The End Of An Era For Lifetime Memberships

October 26, 2010

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.


  1. That’s an interesting point about STO. When turbine saw DDO’s success it honestly didn’t take very long for them to move on LOTRO going the same route. I bet you anything Turbines next game will start with f2p in mind, and if STO goes f2p, the same deal for cryptic.

    Thing is i don’t like most of their models much. Turbines prices seem to be fair, but I like RoM’s model in that you could essentially level to max without ever considering paying any money. The end game was where you played and there was loads of end game content.

    • The more I think about it, the more I think STO will soon follow the switch to the F2P model. A part of me does think Champions Online is to Cryptic what DDO was to Turbine, their way of testing the F2P waters, so to speak.

  2. I do welcome the f2p changeover for a lot of games as it has increased the number of players by quite a lot,particularly in regard to Turbines offerings.

    I do have a small bone to pick though as regards LTS customers and how it has been handled; I took my LTS out roughly 11 months before LOTRO went free to play, all well and good, I paid $199 for my subscription and because of the conversion rate at the time I actually ended up well in pocket over the monthly rate.

    For a lot of people this really won’t have worked out quite so well. It would have been nice for Turbine to give the choice for LTS customers of under a year to receive back a portion of their fee. After as you said not everyone wants the in-game credits

    • Yeah it would have been nice if no refund rules were waived for people who bought their LTSs close to the F2P announcement. I’m sure when the idea of LTS was floated, I doubted many people foresaw how many sub-based games would switch to F2P this year. Plus, going F2P is no longer the “safety net” I used to think of it as, when even good-sized games with healthy populations like LOTRO are going that route, even though truthfully theirs is a more complicated “freemium” model.

    • When it comes to lifetime subs and games going to a new (f2p) revenue model, I think “worth it” it depends on how the company handles the conversion.

      For LOTRO, the deal with the lifetime subscription was, “you give us $200 (or $300, depending on when) up front and you will never pay a monthly/recurring subscription fee for the game”. When they went to the new pricing model, they not only kept that deal by giving all lifetimes VIP access to the game, they allowed them to have the VIP perk of 500 Turbine Points/month.

      Now, if the subscriber had been given the option back in January, maybe he or she would have chosen a Free or Premium account status over lifetime. I would say, though, that if the lifetime deal was worth it to the player back then, it is still a good deal now. Nothing was lost and 500 TP/month was gained. Would it be nice to have part of the $200 back? Sure. The same can be said, though, if I buy a television set in January and the retailer has a cheaper offer in August. It would be great to have the difference back and be able to change what I bought, but it is not expected to happen.

      Now, that is the logical way to look at things. Reality and the human mind being what they are, I do understand the psychological way is often different. I would probably be a annoyed if a recent lifetime purchase was for a game that then went f2p.

      On the flipside of that, though, there were also people annoyed at LOTRO for removing the lifetime option and they asked Turbine to bring it back. So there are still people who think it is a good deal under the new model and who envy those players who took advantage of it when it was offered.

      • There are probably a lot of games out right now not worth paying $15 a month for, by that I mean based on time restraints. Even some of the games I’m playing currently, I’ll admit I’m not logging near enough time as I would like. A $200 investment for a lifetime sub would be the best for someone like me who comes and goes from the game sporadically, over a period of years. So definitely, if I had gotten the LTS at launch, I would have gotten a real good deal.

        If I had gotten it back in January though…I’m not so sure then. You get the points every month once the game goes F2P, but perhaps I won’t even play enough to be able to take advantage of it. On the other hand, if I choose the free/premium path, yes I’ll have to pay for the extra content when I pick up the game again but I know I’ll play it. Then maybe I’ll take a break for another few months, come back and buy more content and play that too. In the end, I think it comes down to how “into” a game you are. I would go with a VIP account without a second thought if I knew beforehand I was going to play a lot of LOTRO for the next little while. But if I’m only casual then paying piecemeal for anything I want from the game will probably save me more money in the long run.

  3. I’m pretty sure STO will go FTP too. It’s the same company and from what I’ve heard, both had around the same subscriptions number. If it’s good for Champions there’s no reason not to do it with STO.

    In fact it would be perfect for me as I feel STO would really benifit from the F2P model. For me STO is an itch that comes up from time to time and I can be weeks without playing in between. I don’t like having to suscribe/unsuscribe so a F2P would solve all my problems.

    • I was always under the impression that STO’s subscription numbers were higher, but in the end, you’re right, I don’t think that would matter; if F2P Champions does well then it’s just a matter of time. To be honest, a F2P STO will suit me just fine too, though I wonder if that happens how they would handle the weekly content.

