Matthew Jarvis asks whether the genre popularised by World of Warcraft has anything left to offer retailers...

BLOG: Is there money for MMOs at retail?

In April The Elder Scrolls Online will break ground on its massively multiplayer online (MMO) offering, combining two undeniably popular factors: The Elder Scrolls series and online multiplayer. But as a full-price title also charging players £8.99 per month, will it eventually go down the free-to-play (F2P) route of so many other MMO titles?

APB: All Points Bulletin, The Secret World, Age of Conan – the list of titles that charged monthly and have since turned F2P goes on and on. Even an MMO based on one of the biggest brands of the last 50 years, Star Wars: The Old Republic, failed to sustain gamers’ excitement in the long-run, haemorrhaging monthly subscribers after an initial honeymoon period and then turning F2P less than a year after its release.

The question is, then: are MMOs a sound long-term investment for retailers? It’s a crowded genre, and some of the titles have lower SKU prices than traditional games. Few prosper long enough to offer the returning sales opportunity of expansions or pre-paid cards.

The genre itself seems to be increasing amalgamated with other titles: Destiny, DayZ and Minecraft all offer servers with the ability to host tons of players, but with no monthly fees. Other titles, like League of Legends, made the decision to launch as ‘freemium’ titles, which let players game for free, but generate profit through in-game digital micro-transactions – offering little to retailers.

Despite this, some titles have been successful. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn launched last August to massive initial sales and has built up a solid subscription base in the six months since. This led publisher Square Enix to revise its financial results on the back of the demand, which saw boxed copies sell out in some UK retailers. EVE: Online, now a decade old, also bucks the trend of MMO disasters, and continues to provide boxed collectors editions, expansions and time cards for retail’s benefit.

The Elder Scrolls Online may be the next big MMO to strike a chord with gamers and retailers, and buck the trend further. It has the backing of a massive brand in The Elder Scrolls, but only time will tell if it will prosper – or instead become the next MMO bulldozed into an already brimming F2P pit.

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