Perks for the Old Timers

Star Trek Online recently announced a slew of perks for lifetime subscribers.  Cryptic liked the idea so much that they offered similar perks to Champions Online players as well.

Customers who are dedicated to being with either of these games for the long run get a special chat channel, VIP lounge in game, title, costume piece, and the ability to skip to the front of the queue any time the game has login queues.

I’m not a lifetime sub holder for either of those games, but I think it’s a great idea. After all, the lifetime players are potentially the core of the player base. They are the people who liked the game so much that they put up a lifetime sub up front, which is a kind of pledge to say that they are interested in seeing how it develops and will be inclined to keep dropping in. If you are a committed player, one of your big issues up front is knowing that so many of the people you meet when the game is new will not still be there in a month or two’s time.

It’s very easy to put a lot of energy into forming guilds, making friends, laying down foundations for long term game relationships and then find … that your guild and group of friends has vaporised. So having a chat channel and meeting room for other players who are in for the long term can at least offer the option to hang out with other people who are less likely to just vanish.

City of Heroes took another approach. They offered  account rewards to players who had subscribed for different amounts of time. On your characters three-month/six-month/etc birthday, the new item would appear, as if it was a kind of gift. Here’s the list of CoH veteran rewards – they include titles, pets, costume pieces, wings… and towards the longer end of the spectrum, extra abilities and perks are also included.

I’ve always been dubious of this scheme because I see how keen my husband is to keep his sub active even when he isn’t really playing much CoH, and it’s because he’s keen not to lose any possible future veteran rewards. But it doubtless works well for NCSoft.

(Note: I have nothing against gambling. I just don’t see the point in paying a sub for a game you don’t play. If these perks could be bought from the cash shop, I’d think nothing of it.)

EVE Online is notorious for its real time training system, which means that a new player will never have as many abilities as an older one. They cannot catch up. A new player can still be effective, they just won’t have the wide range of skills to choose from. So in a sense, flexibility is the EVE veteran reward. And after a point, either CCP start to put in new abilities (where everyone starts to train at the same time) or else diminishing returns means that the effect isn’t very marked in most situations.

Old vs New, Lifetime vs Sub

As I play LOTRO, I wonder if the player community is fragmented between lifetime subscribers and regular subscribers. The lifetime group know that they all will probably keep coming back, although they may also take long breaks, whereas regular subs might get bored and decide to quit at any time.

Lifetimers, because they’re more committed, are also more likely to pursue some of the grindier endgame options. They’re more likely to have maxed out crafting, more likely to have several alts, more likely to be raiding. I know that if I need crafting done, it’s likely to be one of the lifetime players who I will ask, because they have the maxed out skills.

Of course, there will also be lifetime players who later went off the game. Maybe they felt they got their moneys worth and lost interest, or maybe they just took a long break, forgot to come back, and then felt it wasn’t worth the effort. But you won’t generally meet them in game (because they aren’t there!)

I’m not entirely sure what they think of transient me. Even my recent three month stint is probably a drop in the ocean to lifetime players, who think more in terms of years than of months. (It’s kind of like being a hobbit in amongst the elves!) This is not to say that they aren’t all very nice, they are. But I like the sense that the community has different depths, and that there’s a place for different levels of commitment to the game.

What is a good veteran reward?

It is generally assumed in MMOs that the more time you put in, the more your character will progress. So there’s always been a vague notion that people who have played longer and put in more hours deserve to have better characters.

Unfortunately, if this was actually true, it would be difficult to attract new players. It’s not impossible; a design like EVEs which rewards old timers with more flexibility still leaves room for a newbie to play alongside the rest of the playerbase.

So the best of the veteran rewards compensate the vets for the fact that they are not actually immortal demigods compared to newer players, and for the fact that endgame is often reset with each expansion.

Probably the best ever veteran rewards came with MUDs, which allowed longterm players to become imps (implementors) and help create new areas and quests in the game. Others included new veteran classes, that could only be started if you had one character at max level (Death Knights in WoW are a similar type of reward).

But it is an interesting and ongoing issue. MMO Devs would like to reward longterm players, if only because it encourages people to keep playing. (This is irrespective of whether the game is paid by subs or a cash shop.) But they have to find a way to do it that won’t put off the new blood which they also so desperately need.

In that context, I think Cryptic has done a good job with their lifetime rewards. Time will tell.

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9 thoughts on “Perks for the Old Timers

  1. I think Cryptic’s slant sounds best to me. Giving lifers something above and beyond what anyone else can get makes sense: lifers ponied up, above and beyond, so they should get the VIP treatment.

    The longevity rewards are nice, but the fact is that everyone WILL get them…it’s only a matter of time. Same with EVE. In EVE, though, no two paths are the same, unlike level based systems, so a 10m SP character can be as effective as a 100m SP player…just in different ships.

    And I don’t know for certain, but I THINK that one only has to have an account “in good standing” (not banned) in CoH to pick up those rewards. I’ve lapsed several times over the years, and have found new things waiting for me whenever I re-sub…

  2. Ultima Online already had the “veteran reward system” of CoH. After a while it changed that it only counted months of active subscription. Hehe.

    Guild Wars offers random minipets on every birthday of your character, I recently got the rare Black Beast of Aaargh! GW also basically has a lifetime sub for everyone. The “Collector’s Edition” advantage is different for each chapter: Prophecies had the ever-popular “divine aura” aka glowing hands on emotes, Factions had two special dances with background ghost dancers for the ritualist class, Nightfall the same, with the disco ball for dancing dervishes being the highlight of the special emote. This was Guild Wars promo. I just love this game.

    EVE’s skill system makes sense, as it allows people to play as they want instead of murdering mobs for XP and all that. It perfectly fits the universe.
    But it is also cheap. You gain skills while you are not logged in, GREAT. But you also get an incentive to keep your subscription running even if you are not playing, and that’s really cheap.

    I like most of the ideas Cryptic had, except the lifetimer chat channel. The exclusive lounge, ingame area would be enough reward. There you could also have said exclusive chat.

    I know many forums where people can become supporters and premium users get access to their very own subforum. In many cases it did not help foster a better, friendler community with the premium users as the core. Rather the opposite.

    So I wonder if STO’s lifers will rather become the heart and soul of the community or a liberated Borg collective of annoying fanboys.

    • I’m not really fond of schemes where they encourage you to pay when you aren’t playing. I’d rather that what I pay relates to what I play, whether it means paying for content or for time.

      But one thing is for sure, veteran players are more engaged with the game than newer ones, so they probably are more likely to spend more money on it if they have the choice (ie. more likely to pick stuff out of the cash shop etc, or even to have things from the cash shop bought for them as presents if you can do that). So I see things like the VIP lounge, as well as fostering community, as being perks like the sort of stuff casinos put on for big spenders.

      The one thing I’m not sure of is whether it might be better to let people pay a premium to join the VIP club rather than restricting it to lifetime members who joined in beta.

      • You can still get a lifetime membership, just no longer at the reduced cost of the promo and without the “Liberated Borg” race option.

        Still, as lifetimer I would rather ask for special tribble breeding area than a VIP chat channel, but this is just me. I am sure Tribble fan lifetimers would rather have your special bonus/preorder Tribble than a VIP chat. :)

  3. Pingback: Game by Night » Will Cataclysm Last Long Enough?

  4. Also, aside from the queue prioritization, most of the announced changes are cosmetic, and I for one would not be particularly thrilled had I paid for life-time membership.

    I do wonder how much longer CO will last though…

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