Tamriel Infinium: Elder Scrolls Online juggles making money and making content with Crown Crates

I think it's fair to say that the $15 subscription model just isn't cutting it for MMORPGs anymore. I understand that. The $15 pricetag dates back at least 15 years, and even if we were to factor in inflation alone, the cost of that subscription would be worth about $19 today. Teams creating the content were a lot smaller then, and frankly, players were satisfied with less than perfection. (Think about the number of incomplete MMOs that launched at that time.) There has to be a new way for developers to make more money. There has to be a way for developers to give players what they are looking for and at the same time bring in enough income to support its engineers, producers, and investors.

I believed that Elder Scrolls Online had that system down. The developers created content like the Thieves Guild DLC, then sold that as a package or allowed players to subscribe to get content as it released. Single-player games have done similar for years and have even adapted a type of subscription model with season passes. Unfortunately, it's becoming clear that the DLC with optional subscription just isn't enough, at least for the beancounters at ESO. Like many MMORPGs before it, ESO has now adopted lockboxes, gambleboxes, in the form of Crown Crates.

I've spent some time and more than a few of my own Crowns to attempt to discover how worthy these crates are and if they are actually worth it from a player's perspective -- with an understanding that ESO needs money to continue to thrive as a company.

crown-crate-opening

The cost

My gut reaction to ESO's Crown Crates is that they are terrible, and even after experiencing them, I question whether they provide any actual benefit to the player whatsoever.

Simply put, Crown Crates are ESO's version of lockboxes. They are boxes buyable with real money that contain, randomly, elixirs, experience boosts, poisons, and of course, cosmetic items. Most of these items are unique to the Crown Crates, but there are some that are mirrors or the same items that can be obtained through other methods, even if that other method is via a direct purchase through the Crown Store. A single crate will cost you 400 Crowns, a four-pack costs 1500 Crowns, and 15 crates cost 5000 Crowns.

To give you an idea of how much that equates to in real-life money, let me note that it costs about $15 to buy 1500 Crowns. That means that one Crown equals one cent. This is pretty much the industry standard. And though I am surprised at how few crates you get for your money, the actual cost of Crowns doesn't faze me.

If we want to put a pricetag on the items that you get from a Crown Crate, you can say that each crate costs $4 and each item, in turn, costs $1. As we will see in a moment, some of those items are clearly worth that dollar, but most of the time, they are not. But does it balance out?

atronach-sencheThe spoils

After spending what would be equal to $50 on a stack of crates, I would hope that I would get about $50 worth of stuff back. And I'm not sure that I did. Granted, I received a couple of outfits that I didn't have before, a couple of pets, and of course, a lot of potions and other boosts, but altogether, it wasn't worth the equivalent of the price of the original game.

The rewards from the crates fall in six different categories: Common, Fine, Superior, Epic, Legendary, and Apex Rewards. After opening 15 crates, I received 0 Apex Rewards, 1 legendary reward, 2 epic rewards, 10 superior rewards, and 47 stacks fine or common rewards. (Because the Fine and Common items stacked, I'm not sure how many I received in a stack exactly.) However, if I earned an item I already had in the superior, epic, or legendary category, I would not get it again; instead, I would gain a stack of crown gems, ranging from 5 to 10 gems in my experience.

I like the idea of Crown Gems to replace a duplicate item, but the execution on ZeniMax part fails to even come close to satisfactory. Crown Gems are used to purchase items directly that you could get as loot from the Crown Crates. One of the first items I received was the Brilliance Brocade Robes. Great item, and it looks great. Then a few crates later I received another one. And following the mechanics of the Crown Crates, I received Crown Gems, instead -- 10 to be specific. If I were to buy the Brilliance Brocade Robes with Crown Gems directly, it would cost me 40 Crown Gems. See where I'm going with this? It's a pity reward, not fair compensation.

crownstore-jugglingDo no harm

I'm a player who is extremely interested in the way that my character looks; my outfits are just as important to me as my achievements. And one of the primary reason to do the PvE content in ESO is to gain the rewards -- the different looks and cosmetic loot items. That ultimately demands we examine the end result of the cash shop.

Yesterday, ZeniMax told us its policy regarding the Crown Store items in regard to the upcoming housing system: "As with all Crown Store activity, we abide strictly by our 'do no harm' mantra, and we don’t ever want there to be a 'pay-to-win' scenario in Elder Scrolls Online." Most of the time, we equate pay-to-win with PvP or even endgame dungeons. But maybe we should start equating pay-to-win with what we really want out of the game. "Winning" in MMOs varies from player to player.

