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We’re all familiar these days with MMOs that are free to play, and others that still rely on the good old subscription model. Depending on which MMOs you follow, you might also have encountered the ‘lifetime subscription’ model as well – where you pay a large, one-off fee and then have all of the benefits of the monthly subscription without having to shell out an ongoing payment. If you plan on playing the same game for several years it’s a good deal, as long as you don’t get yourself banned (thus flushing your $200 investment in access to the game down the pan) and as long as the game is still running… because lifetime is probably going to mean “lifetime of the game” rather than your lifetime, unless you’re terminally unlucky. This proved problematic for the poor souls who bought lifetime subs to Hellgate London and only got a little over a year’s use out of them, but the games that I have lifetime subs to – LotRO, Champions Online and Star Trek Online – are still up and running, and whilst all three games have gone F2P I continue to get full subscriber access and associated goodies.

Unfortunately, as a friend of mine who shall be known henceforth as Player X discovered, even if you don’t go and get yourself banned then at least in LOtRO’s case, lifetime doesn’t always mean lifetime.

Player X is a friend and a colleague of mine, and he and his wife have both played MMOs about as long as I have (over ten years), albeit usually out of phase – they’ll be playing one game while I’m levelling up in another, and by the time they start in on that game I’ve levelled well beyond them or moved on to something else. We’ll mail goodies to each other’s low-level characters, and chat about the games, but I think the last time we actually grouped together was in City of Heroes back before WoW even launched. Player X picked up a collector’s edition copy of LotRO, complete with a lifetime sub, not too long after it launched based at least in part on my recommendation. However, he was still having fun levelling ten alts simultaneously in WoW so while I switched to LOtRO as my main game he only occasionally dipped in to play his starter characters around The Shire and Bree. But hey, that’s not a problem because that sort of dipping in and out is fine with a lifetime sub. Your account remains active without causing a guilt attack that you’ve wasted the price of a cinema ticket by not logging in that month.

Time passed. Player X got caught up in being a WoW auction house goblin, and found that his computer’s ageing graphics card struggled with playing LotRO, so he didn’t log in at all for a long time. Meanwhile, the European LotRO servers were transferred from the control of Codemasters, who had initially published the game over here, to Turbine who developed the game and ran the North American servers. The EU servers, characters and accounts all went over to Turbine without too much of a hitch, and those of us who played LotRO happily carried on playing.

And then, earlier this year, Player X found the obscene piles of WoW gold were losing their allure, and finally got his finger out and replaced that graphics card. So, since he had a lifetime subscription to LOtRO, he figured he’d go and play that for a while. He couldn’t remember his password, he needed a reminder of which server his characters were on, and the account was associated with an email address he no longer used or had access to – but that’s what customer service is for. He still had a lifetime subscription, so once Turbine retrieved his details for him he could dive in and play.

Err, no. It took a number of emails back and forth, but eventually a horrible truth emerged. When the accounts were migrated from Codemasters to Turbine, players had to log in and give permission for their details to be transferred. There was a window of about 5 months to do this, which had ended in November 2011. Player X had missed the boat, his data was not on Turbine’s systems and no longer available from Codemasters. So that was that. His lifetime subscription with Codemasters was gone and no corresponding one with Turbine had been created. The last email he got from Turbine’s customer support stated that “We cannot assist you with reinstating a subscription plan purchased with Codemasters. Feel free to create a new account through the LOTRO web site.” Great – he can “feel free” go and create a free to play account, just like anybody else, without any of the VIP benefits that he had paid for, and which I do continue to get because I actually read my email and gave permission for the transfer. Unsurprisingly, Player X is sufficiently hacked off by what he regards as the snarky tone of that last response that he’s sworn off playing any games from Turbine.

Now, I don’t really blame Turbine for this. EU data protection laws being what they are, there’s no way to legally send customer details and billing information out of the EU to the US without permission of the customer, who was contacted to ask his permission – via an email account he no longer used, but that’s arguably his fault for not updating his account details… but on the other hand, they were account details for a game he wasn’t actively playing at the time. And we can’t really be surprised if those details are no longer available from Codemasters over a year after their franchise ended. However, I do feel the classy response from Turbine would have been to comp Player X a new lifetime sub account. He might have lost his (low-level) characters and the piles of unspent Turbine Points, but going forward he’d be able to play LotRO as he’d paid for, and it would have turned into a great customer service story instead of one about a player permanently put off a company’s products by a snarky response.

In other news, Player X has finally given Rift a try and is now levelling up a couple of characters, just in time for me to decamp from Rift and SWTOR to Guild Wars 2. Some things never change 🙂

One Comment

  1. Hi, I found this blog via the blogroll on Raging Monkeys.

    Ah that’s a real shame! I’d agree with you that it’s not Turbine’s fault. I was actually pretty shocked Turbine honoured the lifetime accounts in the first place, perhaps it was contractually obliged. LoTRO is the perfect game to dip in and out of, either for the periodic content releases or as a great “take a break” game from something else. I had to go around the various friends I have who’ve tried the game to make sure they salvaged their accounts regardless of whether they were likely to play anytime soon, it was worth it to avoid the disappointment of lost progress.

    Coincidentally I can also sympathise with the situation you find yourself in with this friend. I played with a very tight-knit friends and family circle of players in WoW. But since then we’ve not found a single game that binds us back together :-/

    GW2 may stand the best chance so far but I think there’ll be a few stragglers who are already into other games, I guess there’s always project Titan to hope for…

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