Thursday, 29 April 2010


With mounting worries about the LOTRO’s future after the Warner Bros buyout, allied to speculation about Turbine’s financial health (WB wouldn’t have bought it if it wasn’t profitable or it wouldn’t have been sold if it was in good health – take your pick!), there has been a marked tendency for observers, educated and otherwise, to ascribe the apparent decline in the game’s quality over the last year to the lifetime subscription experiment. While conceding the value of the original financial shot in the arm during LOTRO’s early days, the argument goes, we lifetime subscribers are now parasitic on the game, contributing nothing to development. Indeed, some forum posts have suggested, lifetime subscribers are largely responsible for the current doldrums. By the same token, many lifetimers moan that for these reasons, Turbine regards them as less that the dust on its feet, and completely fails to take their interests to heart – the not illogical implication here being that this particular group of players is more likely to be picky and demanding.

I say that’s rubbish. It’s true that lifetimers no longer pay a monthly subscription; on the other hand, this scenario completely ignores the crucial fact that lifetime subscribers actually represent a large and essentially captive pool of customers for paid expansions. Let me put it this way: say that a monthly subscriber, cheesed off by the paucity of content since Vol. III/Book 1 was released earlier this year, decides to cancel his subscription on 1 May. From this point on, both the lapsed subscriber and a lifetime subscriber are contributing the same amount to Turbine’s kitty, namely nothing. However, let’s be optimistic and say that on 1 November, Turbine release a wonderful new boxed expansion, with a new landmass and even (as long as we’re dreaming) a fully revised LI system, retailing for about 30 euros. My guess is that at that point, the vast majority of lifetime subscribers, even those who perhaps haven’t logged on since early summer, will fork out for the expansion – after all, the game hasn’t cost them anything for over half a year, and what’s more, there is little or no hassle involved. However, what are the chances that lapsed monthly subscribers will do the same, given that just buying the box won’t be enough – they’ll also have to go to the trouble and expense of re-subscribing?

Lifetime subscriptions may or may not have been a good thing for Turbine from an actuarial point of view; that depends very much on the specifics of the company’s financing and accounting. But I don’t believe that ongoing financial problems, if any, can be ascribed to the existence of lifetime subscribers; if we don’t pay for the swings, we pay for the roundabouts, and we mostly do so quite happily.


Nalorin said...

…nevermind the fact that lifetime-subscribers helped the development of the game in its early stages by fronting quite an amount of cash.

Yeebo said...

I think you are dead on.

I also suspect that the huge influx of cash from lifetime subbers largely funded the development of Moria. The lack of another big influx may explain why the expansion that followed was so modest in comparison.