I don’t blame fans for the backlash against the Elder Scrolls Online’s proposed business model. But I still believe there is a place in the MMO industry for subscriptions. Traditional MMOs and even games like WildStar, which has less-than-traditional MMO mechanics but sports a more traditional MMO theme, can certainly support a monthly subscription.
A basic free-to-play model gives the core of the game away for nothing. Generally, the game makes its money on a cash shop that sells either upgraded armor, weapons, or other items used in-game. Most of the time these items are alternative versions of existing in-game items, but sometimes they can be upgrades or straight-up better items. However, most of the time, the items in a cash shop tend to be cosmetic or convenience items. In this model, developers make money off the idea that players will love the existing content so much that they will want to support the game by buying items from the shop or that customers will love the new shinies in the shop so much that they buy them to enhance the free experience.
First, the box should cost the traditional $60, but the subscription should be removed. And as in the buy-to-play model, the base cost should stay a bit high for an extended period of time to offset current and future costs. Secondly, the cash shop should offer traditional cosmetic items. I like the random dye sales like you see in Guild Wars 2 myself. Lastly, we should see a reduced sub, not to access the game, but for future content. ZeniMax explained that ESO will see regular updates on a six-week cadence. If that can be guaranteed, then the game can coordinate those releases with a sub, or maybe players can buy the updates in bulk. Forty dollars might secure you the right to the next four updates, for instance. This way the game feels more like a traditional single-player game to my wallet, yet the corporate guys feel that it’s still a subscription.