  4. With so many games going F2P I don’t see any reason why someone would purchase a lifetime sub anymore.

    • So many games going F2P as well as so many games coming out in general. It’s harder and harder to stay with one game for the long term when there’s always something newer and shinier coming out every few months.

    • Because they’re not true F2P models but hybrid-subscription models. Personally I would still purchase a lifetime sub if it was an IP that I really liked an know I’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of. For instance the upcoming Warhammer 40K.

  5. If you bought a lifetime sub to LoTRO around launch, it was and remains a fantastic deal. I get all the perks of a premium account including wracking up free Turbine points without ever having to pay. If I had bought one two months before the FtP announcement, however, I’m not sure I’d feel so good about it.

    Honestly though, LoTRO was a fluke. Hellgate, CO, and STO all offered lifetime subs, and I can’t say any of those seem to have been worth it in retrospect. Hellgate especially, I really feel bad for anyone that went lifer on that one.

    • LOTRO is indeed a fluke, and an exception to the pattern. From everything I’ve heard, it was doing pretty well even before it went F2P so it was a shocker to me when it switched. It’s also a great game, and everyone knew it. For those reasons, I would have been less upset even if I had gotten a LTS mere months before the F2P announcement. I can see myself grumbling a little, but hey, at least it’s for a reputable and quality game.

      • I don’t get that argument though. A LTS means you don’t have to buy content from the store or worry about ever losing access to stuff if you stop paying the monthly fee. There’s really no difference between the LTS before the hybrid-F2P and after in my mind.

      • I guess in the end it would come down to how into the game you are, like you pointed out above. If you bought the LTS back in January hoping to play casually over many years, then it goes free to play and you realized afterward you could have still enjoyed yourself without all the extras, then the LTS might not feel like it was such a good idea. On the other hand, I do get a lot more enjoyment out of LOTRO, more so than a lot of other games, and there’s a lot more reason to invest yourself, and so the perks and points then actually feel useful.

  6. The bigger issue in my mind people overlook is that Champions was a game alot of people would “try out” or probably enjoy alot more, if not for the fact it was $15. Now hold on, don’t think me shallow or uncaring of the hardcore lifer who loves the game, i just think those people are far and between casuals who would actually play the game as a WoW or insert your mega popular MMO here, but just can’t afford to cater to every mmo addiction that comes up.

    Champions from what i’ve seen is a good game with loads of potential, but the thing about it is, it’s not top tier, and it’ll never garner a massive community on that kind of scale.

    So looking at it, maybe you could play it dedicatedly and enjoy it, but the real point of a massively MULTIPLAYER online game is to play with other people.

    If the game is free and on par, there will be alot of new blood added to the game, and life restored to something that would’ve eventually died off anyway. Now it’s really up to cryptic to raise the bar of their game and show what they can do in that realm.

    In a way, i think this adds to the excitement of the game, for the lifers and new comers alike. There’s no pressure to meet numbers or anything business like. This is officially in my mind, a labor of love, it has gone to a place where there’re no more excuses for the game to get where it was expected to be well over a year ago.

    On the subject of lifetime subs, in my experience it always “feels” like “Oh they want $200 bucks upfront huh? small incriments from a c-store of cool stuff i’d love to have but could do without? There’s no way it’ll last”

    That’s what i always think, but then WoW got in on the game of “special” stuff you can buy….and well, while i feel it doesn’t hurt anyone for someone else to have a special pet, or costume, or whatever for extra money, you do what you want with your cash, just so long as it doesn’t offer some unfair advantage i’d die to have…because now just like anyone else who’s serious about the game, my back’s against the wall and i pretty much have no choice but to buy it.

    Perfect example XD , Let’s say SWTOR launches, and within a couple days, a standard issue set of Mandalorian Armor comes out, pure customizable, Jango Fett, Jaster Mareel style armor comes out………$20 bucks, damn 😦 no choice…but how foolish will i feel, and how special will i be, when everyone and their Momma buy’s the same thing? Oiy…so off subject.

    • Champions is definitely a more “casual” game, I don’t think you’re wrong about that. At least, that was the feeling I got from my short stint with it, and it’s the feeling I get with Cryptic’s other game Star Trek Online as well. Those games certainly fill a special niche, and I think they do it very well. For that reason, I hope Champions will flourish under a F2P model, just because I feel it does have a style well suited for that. And a superhero game can always benefit from more players. I really can’t wait to go back and play my old character again.

