The Elder Scrolls Legends has always been a fair F2P game. I know many Top 100 players that do not yet have a complete card collection. You do not need to spend to win in TESL. Also, Bethesda has been clearly taking efforts to protect players’ investments into the game. Now, the Festival of Madness is providing The Elder Scrolls Legends community a “good deal” every day.
You might ask: Why is Bethesda doing this? Are they not wanting to earn more? Is this simply generosity? Are they testing the market? What are they up to? Are they over-shadowing the lack of new content that comes as a result of the shift to Sparkypants?
I wanted to share some musing, hoping to inspire a wider discussion on how TESL economics compare to other online/ mobile TCG/CCG games and how the future of the game might look like.
The Elder Scrolls Legends – A Look at the Broader Picture
Let’s look at TESL from an economic perspective. Bethesda has taken a big decision by moving the development team from DireWolf Digital to Sparkypants. Not only did this require a substantial investment, it also included a severe technical risk. Sparkypants have taken on a completely”foreign” product that needed to be re-written completely from scratch. It’s been a journey, but by now, they have proven to be capable of:
- deploying patches quickly and efficiently with little to no downtime,
- releasing new card content, like FrostSpark or Monthly Rewards, and
- delivering new features, like the deck codes, quickly and efficiently.
In software development, until you haven’t released your product, all your development efforts are basically worth nothing. At any time, some exec or investor can come and stop your project. Having live-customers on a product is a huge thing. Once you have that first release out, you have a customer base that demands to be kept happy. Thus, your ability to release effectively is a key feature of your product. Without that, you have little to no control over your product. If not managed probably, the following risks can take you down:
- slow reaction times to customer feedback,
- slow innovation cycles,
- risk of being pushed out of business by the next big thing by your competitor.
With Patch 2.5 being deployed yesterday, the game client is technically and functionally in a better state than it ever was and Sparkypants and Bethesda have set-up for a great 2019.
However, during the migration, Bethesda have lost customers. Some players have been disappointed during the first weeks after the release. They have moved on to other ventures, although they now have every reason to come back. On top of that, the gaming industry has noticed that you can earn money with these types of games. New competition is on the horizon: Artifact is available, Magic: the Gathering – Arena is in BETA, and DireWolf Digital frequently releases new content for their Eternal card game. Also, HearthStone and Gwent are also still around.
The following graph shows today’s TESL, Eternal and Artifact comparison from Steam. Note, this graph is not fully representative, as Artifact is only available on Steam, thus the graph below would show the entire player-base enjoying Artifact, while TESL and Eternal are available on multiple platforms. As Steam does not track mobile nor console nor non-steam PC use, you can safely assume, that the gap between the games is not as big as the picture indicates. By how much is difficult to say as there are no other data sources available publicly.
When a game is new, it is creating a lot of hype and many download and try it and later leave the game for various reasons. Thus, let us compare and TESL prior to the release of Artifact. The following chart shows the details. Here, Artifact was in Beta still.
You will notice a daily variance caused by a skew in the player-base the United States. Also, you might notice a few huge spikes sticking out. These occur whenever the publisher releases new content. More people are on hype and play to experiment with the new content. This also activates some of the more “dormant” players.
Overall, Eternal seems to have overtaken TESL in popularity on Steam. Particularly since the release of their new expansion. So let’s keep these big releases of TESL competitors in mind, when we are looking at the economic rationale for The Festival of Madness
Festival of Madness – The Type of Deals
Festival of Madness brings you a good deal every day. Some days even provide a great deal, especially when Bethesda is giving away a few packs almost for free. A fully detailed overview of the deals by day is being compiled by u/Rukaven on Reddit. While this promotion is not over, classifying them will help us to understand some of Bethesda’s intentions behind these:
- Give Aways: We have seen Give Aways coming as a few expansion packs for very little in-game gold. Since you can easily acquire in-game gold by simply winning a few games, these are no-brainers and all players should be aiming to get these.
- Expansion Packs: Another type of deal we have seen was simply around discounted deals for expansion packs. Here, Bethesda offered a smaller amount of expansion packs for a better then average price.
- Collector’s Items: Over time, TESL has offered several collector’s items that were available in special promotions, only. Two examples are: the Atronach cardbacks or the special alternate card art versions of Grisley Gourmet, Morkul Gatekeeper and a few others. These items are not offering any additional value during game play. They function as status symbols. During the Festival of Madness, you were able to purchase Collector’s Items in combination with a variable number of expansion packs for real-money.
- Soul Gems: Soul Gems are the in-game currency to buy missing cards without having to spend on expansion packs. During Festival of Madness, Soul Gems were offered for in-game Gold, which is a reward for winning a series of PVP games.
- Premium Legendaries: Festival of Madness also offered Premium Legendary cards for purchase with in-game gold or real-money. As outlined in Premium Art Cards in The Elder Scrolls Legends, the Soul Gem-cost for Premium Art Legendaries is prohibitively high. For players with an appetite to complete their collection of premium art cards, these deals are almost like Give Aways.
