This morning, I received an email from Cryptic announcing that Champions Online is going free-to-play beginning sometime in Q1 2011. I can’t say I was surprised to see another subscription-based MMO go F2P. In fact (and I feel kind of bad for admitting this), I think a part of me was hoping Champions Online will be next. The game and I had a brief but rather delectable tryst back in the winter of 2009, before technical issues on my old computer ended things between us and I’ve always regretted not returning even after I knew the issues were fixed. Thus, my first reaction to the news was excitement, knowing that its upcoming F2P status will mean I’ll be checking in with it again before long.
But after the initial joy, I had second thought: Is this the end of the lifetime subscription?
This thought came to me because Champions Online is one of several games that has tempted me with their lifetime membership option in the past. I never did buy any of them though. For one thing, I have a problem and it’s called MMO ADD. Getting the most out of an LTS requires commitment, and I know I’m notoriously unfaithful to my MMOs. I do so like to fool around with multiple games, maybe play one for a few months before canceling the sub and trying out another. Looking back, only a few MMOs have managed to keep me around for longer than a year, and even those have seen me take long breaks from them for months at a time. Lifetime subscriber or not, I won’t feel like I’m getting my money’s worth if I’m not playing at all, so I’ve always felt safer for opting to pay only for the months I know I will play, and my $200 actually goes farther for me that way.
But the truth is, a few years ago I still would have considered a lifetime sub, depending on the game. If it’s something I know I’ll stick with for years and years, sooner or later I know I will reach the break even point. These days, however, when it seems floundering and non-floundering MMOs alike are switching to F2P, you have to wonder if you’ll even get there before your game decides to follow the same trend. Case in point, I feel I dodged a bullet this January when I swear I was just a heartbeat away from getting a LTS to Lord of the Rings Online before ultimately changing my mind. While I don’t doubt lifetime subscribers will get compensated somehow, like in the form of game store points, I’d still rather keep cold hard cash.
I really don’t think we’ll be seeing too many games offer lifetime subs anymore, not when developers and players alike know the possibility of switching to F2P is lurking around every corner. A pity, really, because even though I’ve never bought an LTS, I’ve always liked it as a payment model. The last time one called to me was when Star Trek Online came out, but call me crazy, at the time I was uncomfortable with dropping any amount of cash valuing more than $100 on a product I didn’t even know will be any good. After realizing the game was actually pretty decent I started contemplating again, but after this morning all those thoughts have gone out the window. Along with many others, I’m beginning to wonder what this news for Champions Online might mean for the future of STO. If a F2P Champions Online proves to be a success, I don’t think it’s a stretch to predict that STO (regardless of how well it’s doing now) may soon follow in its footsteps as well.