      Anyway, I’m with you regarding C-stores and such. As long as what you’re selling won’t give the person an unfair advantage over others. I don’t mind accelerated experience potions and such, but something like gear with stats would definitely be pushing it. But thankfully, so far that’s really rare to see. As for the other fluff, well, I’ve never held it against anyone for wanting to spend real life money in an online game store. God knows I buy my share of stupid pets and costume pieces 😛 Though I can’t say I like it when companies blatantly charge way overprice just because they know they can get away with it, but hey, like you said, people can do what they want with their money. What something is worth is determined in the individual’s mind, after all.

  7. I tend to agree with you. Actually the F2P (FTP is a protocol, F2P the subscription model to this geek) trend is something I thought should have been something of the standard back in 1999. Back then I tried Everquest and detested it. I had chosen it over Asheron’s Call. After a week of loathing I decided to give AC a try. That required a purchase of another client.

    However I lamented to my friend, why are they charging for the client? The money is in the residuals, not the client. I had no problems paying up front for single-player or non-MMO games but MMOs with monthly fees? Seemed like a barrier to entry. I still bought AC. I still played it for close to 5 years thus proving my point ($39.95 client, $597 in subscription fees).

    Recently the games which have gotten the bulk of my MMO budget have been F2P. Runes of Magic, Atlantica, (now) LotRO, Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates just to name a few.

    The reason is simple. I got to try for an extended period of time. I got to like it. I spent money on what I like. The low barrier to entry generates more customers.

    A lifetime sub seems to be the complete opposite. Sure, you’ll get some people who will buy into it but the barrier to that segment is exceptionally high. They won’t get a lot of people that way.

    The two models have a similar perk. Not playing this month? No problem. You’re not charged and don’t have to twiddle with deactivating/reactivating a sub. F2P just makes it far easier to do.

    As for CO going F2P, neat, maybe my wife and I will return and play our Duo a bit more. STO going F2P? Meh. The title I’m looking forward to being F2P is PotBS. 🙂

    • Wow, nice write up, you said a lot of things that had been on my mind but you managed to put it in a way that’s so much more coherent 😛 For better or worse, I do like to live in the here and now. In the end, putting $200-$300 up front for a game that might be good, that I might enjoy, that I might play over many years to come was just too hard for me to do. I have nothing against the LTS model, because it is nice to be able to not play some months and not have to worry. However, my track record with commitment to a game is poor enough to warrant more consideration. In this case, the F2P model works better with my MMO ADD, I pay for something only when I want it, right then and there.

  8. I’ll be all over the Champions Online F2P offer. Its a fun game but not worth a subsciption imo but perhaps I’m just saying that since I struggled away in closed beta and was shocked to see them launch a half baked game.

    • I’m excited for the announcement. Several bloggers I read play Champions and some of stuff I’ve seen and read looks really cool, but limited time and money has always held me back from subbing.

  9. With lifetime subs and freemium games you still come out on top IMO. You still get benefits and don’t have to pay extra for things that you still would have to.

    I have one lifetime sub and it’s for a FTP freemium type game and I’m actually glad I have it. It was very cheap and it really does help out when I play.

    Many game companies might not consider it in the future but it’s still a decent deal with some games that still offer a subscription because most of these downright suck if you play them 100% free.

    • True, some item store purchases make your life a lot easier, but now we’re seeing more instances where it’s nigh impossible to level unless you buy certain content. Lifetime could still let you get a pretty good deal as long as you’re going to play and there’s always something worth buying.

  10. So many replies! This topic certainly has legs.

    Honestly, I can’t see companies bother to offer lifetime subscriptions anymore. Of course, there are two types of F2P out there. There’s the play free but subscribe to get everything model (CO, EQ2X) and there’s the microtransaction model (DDO, LotRO, W101). With the first, lifetime subs would be valid since getting people to subscribe is still the goal. But I don’t see companies offering what is essentially three different pay options.

    As for CO, I’m still pretty happy with my purchase. I got a lot out of the money I put in and I’m not losing anything by switching over.

    • Both F2P models work for me, though the more flexible the better, and if there’s still a way for a company to offer a LTS in the future, I’m always for more options when it comes to payment models.

  11. […] of the week for me on the commentary was MMO Gamer Chick’s thoughts on what this means for lifetime […]

  12. I still say that Guild Wars offers the best “lifetime subscription” on the market. Wizard 101 and DDO have nice bite-sized versions of the same model. The LOTRO and CO lifetime subs simply don’t compare in my book.

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