LOTRO: The Return of Lifetime Subscriptions?
Please note the question mark in the title. This is not a news post announcing that Standing Stone Games are offering lifetime subscriptions for The Lord of the Rings Online once again. Don’t go getting over excited. I am simply raising the question as to why they haven’t chosen to do this since they announced their “acquisition” of both LOTRO and DDO back in December 2016. Because broadly speaking, it would appear that LOTRO is doing well under the auspices of SSG as opposed to Turbine. The game had a much-needed expansion, Mordor, added a new race and has a clear road map for what is beyond the recently released Update 23: Where Dragons Dwell. Furthermore, we have the imminent launch of a new progression server on the 8th of November. The licensing issue has been laid to rest and changes at Middle-earth Enterprises and the Tolkien Estate have surely had beneficial results. The game may not have the player base of some MMOs, but its core audience appears to be loyal and stable. Surely, with LOTRO enjoying a gaming renaissance, now would be a good period to capitalise upon?
Some people will argue that lifetime subscriptions are not necessarily good for the MMO genre. It raises capital for the developers in the short term but may discourage further expenditure from players in the future. Certainly, in the days of subscription only MMOs, that may have been plausible. However, as most games of this type now have a F2P hybrid model with additional tiers of payment, I’m not sure if such an argument holds true. Lifetime accounts may well offer a monthly stipend of in-game store currency, but it doesn’t cover expansions packs and such like. Furthermore, stipends accrue at a fixed rate and sometimes having only half of the cost of an in-store item may encourage the player to avoid waiting and buy further currency. Simply put, you could write multiple posts about the psychology of MMO players and what determines their personal spending habits. Hence binary statements about the effectiveness of lifetime subscriptions are not so relevant.
Star Trek Online, another MMO with a hybrid business model, still offers lifetime subscriptions. They currently have a sale where the price for such an account has been discounted from $299.99 to $199.99 (sale ends 6th December). The game no longer offers monthly subscriptions (which was $14.99) and has replaced them with a “starter pack” that allows you to permanently unlock most of the same perpetual benefits for a one-time fee. However, when you add up the cost of all the services and features that are contained with the lifetime subscription, there is still a substantial discount compared to purchasing them individually. I bought such a subscription back in April 2015 and consider it to be excellent value. In recent months I have begun to feel that it was a mistake not to have done the same with LOTRO back in the Codemasters days. The irony is that I tracked down a Collector Edition, complete with a lifetime account code, earlier this year. Sadly, the grace period in which SSG honoured such products has long expired.
SSG have experimented with various methods of monetising LOTRO over the last two years. The Mordor expansion saw an increase in lootboxes within the game that has subsequently been dialled back, possibly due to their unpopularity and the changes in the law in specific European countries. The new Legendary Server which launches soon requires a VIP subscription for access. Then there is the outstanding issue of a new class being added to the game, that will naturally require purchasing. Surely offering lifetime subscriptions or something of a similar nature is the next logical step. There are many LOTRO players who already have them, but there are equally players like me, who missed the boat or were reticent to buy last time they were available. Because a lot of the doubts about the games long term future have now been addressed, I would welcome the opportunity to purchase such a service. LOTRO has a very dedicated playerbase, many of whom are “altaholics”. I suspect that the demand for a new lifetime subscription offer would be surprisingly high. I hope that SSG therefore considers this option.