I had a player talk to me while I was opening crates. I received a Black-Masked Bear Dog as a reward. He said to me, "That is so much more BA than the all white dog. Was that a limited thing or from the crates?" I told him that it was from the crates. But it goes to show that it is possible to win by opening crates. My dog was better than the one you can get in game, at least for that guy.

In the end, I understand why lockboxes exist, and I'm actually OK with them as a money-making tool. But developers cannot focus on this single tool as its only way to make money or get good rewards in game. There must continue to be ways to get exceptional looks outside the crates. Otherwise, it's a downward spiral of monetization exploitation, and it is doing harm.

Traverse the troubled land of Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls Online. Larry Everett will be your guide here in Tamriel Infinium every other week as you explore together the land created by ZeniMax and Bethesda. If you have any burning questions, send them his way via email or via Twitter.
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85 comments
barryspeed
barryspeed

Lockboxes, gachapons, gambling boxes, or whatever anybody wants to call it, are there to milk us. It is money for these companies running free-to-play games. Desktop MMOs are no different, this idea has proliferated in mobile games for time immemorial. The sad reality is, their target market for these boxes are not players like you and me. They no doubt already expected players like us to hate it, to ignore it, or to just buy a few just to give it a try.


Their target market are those new generation of gamers who are very impatient. Players who are young. Who thinks money is so easy to get by. Still being funded by their mothers or wasting their college fund. These are the people they no doubt expect to spend a fortune just to get ahead of everybody else or to show how awesome their characters look.


So, as much as you and me wants to say that it is hurting them, as long as it brings them thousands and millions annually, they will keep doing it. What we need is for governments where their servers are hosted to take action. Protect the consumers, just like what they're doing in China, Japan, Korea, VietNam, and Thailand.

michaelgmc
michaelgmc

For anyone who is curious, I spent $200 on the Crown Crates. I got the Apex reward twice, an electric wolf thing both times. The second time I drew the atro-wolf (whatever it's called) I got 133 gems as compensation.


To buy the wolf outright would cost 400 gems. 

I heartily agree with the author that they (the devs) are being far too stingy. If my experience is any kind of baseline, then you can expect one top tier item every $100. 


For that kind of money I would expect 400 gems for the second top-tier mount.

Luckily I wasn't trying for the mounts, was more curious about what the Crown Crates were actually about. I got a lot of nifty stuff, certainly feel I got my "money's worth" despite Zeni being scrooges with the gem compensation rate. And I have 400 gems now set aside for a top-tier mount in another "season", or when fresh items are put in the Crown Crates.

Would I do it again?

Eh, really that depends on the items. I love the Dwemer stuff (a style in the game), and am very happy with the Dwemer themed items I obtained. I heard rumors that a future Crown Crate season may be Dwemer themed, so ... maybe? 

Beyond that though, probably not. 

Archebius
Archebius

Thanks for the closer look at these. I know lockboxes are fiercely debated, so a good unbiased look at the pluses and minuses is good to see.

KevinSmith11
KevinSmith11

I have issues with this when they put things in the lockboxes and take them out of the store.  The way it worked before lockboxes was that you wanted a cosmetic you paid went to the store and got it.  What will happen now is that those items that are the best designed will only be placed in the lockboxes.  That has been the trend in numerous games over the years.  So in my eyes they have ruined what was a great system by introducing these gambling boxes.  The paid DLC and cosmetic store where great the way they were, this is greed pure and simple.  It relys on people that don't have self control and that have gambling addictions to make extra profit.

bryanjturner
bryanjturner

The only time I've out right bought lock boxes wasnin SWTOR when I could turn them over thenthe AH for big profits.

In GW2 I found that the drop rate for decent items was so infrequent from the free keys I got that Inwas better off buying stuff directly off the AH with gold or buying something off the cash shop with a combination of money and gold.

Armsbend
Armsbend

@bryanjturner you are insinuating you won somehow when in reality you just painted a picture of pay to win in very shitty games.

VertigoTeaparty
VertigoTeaparty

I HATE random boxes, both for digital items and RL items. If I'm buying something I want to know what I'm getting. I understand some like that aspect so I'm not arguing to remove them entirely but I want a way to buy the items I want directly even if you make it more expensive (theoretically) to do so.  For example, if there is a unique white cat pet, let me buy it for $5 while the random pet crates are $1/each.  


You bring up a great point regarding using cosmetic items as where all the RL money items are "dumped." Why is it that the person who puts a bigger emphasis on appearance only items (costumes, housing, non-combat pets, etc.,) has to cough up cash in order to potentially get everything they want while the PvP/PvE player is not? I think that this would be a great topic to discuss at length.


Great article, thank you.

