Tobold's Blog
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Lifetime subscription thoughts

Atari and Cryptic announced the subscription options for Star Trek Online. Besides a classic $14.99 monthly subscription, you can also get one of two "special offers", which are only valid before release day: A 12-month subscription for $119.99, or a subscription "for the life of the product" for $239.99, one cent more than two 12-month subscriptions. After February 2 you can *still* decide to buy a lifetime subscription, and it'll cost $299.99. Game not included. Is that pricey or what?

If you play the open beta and like Star Trek Online, to a degree that you want to play it for a long time, the 12-month offer looks like a good deal. It's a third cheaper than the monthly subscription, and it is reasonable to believe that STO will be around for at least one year. To make the same cost saving on the cheaper of the two lifetime subscription deals, you'd need to play for two years. In my opinion Star Trek Online doesn't have sufficient depth to make it likely that a lot of players keep playing that game for several years, but of course I haven't even seen the endgame, and more content will probably be added over time.

The $299.99 "standard lifetime pricing" without preorder bonus is interesting, because so few games offer this still after release. As you'd buy that only after the two cheaper promo offers have expired, we'd have to compare this to the standard $14.99 price per month, which makes the standard lifetime pricing break even after 20 months, for people understandably reluctant to pay so much *before* release.

So I was asking myself, what game am I still likely to play in 2 years? And that turns out to be a difficult question. While patch 3.3 certainly was a shot in the arm for World of Warcraft and considerably revived it, and Cataclysm this year sounds attractive as well, my interest in this game has its ups and downs. I love running dungeons much more than playing solo, but obviously the number of dungeons is limited, and once you ran them all a dozen times, even the Dungeon Finder is losing its lustre. So would I pay $300 for a lifetime subscription for World of Warcraft? I think yes, for two reasons: I'm absolutely certain that World of Warcraft will still exist in 2 years, which isn't necessarily true for every other MMORPG out there; and a lifetime subscription would be more convenient, freeing me from the stress of cancelling my account when I lose interest and resubscribing later.

So how about you? Would you pay $300 for a lifetime subscription for an existing MMORPG? Which one would that be?
how's that LOTRO lifetime sub of yours doing?
Both me and LotRO are still alive, thus technically my LotRO lifetime subscription is doing just fine. But again that was a case of buying the lifetime subscription before playing more than the beta, which is a different risk than deciding to buy a lifetime subscription for a game you already played for a good while.
A lifetime subsription is a bet the company does.
The company speculates that the lifetime subscription is a profit for them.

Obviously, they are better suited to make such a bet. Which is why WOW doesn't offer a lifetime subscription at all.

Buying a lifetime sub is like buying the wallet of somebody for a price he slects.
If I had to, I'd take one for WoW, although now I'm not sure if it'd really be worth it. Whilst it will still be around for years to come, I'm losing interest in playing all the time, although I've resigned myself to the fact that only Blizzard's new MMO and possibly Allods (if they make levelling and combat batter.)

So yeah, WoW. But only if it came with something nice.
But that's another risk, isn't it - I also bought a lifetime subscription for LOTRO before I had played for a good while, because I wanted to reap the "full benefit" of having the subscription pay itself off in the shortest amount of time.

Now, if I had subscribed for a few months first, I would not have bought the lifetime subscription, but at that point if I HAD liked the game, I would have considered the three months' worth of subscription a "waste" of money that could have been covered by the lifetime subscription! Hindsight and all that.
Another point to consider ... there is a very strong chance that the lifetime deal will be offered again and the price is likely to be even cheaper in a years time. Why not pay as you go for a few months to see if you like the game and then if it looks like a keeper keep your eyes peeled for a good deal on the lifetime sub.

After paying a sub since launch I was very happy to pick up a lifetime sub for Lotro last year for just £75 in a welcome back offer. I have played the game for long enough to know that I will get my moneys worth.
Currently i would not buy a lifetime sub on any game. Mainly this is due to RL, which is eating more and more of my available time..(which is a good thing though:). Game time is mostly spent on single player games: i'm only halfway through DAO and soon there will be ME2. At this rate, Im guessing both will keep me busy till after the summer.

You mentioned the (relative) inconvenience of cancelling and reactivating. In my country (Holland) WOW offers an easy to use payment service, in functionality comparable to online gamecards i guess. When i feel like playing I just buy one month worth of time online, and after that period the sub is auto cancelled.
A lifetime sub to WoW would have served me well indeed. In the, what, 62 months? since release, my account has only been inactive for a few spells of a few months each. Certainly it's been active for well over four years.

