Champions: Limited Subscriptions? Yoink!

yoinkThis has just got to be one of the most head-scratchingly bizarre marketing blunders that I’ve seen from a MMO company in a while, so let’s take a second and retrace the steps of how Cryptic is bungling their special promotional offers of Champions Online:

  1. About a month or so before the launch of the game, they announce two special pricing plans — a $199 lifetime subscription, and a $60 6-month subscription.  Which is pretty cool.
  2. Then they state that the offer for these plans will be yanked on September 1st — Champions’ launch — before most players are able to get in the game and determine if they, indeed, want to play it for six months or longer.
  3. Yesterday, word came down from Cryptic that, oh, these plans were available in a limited quantity, and had almost sold out.
  4. Today, six days prior to September 1st, the plans sold out and were not available.
  5. Players have gone ballistic.

Ardwulf comes to Cryptic’s defense by saying that they were under no obligation to offer an unlimited amount, or to continue the program to any specific date, which is pretty debatable.  They certainly put themselves under obligation by stating that they would do X until date Y, and whenever a MMO company makes a definitive statement like that with a date attached, well, people kind of hold them to it.

Plus, there’s the weirdness of this abrupt “Oh, we’re almost out of subscriptions, kthanx, sorry”, which is odd on two fronts.  One, that they never mentioned it before, and two, that a company can “run out” of a virtual product like a subscription deal.  Maybe there was a limit set by what accounting figured would make or break the game in the long run, but in any case, it smacks of artificially limiting supply for no apparent reason.

Perhaps you read this and are not sympathetic to the Champions community — after all, they had the better part of a month to get in on these deals, right?  True, but that’s not including the fact that many players have only recently gotten to participate in the beta (hands-on experience makes a big difference in deciding to purchase something or not), as well as many other potential possibilities why someone may have been holding off until the end of the month to purchase these.  After all, making a $200 purchase is not something that most of us take lightly.  And you can’t blame them for feeling as though Cryptic was not being honest about this whole process.

On Twitter, Pete from Dragonchasers said they actually lost a customer because of this — “Think I’ll give Champions Online a pass after all.”

Cryptic’s response to the numerous threads created over this has been to say:

  • Daeke – “I’m making sure the appropriate people see the thread to know how upset people are about the situation.”
  • Stormshade – “I know you’re all frustrated by this and I apologize for that. Sadly, we only ever had allocated a certain number of Lifetime Subs and certain number of discounted 6 month subs. The sad and unfortunate truth here is that we’re actually selling more of these than we thought we would. We messaged the offer would end on September 1 because we didn’t think we were going to sell through this many subscriptions, and we were wrong.”

Yeah, MMO gamers are notorious for getting up in arms about everything, but here is a case that I think a few have a legitimate case for being upset.  Cryptic, you need to offer another batch of these and make peace with the players who are about to step into your game in less than a week.

39 thoughts on “Champions: Limited Subscriptions? Yoink!

  1. I have to admit, I’m pretty upset. I’ve been tossing up for a while whether to go lifetime, 6 month or monthly and had only decided in the last couple of days that yes, lifetime would suit me just fine. I logged onto the computer last night to buy the sub, to find their website was down (Accounts page not working, please come back later) and have logged on first thing this morning to find that it had actually been yanked.


  2. I’m still hard-pressed over how the lifetime sub is much different from Turbine’s original lifetime sub for LOTRO, which wasn’t open to everyone (just beta testers) and was also time-limited (albiet slightly longer).

    I think the problem here is in some of the assumptions people are making.

    Cryptic made it clear this was an offer as a thank-you to early supporters. Nobody seems to have believed that they were geniune about that, instead there were all these conspiracy theories instead.

    Roasting them for stating what it was and then following through… I guess gamers are just too used to companies saying one thing and doing another.

    That said, I agree with you, they should have seen how people would react over this and they should extend the offer.