The Economics behind these Deals
Let’s look at the economics behind each type of deal in Festival of Madness:
Bethesda is giving these out to promote the game, to motivate and engage the player base and create positive emotions and attitudes for the game. Give-Aways are more impactful with certain customer segments, than they are with others:
- New players keep playing P2P to earn more gold. This stabilizes the meta at ranks 12 to 1 of the ladder. Here, the Give-Away can hook-in the new player, which is Betehsda’s investment into the long-term economic viability of the game.
- Dormant players will re-engage with the game. They might re-discover the game for themselves in anticipation of the next content release.
- Players without a full collection get a free small increment towards completing their collection.
- Players with a full collection get a few Soul Gems to expand their collection at a later stage.
Similar to Give Aways, expansion packs are of similar value to different player segments. Expansion deals allow new players or players with an incomplete collection to widen their card pool. They bear much less value to players having completed their collection, already. This customer segment will simply convert the cards into soul gems. This allows them to purchase future expansions more quickly, or to expand their premium art card collection.
While these deals provide short-term revenue to allow for future development, Bethesda can analyse willigness-to-pay of less-committed or rather dormant players. Again, the publisher can use the data being generated by this experiment to inform future price-point decisions of expansion packs.
Another interesting aspect of discounted expansion packs is the fact, that this allows players to complete their collection. This can be important for Bethesda in a scenario where they want to maximise the revenue from an existing expansion.
While this is perfectly reasonably, it could become pretty horrible, if the publisher had an undisclosed intention of rotating out a certain pool of cards. Some TCG games have been doing this at the expense of player dissatisfaction causing massive attrition of the player base. It’s always a horrible point in any game’s economics when a player’s investment is significantly de-valued by the publisher at purpose. So far, Bethesda has not shown any signs to be doing this, in fact pretty much the opposite is actually true, with the updated nerf-refund policy for premium art cards introduced with the recent patch 2.5. I believe, they are doing this more to push for additional revenues from their player-base.
Collector’s Items aim at players having missed the initial occassion who are willing to improve their in-game status. These items are being offered to monetize a non-essential goodie that has been kept scarce, artificially.
On first sight, this certainly generates some short-term revenue for the publisher. However, it now also allows Bethesda to better understand a high-paying, very engaged customer segment. With a simple database query, Bethesda can now even segment the group of players valuing in-game status. They can identify highly committed players, who are owning all collector’s items, as compared to highly committed players with a lower willingness to pay for status.
As Sparkypants and Bethesda are planning to release new card-backs, new alternate art cards and maybe new play mats, they can better understand the customers’ willingness to pay for these collector’s items. This experiment now allows them to model the price point in a way that maximizes their revenues.
The Soul Gem deals are predominantly appealing to frequent TESL players with larger amounts of accumulated in-game gold, who wanted to trade these in to acquire Soul Gems. Soul Gems can be helpful when attempting to complete a premium card collection. More often, they are being used efficiently whenever a new regular expansion is being released. In this case, Soul Gems help you to buy exactly the card you need to build a desired deck, without having to spend on too many expansion packs.
Hence, the Soul Gem deals constitute an investment of players into the future of the game. The buyers of these deals are most probably going to stick with the game and should be expected to be more committed to long-term play. Knowing more about this group of players, could allow Bethesda to model revenue expectations for future expansions sets, potentially forming attractive content bundles tailored for this customer segment.
Buyers of premium legendaries are hardcore players that value the beauty of the art of the premium cards. In addition, they might value the in-game status that ownership of these premium cards provides. Since a complete collection of premium art cards is an investment of thousands of dollars, this customer segment might be the most interesting one for Bethesda. Hence, understanding who these players are and what other buying decisions they take, can help Bethesda to maximise their revenue stream coming from this group of “whales”. They are obviously very committed to the game and might be willing to pay a premium for other offerings, such as accelerated access to new content or more collector’s items.
Let’s put the analysis into a nutshell: I believe that the purpose of the Festival of Madness is three-fold:
- Generating short-term revenues to polish Bethesda’s and Sparkypants’ annual results. This might be required commercially for Bethesda execs to justify the investment into the new development team.
- Sustaining the game’s existing player base with a desire to expand and re-activate somewhat dormant players and particularly those that have moved away to other games. At the same time, Festival of Madness is encouraging casual or newer players to invest more heavily into TESL. This aims to create blockers for them to move away to similar games. The higher these casual players are invested in one game, the less likely will they move to a similar competitor-product.
- Gaining data about their customer’s willingness to pay, in order to maximise future revenues from content releases.
Surely, Bethesda is invested in this game to make a good earning. However, while the super-engaged players always crave for new content, Bethesda is using Festival of Madness in an attempt to stabilize and expand their existing customer base who are a little less engaged. This prepares pricing decision for future expansions and can hopefully be used to expand marketing spent to attract more players to a really fairly priced, good game.