GerriHarii
GerriHarii

Just wait until they also start selling keys to open the lock boxes.  Because, parity.

Greyraven
Greyraven

@GerriHarii Yeah they won't do that simply because you would then see the boxes drop in game and none of the devs are fans of that.


What you will see is Housing items added, expansion pack themed items added etc etc That alone will keep Zenimax rolling in the dough. 

Greyraven
Greyraven

Meh I'm like this, I subscribe I might blow a few of my monthly crowns on a couple boxes I already got a badass mount and nice pet out of this cool.


It's an aside nothing more. if some idiot wants to blow his bankroll to keep financing development for me fine.


What's that the game devs just made enough to finance the next four expansions?


Awesome.

Armsbend
Armsbend

@Greyraven Are you assuming they didn't already have the finances to fund the next four expansions?

Sorata
Sorata

@Greyraven @Armsbend 

I am for freedom too. I would like to have the freedom of buying the things directly for a stated price. But I guess freedom is not for everbody, just for the mighty and the stupid...

Ten10K
Ten10K

I agree with @Greyraven

It's my money, I'll spend it how I damn well please ..

@sorata

If you don't like the lockboxes, or how Eso runs its game... I got a real simple answer for you ..

DONT PLAY

Go whine somewhere else .

The world isn't fair and will NOT bend to how you think it should.

Once you grow up and move out of mommy and daddy's house you will realize that.

Good luck kid

Greyraven
Greyraven

@Armsbend @Greyraven Not at all, my point being it's an adult world with adult choices, I'm all for the freedom to be stupid without implementing a nanny state and if said stupidity helps fund development who am I to rail against that? 

michaelgmc
michaelgmc

@Armsbend @Greyraven I, too, am dubious of any claims that Zenimax "needed" the extra revenue. I am sure it will make their investors happy, but let's not kid ourselves about what is really going on here.

Karl_Hungus
Karl_Hungus

Lockboxes are never worth what you pay for them and all it does is fosters and enables the addictive vice of gambling. They encourage people with no impulse control to keep throwing money away on them. Zenimax could've focused on expanding the cash shop with cosmetic items to generate revenue. Every time Blizz releases a new mount in WoW's cash shop, they make millions in one day. Why can't Zenimax follow suit? ESO's cash shop is far too small in its offerings. As a subscriber, you get such a large stipend of crowns each month that after awhile, you're practically begging for something to spend them on. Zenimax has ultimately failed to provide that and has instead opted for lockboxes out of unimaginative laziness. 

It is for this very reason that I am no longer playing the game. I've already seen the harm that lockboxes can do in other games like SWTOR where content is no longer rewarding because everything revolves around lockboxes. You can be an apologist and say "well it's just cosmetic items" and to that I say appearances in RPG's matter to people just as much as anything else, if not more. We want to do cool stuff while looking cool doing it. When the only way to look cool is via gambling, it devalues the actual content of the game. If a game can't survive without lockboxes, then it doesn't deserve to survive at all because the game's content apparently can't stand on its own. At that point, you might as well just play online poker. At least it's more honest about what it is.

crack_fox
crack_fox

I am rarely tempted by gambleboxes but their very presence taints a game. They change my relationship with the developer. I sense that they no longer view me as a customer but as a potential mark, a fool to be tricked and swindled. I can't support a business that treats me like that. It leaves me feeling a little sad - ESO is the only MMO I've enjoyed over the past couple of years - but meh. It is what it is. 

GerriHarii
GerriHarii

So, let me think aloud here.  $4.00 per crate or $3.33 if you buy the 15 pack.  30 Day subscription is $15.00 with 1500 crowns included.  Lets Call our subscription value $30.00 (3000 crowns) and our months 30 days long.  That's 100 crowns a day. The value of the subscription is then 7.5 crates.  So a crate is as valuable as four days of game time?  Where's the value in this for the player?  I don't see it.  Judging by average contents of these crates, I can't see how these are equal to four days of play time.  $4.00 a crate is INSANE.

woolydub
woolydub

I'd like to see more companies think outside the box when it comes to revenue generation. It's not just quest mechanics that become tired. Marketing and revenue systems are just as tired. Lockboxes are great for people who like to gamble. For those of us who detest it, you can't expect us to ever buy those things. I am also not going to buy cosmetic items I don't like just to support a company financially. Once I buy the items I like, I'm done. Companies need to come up with more creative ways that are better for consumers, not just gamblers. 


If I like your game I will spend money on it. It'd sure be nice to get some fresh new creative ways to do that though.

Armsbend
Armsbend

@woolydub No one thinks outside of the box like ZeniMax.  They practically invented paid dlc with Oblivion's horse armor and they tried to charge a split 70% cut with Valve for modder's work.

