LOTRO Legendarium: Was LOTRO’s lifetime sub the best deal ever?

    
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LOTRO Legendarium: Was LOTRO’s lifetime sub the best deal ever?

When Lord of the Rings Online ramped up to its launch in early 2007, Turbine offered a tantalizing deal to potential players. If they were willing to part with $299 up front ($199 for LOTRO’s founders), the studio would flag their account as a lifetime subscription. This meant that from then on, they wouldn’t have to worry about a monthly fee.

The choice of a lifetime sub was pretty popular around the mid-to-late 2000s, and it always was a dicey deal. For the studio, it was looking for a large up-front infusion of cash and betting that a good chunk of those mini-whales who spent two Ben Franklins wouldn’t actually get the full use out of that sub. If a player who bought a lifetime sub for $299 and only played for six months, well, Turbine was up $209 that it wouldn’t have received from that player otherwise.

There were a couple other upshots for the studio with this deal as well. Players who had invested in a lifetime sub had also invested in the game and were more strongly tethered to it — meaning that those players were more likely to keep playing or return frequently. And lifetime subbers could form the backbone of the population and serve as long-term evangelists that would promote the game to their friends.

From the player’s perspective, $299 was a significant investment to make, especially back at the start of a then-unproven MMO’s lifespan. Players had to be sure of an unsure thing — that the game would last, that they would be interested in it for the long haul, and that this would ultimately pay off in their favor.

Simple math laid out the stakes: A player who got a $200 lifetime subscription would need to enjoy the game for more than 13 months to break even, while a $300 lifetime sub meant that 20 months would be required for that same break-even point. It probably seemed like a long time to start enjoying the game effectively for free — at least at the onset.

However, keep in mind that in 2007, the MMORPG industry was deep in its subscription-only mindset. Pretty much every online game required a monthly sub, and cash-strapped players felt torn paying for multiple subs just to have the option to bounce around to different titles during the same 30-day period. A lifetime sub back then created that opportunity and gave players more options while lessening the mental pressure of needing to play LOTRO to justify a monthly sub.

So to put it another way, the lifetime sub was short-term insurance for the studio and long-time insurance for players. The longer the game went on and a lifetime player was using it, the more value they got while Turbine’s up-front windfall got degraded by many months of potential revenue that it had to forgo.

The lifetime subscription increased in its value in the fall of 2010 when the game went free-to-play. Now the package didn’t merely allow for access — everyone had that at that point — but it opened a lot of doors that the F2P crowd had to pay to pass through. All content (except expansions) was unlocked, and many small advantages and bonuses — including a monthly store currency stipend — were granted to these accounts.

Two years to see a ROI for a lifetime subscription at the start of LOTRO’s lifespan might’ve seemed a huge length of time, but now that we’re over 13 years of operation, it comes off as a blip. A player who bought a lifetime sub in 2007 was effectively receiving a free monthly subscription by 2009 — and the 11 years that followed. It ended up being a fantastic deal for LOTRO’s long-term players, which this MMO had more than others.

In fact, the monthly 500 point stipend meant that a smart lifetime subber could (and often did) simply save up those points to use toward purchasing expansions for free. This meant that Turbine/SSG cut itself off from two streams of revenue from this crowd, making it even more difficult to extract cash from players who simply didn’t need to pay for content.

The studio’s response has been to try a variety of methods to crack open the wallets of lifetimers. There was the appeal to cosmetics and housing items, but soon enough, more “whalish” options started popping up: expensive expansion pre-order packages with exclusive bonuses, premium housing, and as of 2020, “mini-expansions” that couldn’t be bought with points until a much later date.

I’ve never heard LOTRO’s developers openly discussing how they or the studio as a whole feel about lifetime subbers, but my guess is that while they’re glad people have stuck around for so long, they may very well regret having put it into place without an expiration date. There’s a slice — no one knows how big or small — of current players that aren’t even candidates to pay for a subscription, and that has to grate.

But I’m not here to advocate for the studio; I’ve held a lifetime sub for a decade now and am pretty happy with what it’s provided for me. It certainly helped me to stay interested in LOTRO for much longer than I might’ve otherwise, and there’s a certain glow it gives to me when I think about how much value I’ve gotten out of it (and might continue to) so far.

I am disturbed to see SSG’s trying to sneak its way around subscriptions, which I’ve already addressed in a previous column. But by and large, it’s one of those rare instances when a lifetime subscription didn’t end up scamming players but gave them a deal of a — shall I say it? — lifetime.

Every two weeks, the LOTRO Legendarium goes on an adventure (horrid things, those) through the wondrous, terrifying, inspiring, and, well, legendary online world of Middle-earth. Justin has been playing LOTRO since its launch in 2007! If you have a topic for the column, send it to him at justin@massivelyop.com.

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GamerLadyJules

I haven’t logged into my lifetime account in a while, but might have to sometime just to see what’s changed.

I still even have the original lifetime special edition box and everything in it.

I didn’t think any of it would be worth anything now?

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Neurotic

I wish I had picked up the STO lifetime, that would have suited me to a tee.

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Yuge McBigly

I was a founder and picked up the $199 lifetime sub. This article forgets one thing though. There was another option for founders to take a $9.99 monthly fee instead of the $14.99. Also, you could give either option to someone. My wife, for example, was not a founder but still was able to take the $9.99 sub option.

She hasn’t played in years. I have often wondered what happened to people that had that $9.99 option when they went to F2P.

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Xsorus .

Yes, 100% yes….and I don’t even play the game all the time, Just pop in and play for a couple months at a time every so often.

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Axetwin .

I’ve been thinking about maybe picking up the Lifetime Sub for STO. Is it worth it?

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Tandor

My two lifetime subs were the best gaming investment I’ve made. I played both accounts solidly for a good time, certainly long enough to make them very worthwhile, and have since dropped in and out of the game with one of them but not the other. They currently have circa 20,000 and circa 35,000 store points respectively so the game is completely F2P for me and still very enjoyable. It may or may not have been a good deal for Turbine/SSG but for me it was brilliant. No regrets, other than for the fact that I haven’t been able achieve the same bargain in any other of my long-term “go-t0” MMOs like EQ, EQ2 and ESO!

jimthomasUS
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jimthomasUS

The LotRO lifetime sub killed the game. Best deal with the devil maybe.

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Bruno Brito

Not really, no.

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Anstalt

I often regretted not buying the lifetime sub. I wouldn’t have bought it at the start, but i remember one special deal where the lifetime sub dropped to £75.

Instead, i subbed normally, so Turbine got nearly £500 out of me between subs and expacs over the years that i played.

waynen12
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waynen12

Yeah, I bought it during that special deal for 75. I remember being really annoyed when they went free to play literally a couple of months later.

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ogged451

My answer to the title : well, yes it is, but it’s a tie with the TSW Grandmaster :)

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Kanbe

And at least LOTRO didn’t relaunch the game to get around get around the lifetime sub

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ogged451

Dunno, my GM status is still honored in both SWL and TSW.

Also, SWL was worth two hours of new story content. That has to count for something, right ?