for the privilege of playing something that isn’t finished. When it comes to a game that relies on online play, and that you have to pay monthly for, I’d much rather save my money and wait until it’s ready than play something unfinished and waste my money whilst I wait for it to be patched. But maybe that’s just me.