Neo_Wolf
Neo_Wolf

I am no fan of lockboxes even though I have on occasion purchased many of them.  I hate RNG lottery type gambling crap like this invading games.  It also tends to lead to a trend of most new cosmetics, mounts etc.. going into lockboxes rather than into their games stores as direct purchases, which I doubly hate.


I like to buy what I like, when I like, not buying the hope of a very remote chance of the thing I like.


I pay subs for the games I like I don't want nickel and diming for the additional content, just let me buy it direct no mess..no fuss.

ReesRacer
ReesRacer

I'm an ESO-Plus subscriber, lifetime sub for STO, and sub to SWTOR and FFXIV (too many, I know!). Never do I plan on opening any of the lock/gamble boxes in the former three games, even if do indeed have plenty of premium currency with which to buy keys. It's the only way I can protest their inclusion. 


There is one exception, however. MWO is a F2P game, but to be perfectly honest, real money is almost necessary to enjoy the game thoroughly...if anything just to purchase more mech bays. It also has a interesting variation on the lockbox called a "supply cache", one of which is awarded randomly to a player on the winning team after every match. To open this cache, one needs a key, which of course can only be purchased with premium currency. The difference is that I can see exactly what might be in each before opening, and the cost for a key is about 12 cents in US currency. If I like what's in the box (even if it's just a common item), then it's not terribly painful to open it. If a company has to incorporate lockboxes into a game, I guess this is the least offensive way I've seen to do it...not that I endorse the idea. 

Armsbend
Armsbend

@ReesRacer It seems a novel approach.  Do you have an inventory of limited space?  Most of the companies try to fill compulsive collector's inventory with boxes to lead them into buying more space.

ReesRacer
ReesRacer

@Armsbend @ReesRacer Inventory space (for items, weapons, modules et al) is unlimited. Mech bays, which are the only way to store purchased mechs, represent the only constraint to inventory. These conventionally cost real money, but can also be earned through play and events (and supply caches!), and do go on sale a few times/year. I believe every new player has 4 hanger slots to start, which seems woefully inadequate for me (I have 44...17 are empty presently), but I know players who manage with expanding solely through play, and those who have paid for more than 200 slots. 


Didn't intend to hijack an ESO thread, but we're all friends here, right?  ;)  

chernabog
chernabog

Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't EQ originally 9.95/mo (14.44 in 2016 dollars)? It went to 12.95 a month, and then 14.95 a month in 2005 ($18.50 in 2016 dollars).

breetoplay
breetoplay moderator

@chernabog Yep, it and UO originally launched at $10 and bumped up later.

Larry and I spent (probably too much) time before this went live researching the (mostly useless now) timeline of subs. Quite a number of pre-WoW games launched at $15! Easy to forget since it was so long ago.

Theo454
Theo454

@chernabog I wonder when 20 bucks per month will become the new industry standard?

alexjwillis
alexjwillis

I think I'm missing the part of the brain that is supposed to feel outraged at losing at gambling, where the house is guaranteed to win in the aggregate measure. It's not supposed to be fair or generous, because if it was, people would do it once or twice and walk away satisfied. Gambleboxes and Lockboxes are all variations on a theme, and that's gambling, and that taps into something in some people, and they talk themselves into throwing more and more at the puzzle: "this time", they say to themselves, "this time will be DIFFERENT." Cue the sunk cost fallacy, after a time: gotta keep throwing money at it, throwing good money after bad, in order to justify and make back what you've lost. From the get-go, these things are a losing proposition.


Meanwhile, as long as those boxes aren't P2W, I'm comfortable never buying a single one. TESO's cosmetics aren't that great anyway (one of its notable failures, in my opinion), so I don't feel I'm missing out much. I'd be more willing to take a chance in a paper doll environment that was more like SWTOR or GW2, but not for this game, no way.

alexjwillis
alexjwillis

@breetoplay Fair enough. I have been envying that huge freakin' bear my friend rides around on. Stupid horse! Be more like a bear! 

GeekySharp
GeekySharp

@Armsbend @alexjwillis It's symptomatic of the entire tech industry to be honest. Govts are very slow to update older legislation to factor in new products and new ways of working, gaming being one of the biggest areas yet to be properly legislated or practised through the courts. Lots of theory and speculation, but very little legal precedent.

