Monday, August 3, 2009

When is a Lifetime Subscription Worth The Money?

Syp is concerned about the lifetime subscription option for Champions Online. Cryptic is offering a $200 lifetime subscription, but only if you buy buy buy now now now, as the deal goes away before the game even launches. Syp wonders if it demonstrates a lack of faith, as if the company "crunched some numbers, and figured that on average, it’s better to sell a $200 sub than hope that you can get a player hooked long enough to end up spending more than $200 in monthly fees."

There are several mitigating factors. First off, guaranteed money in the studio's pocket right now has slightly more value than a somewhat larger sum of money paid into the studio's pocket over a matter of years, even if the gamer never cancels. They're working to launch apparently as many as three MMORPG's (Star Trek I'd heard about, no idea what the third one is), and cash on hand now could make a big difference in the kinds of financing terms they can get going forward.

Second, Champions Online is offering RMT item transactions, including both cosmetic perks and gameplay boosts. You can't sell microtransactions to someone who isn't playing the game anymore, and you could imagine players feeling like they can be more liberal with the purse strings because they're not paying a monthly fee anymore. Also, you might predict that someone impulsive enough to spend $200 on the game sight unseen might be impulsive enough to spend big on cosmetic stuff.

There is a bit of a feel of a scam when you have to make the decision sight unseen - they have yet to drop the NDA on the beta, much less allow a real open beta - but I don't know how much I would read into it.

Is a Lifetime Sub EVER worth it?
That said, I don't think I would ever take a $200 lifetime subscription, perhaps not even from Blizzard. At the not-at-all-discounted $15/month rate, you won't spend more than $200 in monthly fees until your 15th month in the game (including the month that you pay for when you buy the box). This presumes that there isn't a stretch in that 15 months when you WOULD have canceled if it were costing you money, but logged in once a month for novelty because you could. And really, you're talking about betting $200 now in the hopes of saving later, so I'd hope you'd be gunning for a slightly better than break-even payout.

I would absolutely jump on the OTHER Champions Online deal, a $60/6 month special, if I had any interest in the game. That discount gets you a total of 7 months for $110 (comes out to $15.71 per month), and you break even on the deal at 4 months and 1 day. I'm reasonably confident that I can predict whether I'm going to be out of a game in four months. Once you start talking about two years, though, I'd rather just take my chances on paying more in the long term.


DeftyJames said...

I certainly agree with you about the time value of money. I also think there is another reason to do it and that is to gauge interest in the game. If I were a developer I'd be very interested in knowing what percentage of the closed beta signed up for the life time sub. I would think that it would be these people who are the target of this promotion, not the people who are outside.

Unlike, you however, I think lifetime could be really valuable. I would have gone that route last year with LOTRO if I hadn't decided that I was going to stick with WoW instead. One reason a lifetime sub is appealing to me is that it takes some of the pressure off. One thing I don't like about going month-to-month is that I feel near the end of the month I have to play a lot to get my money's worth. It's quite silly when it's only 50 cents a day but there you have it; I feel that way because I might not be playing for the the next month or so. If I had a lifetime sub I would feel I could pace my playing around my own schedule rather than a renewal schedule. If WoW had a lifetime for $200 I'd jump in a heartbeat. Even at $300 I'd seriously consider it.

Harmen said...

DeftyJames, that's what's so nice about the current free to play games. You pay a little for a horse, which is permanent, and then you can play in your own pace. No 'obligations' to play a certain amount of hours per month.

unwize said...

The only reason I've ever regretted buying a lifetime sub for LotRO is that I forfeited my right to withdraw my subscription in protest.

Other than that, there have only been a few months since launch when I haven't played much LotRO, and the sub paid for itself a long time ago.

However, there's no chance in hell I would shell out for a lifetime sub before getting a chance to play the game in question. LotRO had a big open beta. If Champions doesn't have the same or similar I'd be very concerned about its current state.

Stabs said...

Well there's two sides: the mathematical and the psychological.

Mathematically 15 months is the clear answer to the question. Subbing for WoW would have been an obviously good move for me as I played it for 4 years and may go back to it in the future.

Psychologically the following are plusses:
- one payment, not fiddling about every month. I don't use the card much so I don't really want to generate bills in months where I otherwise wouldn't

- you might get upset less with tweaks. You know you are there for the duration so if your druid gets nerfed into the ground you might think Ho Hum, time to roll a Warrior rather than emo-cancelling.

- You become a salesman for the game. If your regular group is pondering whether to play DCUO or Champs you HAVE to make them play Champs or your investment is wasted.

