Tobold's Blog
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.
I wasn't paying attention to LotRO back then, so had no clue that you had to pay them for a lifetime sub without playing the game. My reaction: that was just as much of a scam as the Champions deal is now.

I'm supportive of the concept of lifetime subscriptions, but companies need to allow players to play the game OUTSIDE OF BETA for a few months first. (And heck - that would bring in MORE revenue.)
It's the fact that it is being offered in a shyster-type way. LOTRO still allows people to buy lifetimes, and one could buy the box play their free month and decide later to buy a lifetime. For Turbine, it was another option, not a cash-infusion gimmick.

CO, which has Bill Roper of Flagship fame, is right now only offering it in a manner which seems like a get-rich-quick scheme - not beneficial for consumers.

Add that to the fact that no AAA MMO has "met expectations" since 2008, and it shouldn't be hard to understand why people look askew at the offering.
The problem with the lifetime sub is that its around two to three years of sub time, especially if you buy in 6 month chunks.

Even for WoW, that's what most people will spend on it, tops, before they burnout permanently.

The price is just wrong, really. The company is asking you to bet that you will love the game so much that you'll be spending 2+ years on it to recoup your expenses. If you don't like it, you lose two hundred bucks. If you have a good career there, you break even. It's just not a good bet.

Now, if that lifetime sub was $120 bucks or so, it would be a lot more attractive. It's a much better bet that you will spend a year+ in game and get your money's worth.
A lifetime subscription isn't worth $199. I remember buying LotRO with the intention of doing the $199 deal. I remember playing the beta because I prepurchased and would be able to roll my level 15 character over to the live servers. Funny thing happened. I never played on the live servers. It wasn't that LotRO was bad, It just couldn't keep me away from WoW.

AoC, WAR, EQ2 (thanks to steam) never engadged me enough to even play past the free month. This includes time when I had quit WoW. Although I was close to paying $199 for a lifetime subscription to LotRO as it the second MMO I ever played, I wouldn't even consider it now. Especially in knowing the lifetime of some MMO's is just a few months. I wouldn't call it a scam, but it isn't an opprotunity to jump on.
After buying the LOTRO lifetime subscription and not using it very much I thought that I would be a bit careful with such deals.

However, I always said that if CoX had the same deal I would have gone for it, and since CO is pretty much like that I got it. I will probably not get the full worth out of it but at least I can jump in whenever I want for a mission or two.

Other than that, yes I would probably have bought a lifetime sub for WoW also. Right now however I'm not so sure I would spend as much money on such a lifetime sub as the short trips into WoW-land I do nowadays are usually pretty short.
I would have to be secure in the longevity of the game before I made a purchase like that.

I would, right now, buy a lifetime pass to EvE and WoW- that's it.

Both of those titles have been around a long time and don't seem to be going anywhere soon.

Even though I'm enthralled with Darkfall and love the game; I would not buy a lifetime subscription because the game could still go under, or suffer a harsh population drop (same thing).
Tobold, look into the story of Hellgate London and how the lifetime subscriptions worked out for those enthusiastic fans.

In short: breathless promises leading up to release, lifetime subscription only offered before title's release, multiplayer/mmo component unplayable as shipped, developer scrambled to fix problems, promptly ran out of money, and ultimately the company folded less than one year after launch. The value of that particular lifetime subscription worked out to be extremely poor, given that active development of the title ceased just a couple of months after launch. It turns out that this particular lifetime subscription was nothing more than a plan to raise enough money to keep the company going long enough to get their already-in-the-field product functional before they closed; which, described another way, is a money grab.

Also, the producer of HL is now part of Cryptic. I'm honestly shocked that anyone is taking this MMO seriously at all.
How can people blame the game for giving you a choice? No one is forcing players to take the lifetime deal.

If you are uncomfortable about paying for a lifetime subscription to a game you have never played then don't! It couldn't be simpler.

You can still try out the game on a monthly sub and you can bet that there will always be the ability to buy a lifetime sub later if you decide you are going to stick around.
Maybe it wouldn't be cheaper for everyone but a 'pay as you play' billing system would suit many more players than a lifetime sub.
I'm still a fan of Guild Wars' "lifetime sub" pricing. The $200 version just doesn't do it for me.
As with 6 month subscriptions and year long subscriptions, the idea is that you do it in order to save money. The only game that I have spent $200 on is WoW, and I don't forsee myself spending that much on it in the future. I don't know if I thought I would've played that much in the beginning either. So the value simply is not there for me, especially with an unproven game. If you think of Guild Wars, which is another game I've spent a bit of money on, if you bought every game brand new, you would've spent $170, but you're able to break them up into smaller bits for them to prove to you that it'll keep your interest.

As for me, I do not do anything like this. I had an option to get a deal to buy a year of VOIP and save some money, but the savings did not add up to the hassle it would be if the company went under or if something wasn't working right, etc. This is also why I hate satellite and cell phone carriers.