Armsbend
Armsbend

@GeekySharp @alexjwillis I believe it is because government is largely comprised of old people who still think of video games as toys solely for children.  They are yet to be awoken to the fact that it is truly a multi billion $ industry - unless that legislator is in Seattle, coastal California or Austin.  And those guys are trying to keep it as hushed as possible.

breetoplay
breetoplay moderator

@alexjwillis I actually agree with you on the quality of the cosmetics -- I have been wanting to drop money on outfits in the ESO shop desperately and can't find anything I like whatsoever. Part of that is because the bodies (female, anyway) look bizarre (boobs don't work that way, and I'm not even saying they're big -- just weirdly positioned), and many of the costumes reveal and enhance that off-ness.

Mounts, though. Gorgeousness.

Armsbend
Armsbend

@alexjwillis My outrage is that the boxes are legal - not that they are there.  I fully expect Bethesda to push the envelope in ripping people off.  They have always been cutting edge on ruining the gaming industry.


Sadly, they make awesome games in the process of doing so which I feel compelled to play.

Armsbend
Armsbend

"I think it’s fair to say that the $15 subscription model just isn’t cutting it for MMORPGs anymore"


Why is it fair to say that?  Let's conservatively say there are 100K subs in ESO (A number I pulled from thin air).  $1.5M every month.  Add in DLC every 3-5 months around $10-20.  Add in cosmetics.


My guess it adds up to a lot of money.  They want more and I get that.  Do they have to to keep the doors open?  Very doubtful.  So I'd say it is not fair to say the sub isn't cutting it anymore.

Armsbend
Armsbend

@GerriHarii Getting less while paying much, much more.  The last game I had to pay a sub for was FFXI and I couldn't keep up with all the content they pushed out every other month.

GerriHarii
GerriHarii

@Armsbend 

Giving people less for their money seems to be the new trend in the gaming industry.  When you stop giving me my fifteen dollars worth from a game, what makes me think I'll get my twenty dollars worth?  We're getting less and less for our money every year it feels.

michaelgmc
michaelgmc

@Armsbend I also have no solid facts to back up my opinion, but if TESO only had 100K subs I'd be very surprised. I base that off of being an old MMORPG player, nothing more, but the game seemed very healthy prior to the release of Crown Crates. 


The trick to the sub is the Endless Craft Bag. For those not in the know, ESO has tons of items in their crafting system. Prior to the Craft Bag it was a necessity, if you were a crafter, to make alt accounts just to hold all the stuff. 

For $15 a month you get a bag that holds all your crafting items.


Pretty genius imo. Create a problem and sell the solution to the problem. Genius maybe, but ethical? Eh, debatable. 

Hurbster
Hurbster

I'm never gonna touch 'em personally but I do hope it's not going to detract from more content.

Leilonii
Leilonii

My gripe about ESO earlier this year before these crates were even announced is the same today - that they become more and more money grubbing with each new change. It started with the announcement about crafting bags for the subscription and it's only gotten worse over time.


I saw the same thing happening when TERA went F2P years ago, with a few seemingly small changes a few months after F2P launch. It only got progressively worse and I would expect the same here.


Plenty of gaming companies make money without turning into Scrooge McDuck. Both ESO and TERA make boatloads of money and are likely in the top 10 if not top 5 MMO's in revenue and have been for years. So this is not necessary. They're doing it because they can and however much gold they're swimming in is not enough for them.

Leilonii
Leilonii

@breetoplay @Leilonii Yea. For now BDO doesn't bother me because much of the purchases are one time only, get your account started sort of things. They also don't have RNG lockboxes and they have a ton of free content. So they're scale is balanced for me right now. But we'll see how it progresses. I'm hopeful but not naive.

MissingLynx
MissingLynx

@Leilonii the money grubbing, in and of itself, doesn't bother me, its how it's done that is getting frustrating. Gambleboxes are just the laziest, easiest way to get money for the games without actually putting in effort to do some kind of actual content. And it is the new fad. Beyond maddening at this point. 

Leilonii
Leilonii

@MissingLynx @Leilonii True but even with the quarterly DLC updates ESO was doing it felt like too much to me, on top of various good looking cash shop items. I like the idea of paying for a DLC because it's yours forever at that point - more so than paying to rent it with a sub. But then without the sub you're missing out on a lot of good stuff so you then feel like you need to spend additional money. 


No matter how you swing it ESO is a P2P game in a time when many of us, myself included, do not want play P2P games. They didn't really change their payment model at all, they just found new ways to trick people out of their cash. No more.

MissingLynx
MissingLynx

@Leilonii @MissingLynx Fair enough.  I don't mind the "renting" it quality as I amt he type that moves between games, and if I am in the mood for ESO, I will just rent a month or two of ESO. But gambleboxes...ehh

breetoplay
breetoplay moderator

@Leilonii BDO's been doing exactly the same thing. And SWTOR. It's not a pretty genre atm.