- for some people nerfs will be more upsetting because you're kinda trapped into playing whatever they do

- You might gamble on loving it and be wrong. I was sure I'd be playing AoC for a long time before I bought it, I'm 30 years a Conan fan.

- they might close. "Lifetime" probably means the game's lifetime not mine and that's totally out of my control.

- you still have to fork out for expansions. In fact you might fork out for expansions you wouldn't otherwise have bothered with. Bet there's a few lifetime Lotro players who don't play much any more but still bought MoM.

Armagon said...

It would have saved me tons of money for WoW. But I'd never gotten it pre-launch. Maybe after being hooked for a few months and then paying up to the 15 additional months.

So I doubt I'll ever get a lifetime subscription, still playing WoW and thinking hard about a month of WAR here or whether to check out LotRO or even start with Aion...

Green Armadillo said...

Quoth Stabs: "Mathematically 15 months is the clear answer to the question."

I'd argue that the math is not that straightforward. Buying the lifetime subscription is making a $200 bet. When you make a $5 bet with your friend about who will win a duel, the difference between your cash if you win and your cash if you lose is $10, 200% of the money you risked. At 15 months into your lifetime subscription, the difference is $10 (assuming no multi-month discounts, and zero inflation), but that's a mere 5% of the money you risked, and you had to wait over a year to collect.

Now, you're right that you can win eventually. The bet on a $200 lifetime sub to WoW (which Blizzard sensibly never offered) would have paid out at better than 3:1 odds for me over the last 4.5 years. However, that's not the only variable. You also have to consider your income - in 2004 I was a student, and that was a lot of money to pay upfront - and your expected odds of winning. The pot gets bigger with each month you stay in the game, but the odds of that happening at the time you have to make the bet are hard to determine. How much risk you want takes the objective math and makes it very subjective.

Anonymous said...

I have a lifetime subscription to LotRO (it was my first MMO) and even though I usually play WoW now I have found that LotRO is a good "when WoW's not up or I need a break" game. I mean, I have already paid for it so its just there for me.

The only downside is when I see Turbine reporting LotRO numbers. I know I am counted as an active subscriber even though I dont play much anymore. I wonder how many in their "total subscribers" count arent even playing the game.

spinksville said...

Good post (I should have gone through my news reader before posting this afternoon :)). I was thinking much the same.

I think the lifetime sub is a good deal if you have the money spare, like the idea, and don't like the idea of subs. It means you get to drop in and out whenever you like forever. And that kind of convenience could be worth a lot, especially to people who have seen the beta and liked it.

Tesh said...

I still prefer the Guild Wars "lifetime sub" model. Buy the box, you're a lifer. If you want later options via expansions, you buy them, straight up. If you don't want them, you can continue to play with what you have.

...and what *is* the metric for "break even" anyway? Assuming the $15/month as a baseline still strikes me as a strange metric. Is it worth *your* time and money? If so, great! If not, consoling yourself with the notion that "a year and a third later, I'll have broken even" is silly.

Green Armadillo said...

@Tesh: You're assessing what I would call "relative" worth, i.e. is the product worth the amount of money that's being asked for it. I'm looking at "absolute" worth - i.e. which plan delivers the gaming experience I'm looking for for the lower absolute dollar amount.

Let me use LOTRO as an example to illustrate. Unless Turbine delivers far more than I expect them to, I will have spent a total of $50-80 on LOTRO subscription fees to get all of the LOTRO time that I wanted in the game's first three years of release. It is possible that, in relative terms, the $200 lifetime subscription might still have been "worth it" if it were lifetime or nothing. In absolute terms, though, I got what I wanted from Turbine for $120-150 less than I would have paid under the lifetime option. To put that difference into perspective, I could take the money I saved, buy a six month subscription to Champions online, and still have money left over.

That's why both the relative and the absolute worth matter.

Seán Fornelli said...

I played City of Heroes for 2+ years. I played WoW for that long or longer. I do not play either game anymore because I don't want to pay the monthly fee.
I signed for the LOTRO lifetime subscription during the beta and have never regretted it.
If City of Heroes or WoW had a lifetime subscription, I'd pony up for it today and start playing again.
These days, if a game doesn't have a lifetime rate, I don't even consider it. Sure, that means I don't play many games, but really, who's got that kind of time?

Anjin said...

I kind of like Spinks' response. A lot of factors would have to be present for me to consider a lifetime subscription: how much I like the game, how much I anticipate playing over the coming months and years, how affordable such a large purchase might be for my current finances, and how confident I am that the game will survive long enough to extract equivalent value for the price. My head pounds just thinking about it.