The reason that games offer lifetime subs is because they believe that most people will not get the full value of it. Otherwise, they probably wouldn't offer it. This is why WoW hasn't and probably won't until the end.
One major difference is the quality of product being offered. The other is the two-week window.
Well said Tesh, I like the Guild Wars model too. One of the few MMOs I will probably always have installed on my computer, even if I'm not actively playing it.

Anyhow, although I agree the 'lifetime' subscription deal for CO is a bit suspect, the whole "you have to pay without playing" argument is a bit disingenuous. You have to pay before release, but surely anyone who would consider $200 for a lifetime sub is also going to pre-order the game, and thus gets to participate in open beta and see it before they pay.

This is an offer for dedicated fans, not bored MMO burnout victims looking for their next fix.

That said, I don't know if I'll even get the game, and there's no way I'd pay for the lifetime sub. I've been in the closed beta, and this game is no CoH. For some people that will be a plus, for others it won't.

CO is essentially WoW with superheroes and a more dynamic environment. You run around, talk to npcs to get quests, go kill 10 mobs, then come back and turn in your quest, etc. Rinse and repeat to level 50, doing some 'dungeons' on the way if you have friends.

There is a moderate amount of replay value, but nothing like CoH has. I've easily spent $200 on subscription fees for CoH over the course of it's existence, but I can't imagine staying in CO more than a few months before the wow-alike burnout set in.
I suspect it's the timing. In between 2007 and now, we've had a series of MMOs fold prematurely, and several that went from "OMG, this is the next big thing" betas to server-consolidation. The idea that a MMO could flop or not meet even beta expectations has gone from intellectual to realistic.

I suspect that free-to-play MMOs also play a role in this reaction, by making $15/month look expensive instead of looking like a bargain.
"The problem with the lifetime sub is that its around two to three years of sub time, especially if you buy in 6 month chunks."

Um.. not sure on your math there. At $15 a month a $200 lifetime is about 13 months. Far from three years. Three years for a $15 sub would be $540 dollars, If i play once a month, for 13 months, it pays for itself as i would have to pay the monthly anyway for only playing once.

I'm most likely going to get the lifetime, as i'm kicking myself for not getting it with Lotro. There are other games i would probably pay that to never have to worry about subbing again (that in itself is a biggy for me). I'd pay in a second for games like CoH/V, WoW (which will never do it, as they don't have to, they know they can charge as much as they want, people will pay it), and probably a few i can't think of right now. I don't think of it as a scam, more an investment, you put more up front in something you believe in with hopes it pays back. Do i wish they'd offer it longer or at any time, yeah, but it's their game their choice.
Now it might appear a tad shady that they are only offering it now and not after the launch it still optional. You don't have to do it. Their lifetime is the cost of about 12 months. So you'd have to figure out if you think you'll be playing for at least that long or if you'll comeback enough to equal the cost. I personally went with 6 months. I'm reasonably sure I'm going to be playing it for at least 3-4 months, but the star trek online closed beta pushed it over the top for me. I'd probably be willing to pay $30 for that alone.
I think players have seen too many "failures" on the mmo market in the last few months to approach an offer like the CO one with anything but scepticism. Your life long sub may well be until the end of the second month when the plug is pulled. On the other hand 200 dollars, which is about 140 Euros (or maybe just 200 Euros, that can happen too), that is what i pay approx. for 2.5 console games or 3 pc games. Seeing on avarage how many hours of play i get from that, i dont even have to play the mmo in question for months to get the same amount of playtime/dollar...

The main problem is that CO has no track record and the mmo market is a tricky one as the past months have shown. With that in mind, i doubt that they will sell a lot of lifetime subs (even to players like me, who are satisfied with a low amount of play-time per dollar paid).

Although i quit wow a lot of times, i still resub now and then (and then quit a few weeks later). I did resub last weekend to do some battlegrounds (on my highest lvl character, a 72 mage) which give xp now too. Great fun. For this game, which apparently manages to maintain *some* appeal to me (albeit casual and in relative small doses), and thus has *proven* to somehow be able to entertain me, id fork out those 140 Euros tomorrow.
The fact that they only offer this option before the vast majority of people have had a chance to see it looks really shady to me.

If they thought their game was good enough, they'd want to keep this up at least for the open beta, if not longer. So that people could play the beta or a free trial, say to themselves "wow, this game is awesome! I'm totally quitting WoW for this" and buy a lifetime subscription right away.

By taking this option away before letting us try out the game, they're basically saying "if we let people try the game out first, not as many of them would pay for the lifetime subscription." That they don't think the game is good enough.

They're expecting us to trust them when they don't even seem to trust in themselves.
Yeah if you buy by the month.

Or you can get 6 months for 75 ish, which puts you at 1 year, 9 months. Close to two. I was overreaching with 3 years. But still close to two years.

I could see myself buying a lifetime sub even for a game I didn't think I would play long enough to get my "moneys worth" just because it would be nice to be able to play a game casually without feeling like a jackass for basically wasting 15 bucks. Might help with my inability to play an MMO casually if I didn't have the nagging waste of money feel.
Its quite simple why people are looking at it this way. Bill Roper. Bill is known as the guy in charge behind the now dead Flagship studios. Flagship released Hellgate London with a lifetime subscriber's option.