  3. Total bummer, I was waiting until I got paid friday to get the 6 month sub. Oh well, I’ll just do it 3 months at a time now.

  4. I’d bet the decision was made because sales are going better than expected, maybe a lot better.

    If you have the business coming in, why throw profit away on a promotion that you no longer need?

  5. “Maybe there was a limit set by what accounting figured would make or break the game in the long run, but in any case, it smacks of artificially limiting supply for no apparent reason.”

    Sure it does – and it’s crappy for those who were planning to buy the lifetime package but were holding off for money reasons or whatever. But over on the CO boards you have people doing the typical over-reacting thing – “I was thinking of subscribing to your game forever, but now I won’t subscribe at all” and “we should have a class-action lawsuit!” type of silliness.

    The point about people only recently being able to try the game out is completely true, of course. But I’m willing to take Cryptic’s word for it rather than trying to screw people over, given that it only makes sense.

    I understand that some folks are upset, and sympathize, and certainly Cryptic should have been more communicative about the total number of lifetime subs being limited, not just the cutoff date. That doesn’t make Cryptic a bunch of criminals out to screw people, though. (I realize you’re not saying that, but some people are.)

  6. Well I just gave my view on this in your last Champions post, but I’ll add a little more. I can see both sides of the story, though when it comes right down to it, Cryptic are in the wrong. They should not have stated a specific date if they only had limited quantities to begin with – which I don’t believe is/was the case. If it were, it was foolish of Cryptic not to have advertised as much.

    That being said, I think that maybe those who are saying that they’re not going to play the game at all because of this are being a little immature. Yes, Cryptic didn’t deliver as promised, but they arn’t the first MMO company to make that mistake and they won’t be the last.

  7. Assuming a large number of these were sold, I’m just boggled that there are so many suckers willing to pitch out $60/$200 on a game that is not yet out of beta. You know NOTHING about the long term viability of a title until a few months into the official release.

  8. Yeah, I agree that there’s an appropriate reaction in this case, and many have certainly gone beyond that (par for the course in MMO forums, of course). I find the whole thing more bizarre than protest-worthy, but my sympathies do lie with people who were counting on this offer being on the table for a few more days.

    Of course, in the long run, it is a good problem for Cryptic to have — a lot of people this excited about a game that they want to hop on board for an extended tour.

  9. @Llokki: I’m also seeing both sides.

    I personally assume “limited” means limited qualities regardless of time limited. I actually recommended to a friend that he get in early rather than wait. I didn’t expect them to sell out, but limited is limited.

    That said, Cryptic was obviously caught off-guard selling out and they should have been more implicit about the limited quantities.

  10. I was tempted by Champions… but in the end, wallet won- it was unrealistic to have 3 MMO accounts active.

    But this blunder, we all know, doesn’t matter. The parallel of “MMO = Drugs” is played out… but honestly, it’s true. I actually think hard drugs are *safer* than MMO’s. At least rehab clinics have job placement.

    But really, drug dealers don’t have to be good business folk. They distribute a product that people crave and have physical reactions to product use. MMO companies can blunder away, and we’ll just have a few withdraw symptoms and ask for more.

    It is sad that Cryptic would do something like this, says bad things about their vision and communication… but hey, power armor is the new cocaine, no?

  11. It was just a marketing ploy to make players forget their concerns and make them hurry to pay for the lifetime/6 months offers.

    They will be available soon, be assured.

  12. Wow … and I’m thinking of playing Champions. I only think that if the game is good, folks would love to buy at least the six-month sub. I know I would.

    Was this just a gimic to sell them as quickly as possible? Would they really take these off the table to potential other customers?

    What I’ve learned about MMOs is they take time to gel and for a player to get acclimated to them.

  13. I’m more bummed than outraged. Playing the game at level 40 last night pushed me to decide to opt for the lifetime subscription. Which I planned to pick up when I got home tonight. Oh well.