However, I have to say, that at no point during those years would I have been likely to have paid a big sum upfront for a lifetime subscription. It just never felt like something that I was that confident I would be playing for that long.

Of course events proved me wrong in the past, and who knows, maybe in 2012 I'll still be playing and would have gotten another lifetime subscription worth of value out if it. But I wouldn't gamble on that even if Blizzard offered it.

Two years is a long time.
If WoW were to have offered one back during BC, would have taken it without hesitation, the game just delivers even if it gets old at times.

EvE-Online is another title I've played on and off that I would have loved a lifetime offer for but i'm into the game so far now I'd question taking them up on it at this point.

While I'll always question the value on the lifetime offers, I do love the peace of mind that it's already paid for and I'm not worried about getting "value" out of the game every month.

But then you get to the value of the lifetime purchase..

For me $150 lifetime +50 box for any decent MMO is a nobrainer if it's gonna be a go-to game I'm always willing to login for a nice fix. Anything higher than that and I'm really wanting value to know whether i'll be playing past the first few months, plus whether its worth the risk as we know some MMO's basicly go belly up or go on life support.

I definately think the industry should do more with these offers but also be much more fair and not abuse it to the point people are getting burned as has happened with a few titles.
I just yesterday re-subscribed my Station Access account, and Mrs Bhagpuss's as well. We started our Everquest accounts in 1999/2000 and until June 2009 held them continually, having upgraded them to Station Access as soon as it was created.

Yesterday I patched and played EQ2 and Vanguard and today I am patching and will play EQ. I anticipate continuing to play all three of these games for as long as they exist, albeit with breaks.

One Station Access account costs me £227.88 per year. I consider it extremely good value for money. It goes without saying that had SOE offered a "Lifetime" sub to Station Access, it would have saved me a lot of money. Even had they asked £1000 for it.

Evrquest has lasted over a decade. EQ2 has lasted half a decade. Both are still producing expansions, have double figures of servers running and hundreds of thousands of players. It has to be a good bet that one, probably both of them will still be around in 5 years, maybe in ten. If they offered a lifetime sub even now I'd probably take it.

Outside of those games, which I plan on playing until they are no longer there to play, or I'm not there to play them, Ican't think of any others I'd pay a lifetime sub for.
I took the plunge on a lifetime sub with LOTRO at release, and it has well and truely paid for itself. Have I played constantly? No, in fact, I've probably played maybe 1/4 of the time LOTRO has been out, but the lifetime sub turns it into a non mmo: I keep it on my drive and can play whenever I wantbl without a worry. On the flip side, I rarely bother to cancel my WoW sub even when i'm not playing it.

300 bucks tho? Not a chance. I probably wouldn't even pay that for WoW. It's simply /too/ much, particularly for a new, untested game.
wasn't the LotRO lifetime much cheaper than this STO one too. $240 feels like a lot to me, even though ive paid more than that in subscriptions to WoW

The only game that id consider a lifetime subscription for is WoW, too many other mmos i've played for a bit but not enjoyed to the same level.
No way. The MMO development goes to "more accessible" content. We are already in the phase of WoW where one has to make extra restrictions to make the game fun, like raiding hard modes before the first nerf or raiding in blues, or soloing.

But as the development goes on, we will reach the point where nothing we can do to keep the game fun. I mean why spend time with something that you could "win" with your eyes closed.
My LOTRO lifetime subscription probably just paid itself off over time (our WoW guild moved to LOTRO for a year, and I was playing before for a while). But then I haven't played LOTRO for almost a year.

The Champions Online lifetime was more tactic decision to keep Cryptic around a bit longer, so NCsoft keeps improving CoH (they moved from one developer to many, as soon as CO appeared in the news). In addition playing now and then CO is quite ok.

But I at the moment can't justify a STO lifetime based on the beta impressions. It is a "nice" game, but didn't draw me in (was a bit too grindy, and the individualisation bit pales compared to CoH and CO).
I'd buy a WoW lifetime sub. I'm sure it will be around much, much longer than two years, and even though I get bored and cancel now and then, I come back and have fun for a few months before cancelling again.

There aren't any current games out that I would play for 12 months, let alone 20 months to reach the break even point. Actually, I probably wouldn't even last three months in most.
"A lifetime subsription is a bet the company does.
The company speculates that the lifetime subscription is a profit for them."