Flagship failed and closed their doors, and Hellgate's online servers followed suit. Quite a few people didn't get their money out of the game. In fact it would have been cheaper for them to pay the monthly fee instead.
This may say a lot about me, but i was one of those who got a Hellgate lifetime. Do i regret it? Not really, at the time it seemed good, i had faith in the game and wanted it to do good. One benefit of Hellgate, i can still play it single player any time i want. Servers may be down, and it's not the same solo, but after also playing Earth and Beyond and seeing that become a coaster, it's nice they put in that option. Hellgate had the worst launch in history really, at least i've ever seen, and it lasted a while. Once fixed up more, it wasn't really that bad a game. Was it really worth a monthly fee? Not really, would have been more suited to a Guild Wars type or micro transactions. People forget that there was "WoW killer" talk before it launched, when it was more a 3d diablo type.

I think Tobold mentioned something about perceived value with subscription costs, how if it's cheaper, people will think the game is less worth it or something. I'd like to see more games go either free to play with MT or lower subs, so more people would play more, but i worry about all the complainers about MT and FTP.

"Although I was close to paying $199 for a lifetime subscription to LotRO as it the second MMO I ever played, I wouldn't even consider it now. Especially in knowing the lifetime of some MMO's is just a few months."

That's pretty much how I feel. In WoW's heyday, I can see many of us feeling a lifetime subscription to an MMO being a steal. Now knowing not only will games risk not lasting that long, we ourselves as gamers may not last that long even if the game soldiers on.
The only game I have ever played that would have been cheaper for a 199 life time sub is EQ1. I have quit WoW so many times I think I have not played the game more than I have played the game over the past few years.

I understand no one wanting to pay for a life time sub though. We haven't had a solid MMO launch since WoW. Nothing has met expectations and I really don't think anything will until Blizzard's new MMO.
There's a hell of a lot of lifetime subbers still playing LotRO and who have got more than their money's worth.

I got one myself, based on the trial and the idea that I probably wanted to play 6-12 months, so it was close to worth it and frankly, because I had the money to do it.

LotRO always offers the lifetime sub, it's not time-limited (though prices have fluctuated a little). They had another offer the Xmas after launch, then on the launch anniversary, which gave people playing the game plenty of chance to cash it in and get a lifetime sub post-launch. And if you didn't cash in your 'founder' pricing, you can still go buy the lifetime sub for that price.

So it's not entirely the same as the CO deal which seems time-limited and solely based on beta experience (from what I've read).

That being said, lifetime subs are just there as an option, and I would like to see them as an option for many games! No-one makes you get them, and there are definitely people who do or don't have that kind of up-front cash to blow on an MMO. I think if WAR had lifetime subs I'd still be playing it once a week, but I can't justify a monthly sub on a game I barely play. WAR, EQ2 and WoW have all suffered because I don't want to pay to barely play them.
LotRO always offers the lifetime sub, it's not time-limited (though prices have fluctuated a little). They had another offer the Xmas after launch, then on the launch anniversary, which gave people playing the game plenty of chance to cash it in and get a lifetime sub post-launch. And if you didn't cash in your 'founder' pricing, you can still go buy the lifetime sub for that price. So it's not entirely the same as the CO deal which seems time-limited and solely based on beta experience (from what I've read).

Just check out the link I provided to the original LotRO offer: It WAS time-limited, then they renewed it. How do you know Champions Online will not do exactly the same and still offer a different version of the lifetime subscription later? As I said, I won't buy that lifetime subscription, but for me it looks exactly the same as previous offers from other games. Only we players have changed.
The offer is only valid for a limited time, and people are supposed to spend their money on a product they haven't even seen yet !

Quite a big difference with the LOTRO offer !
The offer is only valid for a limited time, and people are supposed to spend their money on a product they haven't even seen yet !

Quite a big difference with the LOTRO offer !

I'm starting to despair on the ability of my readers to, well, read. The phrase "The offer is only valid for a limited time, and people are supposed to spend their money on a product they haven't even seen yet !" is EXACTLY the LotRO offer back in January 2007 I linked to. You couldn't play LotRO before April, and the original offer was time-limited and later extended. Which still could happen for the CO offer.

Repeating the fake outrage of other bloggers, which apparently simply disliked the game, is not an excuse to lie about verifiable facts.
LotRO did drop their NDA more than two months before release instead of two weeks before release. In the US you could also get into the LotRO 3 or 4 week prerelease, level chars to 15, for $10 from local stores. That money then went towards purchase price of the game. Actaully one chain you could apply the $10 towards any other game if decided not to buy LotRO and another store gave you not only $10 off the game purchase but a $10 gift card on buying LotRO. CO requires a fileplanet subscription last I checked and money for that does not go towards purchase of the product. So in short was much easier to know what you are paying for with the lifetime to LotRO than to CO.
I think what has changed in the last 3 years is a bunch of MMOs shutting down.

Tabula Rasa

Matrix Online

Hellgate: London

The Sims Online

And Age of Conan and Warhammer flirting with shutdown.
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