Monday, August 17, 2009
Once bitten, twice shy?
In January 2007 Turbine announced something new to the world of MMORPG business models: A lifetime subscription to their upcoming Lord of the Rings Online, limited time offer exclusively available to pre-order customers. And a lot of bloggers at the time thought that this was a good idea. Although you obviously had to give Turbine your money before having played the release version of the game, the reception of this offer was pretty positive. After all, if you didn't want to, you could always stick to the regular payment model.
Two-and-a-half years later Cryptic Studio's exactly same offer for Champions Online is being heckled from all sides as a scam, trying to get people's money before they can walk away. Some even conclude that Cryptic Studio believes Champions Online will fail, citing the existence of a lifetime subscription offer as evidence.
What has changed?
I can only assume that what changed is people's experience with lifetime subscriptions. Before LotRO they had none, thus the idea was welcomed as new. But already with LotRO it appears that many people who paid for the lifetime subscription, me included, did not play the game sufficiently long for that offer having been cheaper than a monthly subscription. And then there were lifetime subscription offers for games like Hellgate London, where the game went under quickly, and anyone having paid for a lifetime subscription realized that a lifetime could be rather short. So once bitten, twice shy, now lifetime subscriptions are regarded with a lot more suspicion. Which is somewhat unfair against Cryptic, because they aren't offering anything less than Turbine did at the time. It is only the expectation of the worth of such an offer that has changed.
I still think that a lifetime subscription has some added value in convenience over subscribing and unsubscribing repeatedly to the same game. But as the only game where I regularly quit and come back is World of Warcraft, that would be the only game I'd buy a lifetime subscription right now. And I'm sure I'm not the only one, everybody expects WoW to live for many more years, knows about the waves of resubscriptions at every expansion or major content patch, and thus a lifetime subscription offer from Blizzard would be greeted enthusiastically again.
But we also learned in the last 5 years how many games are released with great promise, and then fail to deliver on that promise. That ranges from games which are quite good, and just failed compared to their hype, to games which are so bad they get closed down after some months. But nobody wants to get stuck with a lifetime subscription to failure. So it appears this particular business model is a non-starter nowadays. Or does it depend on the amount of hype? Would you buy a lifetime subscription to SWTOR before having played it? I wouldn't.