Not necessarily. It's also a matter of known vs potential profit.

If they get $250 from you right now, that's a profit. It's a known quantity.

Even if they get $300 from you over 20 months, every single month it's an unknown. You can budget much better on $250 known than $300 potential. It's like a sale. It's still better to sell 30 things at a $5 profit than 20 at $7.

If I enjoyed STO enough to know I'd play for 6 months, I'd do the lifetime. I'm not sure at this point I will. I would have bought a WoW sub at launch. If SWG had the option, I'd still be happy. And the idea of a lifetime Station Launcher sub makes me weak in the knees, even now.
Something that most people fail to realize is that these companies offering lifetime subscriptions know from the start that they won't be around long enough to incur a loss from this scheme.

STO will be a flop like others before it and the company behind it probably knows that, that's why they will cheerfully offer lifetime subscriptions.

Another thing to bear in mind is this: the game could well last 2 years but will you be still playing it in 2 years? Will you play it every month for 2 years? Or will you lose interest after 2-3 months, when it becomes obvious that the company is having a hard time releasing new content? What about the endgame? Will it compare to WoW? Even in WoW (and let's not forget what resources Blizzard has), many harcore people get bored quickly at level 80.

Even if the game will be a big success, even if it will last more than 2 years, personally I wouldn't get a lifetime subscription. If WoW offered that, I wouldn't buy it, even if I knew I'd be playing it 2 years from now. I even regret the 6-month "discounted" sub I got a couple of years back, because a month into it I decided to quit WoW and I returned a year later but in the meantime I just wasted over $70 because of my lack of foresight.

Blizzard is smart and I doubt they will ever offer a lifetime sub. They would be losing money if they did that so why would they? They have enough confidence in themselves to know that people will gladly continue paying $15 a month for WoW.

Personally I prefer to pay on a month-to-month basis. I use a credit card and I cancel the recurring subscription immediately on renewing it. This way there won't be any surprises. It so happens that after a month of WoW I'm a bit burned out and I need at least a week's break. Why should I pay for something that I don't use? I like to call it "financial responsibility".

Finally, does anyone remember another over-hyped game that (to my knowledge) was one of the first to offer lifetime subscriptions? I'm talking about Hellgate: London. Yep, and a big flop that one turned out to be.

So yeah, I wouldn't recommend to anyone to get a lifetime subscription for a game that they haven't played, which is still in beta stage. On the other hand, it's your money so you're free to use it however you like.

My 2 cents.
Having pre-ordered STO we will be eligible to check out the retail version of the game for a couple days before official launch, which may give us enough time to make that decision.
I have calculated the cost of the subscription plans vs. the pre-order lifetime offer.
Lifetime at $250 would be equivalent to 16 months at $12.99 (the 6 month rate).
Lifetime at $250 would be equivalent to almost 18 months at $13.99 (the 3 month rate).
Lifetime at $250 would be equivalent to 19 months at the standard monthly rate.
I have personally considered the 1 year discounted subscription for $120, or $10 per month. That would bring my investment to $180 for 13 months of entertainment, or $13.85 per month, the rough equivalent of a movie ticket or DVD a month. The 1 year discount rate will give two extra character slots and is a locked rate. The lifetime discount also gives playable Borg as a bonus.

Will this game be around in two years? Maybe. With the interest in the beta, the recognition of the name and the inherent interest thereof, the speed of which the devs and GMs are finding and squashing bugs, I wouldn't doubt it. How good will it be in 2 years? No idea, maybe it'll be 1-2 million subscribers, enough to keep it going.
I know of one which will - Warcraft. If Blizzard offered a lifetime subscription to Warcraft, I'd buy it, but it would likely be several years from now when some other Warcraft-brand franchise comes out.
If you were offered a $300 lifetime subscription to WoW at the end of the Beta, would you have taken it? I suspect many wouldn't have, but have since paid much more in five years of subscriptions. You just can't tell how long a game is going to run and how much it will evolve by looking at its initial offering.

Plus, as everyone else has said, a lifetime subscription is a disincentive for the publisher to continue offering the service later. Why would anyone support that?
This may stray a bit off-topic, but honestly I'm not so sure on the life of WoW. Blizzard has mentioned they are going to be scaling it back, and they are working on an entirely new IP. If they did leave it running(which has me skeptical but it's totally possible), I see it as more of a backburner game for them in the years to come. One that will see little new content, and have a much smaller crew just performing upkeep on it.

Predictions are predictions so take it for what it's worth. But I see Cataclysm as the last thing to be done to the game. I'm betting they are trying to revive it and change it to such a degree that it will essentially be a new game. That way, they can leave it to the side, and progress forward with their new IP.

Then again, it may survive for a long time, in the way Vanguard does now(and maybe even better).

If tomorrow, Blizzard offered a lifetime for WoW, there is simply no way that I would pay it. Things are too risky, in my book, with the near future of the game.

I would love to have a lifetime sub to Vanguard, but even with it being iffy everyday, whether they will scrap it or not, I wouldn't pay.

As for just paying, for any MMORPG. Well, if the sun and moon and stars were in alignment, and we could all be fairly certain that the game would be around, at least for the price of 2 years worth of the game, I would go with LotRO, Runes of Magic(but it's free anyway so...), or EQ2. Maybe some other I can't think of right now.
I prolly buy a sub for EVE.
If I bought a lifetime WoW account five years ago I'd have saved quite a bit of money.

But now? I'll probably reactivate my account for a few months. Maybe for half a year after cataclysm. Maybe another half year after the next expansion.

But I'd hope that by then there's another mmorpg which is more fun than WoW.

So to get it now? Probably not worth it.
FWIW Mobly, when WoW originally launched they already had a 3 expansion roadmap, and they have deviated from that somewhat. I would quite confidently guarentee that cataclysm isn't the end of WoW expansions. Like EQ1, the game will continue to expand even after their new MMO comes out.

Also, on release, Turbine already had 5 years worth of content laid out for LoTRO, and they are quite financially stable and still quite able to draw in new capital, so they won't be disapearing anytime soon. In game, the fellowship has just left the woods of Lorien. Still a long way to get to Mordor :)
It's a funny question you raise, because I already have paid for a lifetime subscription to an MMO - Guild Wars. Got the box, got a lifetime sub with it.

Each time there's a piece of content (expansion), I can decide whether to buy that or not, and then continue with my lifetime subscription. Partly because of this, I believe GW is excellent value, not to mention a jolly fun game, and have purchased all expansions and features for it as I have no fear of losing the value of it.

I favour one of two business models - either the flat rate option (lifetime subscription), or the pennies-per-hour option.

1. The nature of my work means that on any given month I can't be guaranteed to play 20 hours or whatever metric you feel would give you value for $15. So, paying either cents per hour or having paid a lifetime sub means that - either way - I don't need to care. I'm not terribly afraid of bill shock provided we are talking cents per hour; if we consider even the princely sum of $0.10/hour you could play for 150 hours a month before you equaled a standard MMO fee. That's a lot of game time, and I like to go outside sometimes and see the world - it'd be rare even at my raiding peak that I'd have gone over 200, and it was closer to a hundred then with still very good progression rates.
2. Monthly fees pander to developer complacency. If you're not incentivised by some kind of monetary injection to continue development of your game, the only thing that will drive you is loss of subscribers and competition (sometimes linked).

I'm done with MMOs that ship with a $15/mo fee. STO? Who cares, it's got a fee. The lifetime subscription rate on that is HORRIFIC, they're asking the consumer to accept an awful lot of risk for that fee. The current track record of MMOs indicates that many - even top flight games with big press like Failgate - can go bust within a calendar year.

So, the answer? Well, assuming a fee is necessary at all (and I think we can probably agree that it is, to cover some cost of hosting and continual development) for me would be to ensure that either some kind of content drop for a fee system is used (Guild Wars, DDO maybe?), or that it's pennies per hour to allow you to choose the value you get from it.

I appreciate I've gone a bit on a tangent from the question you asked, but the economics of this are fascinating. Really, there's only so many games you can consume at $15/mo, meaning that you ultimately need to "get divorced" from an MMO to play another one if you're financially constrained (or just don't want to piss money into a well). Content drop fees or pennies per hour are more reasonable for consumers, and align the provision of games with any utility that provides a mechanism for you to pay for what you use.
A major problem with lifetime subscriptions is that it takes away the only voice a player really has: their subscription dollars. A popular phrase is "vote with your wallet", but when you sign up for "life", you lose that vote. If you become dissatisfied with a game in a few months, you have no ability to send a clear message that you're unhappy. The best you can do write a Very Angry Post, cross your fingers, and hope that things get better.
The last two posters have nailed it IMO.
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