    I’m pretty sure the beta access to STO added to the finite number they could sell.

    I hope they reinstitute the offer, but I don’t think they will. People are upset but it’ll pass. If this pushes you over the edge into canceling you probably would have found another reason to leave soon enough anyway.

    Regardless of pretty much anything else, how enjoyable i find the game will ultimatly decide wether or not I’ll play it. Not how good a deal I could have gotten on the subscription.

  14. They did in fact say that there were limited quantities. Not on the page where you purchased them, where they should’ve been… But on the news article where they announced them.

    Of course I can’t technically prove that because someone’s gone and edited the article to say they’re all sold out now haven’t they. 😛

    Like all things so far, they underestimated the popularity of their game. Glad I shelled out for a lifetime when I did. 😀

  15. A few points here:

    First, it’s $200 going on your credit card. It makes no sense to order it ahead of time and start paying interest on something you aren’t even using yet. So there’s a very real fiscal reason for waiting until shortly before the game is live to order.

    @Ardua says: ” But over on the CO boards you have people doing the typical over-reacting thing – “I was thinking of subscribing to your game forever, but now I won’t subscribe at all” ”

    That’s not over-reacting. That makes sense. Here’s my logic: If I took advantage of one of the special deals, I’d pay full price for the client, but save on subscription fees over the long term. I was sure I was going to do either the 6 month or go for the Lifetime. I was just flathering on which way to go. And waiting, in the case it was going to be that $200 charge. Didn’t want to put that on my card until near the end of the billing cycle (to save interest) and/or near when I needed the subscription to play.

    But now, with the deals gone, I pay full price for the client and full price for the subscription.

    If I wait a couple months, I’ll be able to buy the client for $10 in the Best Buy Bargain Bin (and still pay full price for the sub).

    So combine the money issue with the more emotional feeling of being screwed over by their (self-admitted) failure to communicate, and screw ’em. We’ve got DDO:EU coming out soon, Fallen Earth is in open beta, EQ2 had a new game update coming in really soon, Aion… there’re LOTS of options when it comes time for me to decide on where to spend my money.

    @Rog — In all honesty, I never saw any copy that called this offer a thank you for early adopters or a limited offer in any way other than “Order by Sept. 1st”. Maybe they said those things in the forums, but before today, I’d never visited the forums. I hate gaming forums…fastest way to put me off a game is to spend some time in the forums.

  16. @Pete S: Your credit card is not charged until the game is released and your boxed code is entered. That was also mentioned in the details and something I noted myself before taking the deal.

    I know that’s not much comfort for you, because I know your major complaint is that information for a purchase decision should be clear and directly where you would see it.

    The details were there though and you’re mistaken on your assumption that customers pay interest from taking the option early.

  17. @Rog – OK, you win. Cryptic had all the information a potential purchaser needed if they spent enough time sifting through forums posts and web pages.

    The email I got *did* say “Limited Champions Subscription Deals!” but didn’t say how they were limited. The web page, when you created the account, said it was a limited time offer ending Sept. 1st. So I assumed that was what the “Limited” in the email referred to.

    The email also said:

    “Don’t miss out on these great deals! You can purchase your subscriptions now! ”

    Purchase, to me, indicates an exchange of funds. It didn’t say pre-order your subscriptions, or even order your subscriptions (which might imply a delayed transaction).

    I build ecommerce sites for a living, so maybe I’ve just gotten in the habit of taking things too literally.

    You keep referring to “the details” without really indicating where these details reside, so it’s hard to decipher where I went awry.

    In any even, I surrender. I hope you guys have fun in Champions Online.

  18. I’d say it’s all business.

    For a game without much consumer confidence, a lifetime sub is advantageous to the company, because they may well play for less than the “cost” of paying monthly.

    For a game that the company is absolutely confident in, they will not offer any long term sub bonus, because they hope/know that people will spend much more than that amount in monthly fees.

    I’d say the positive view of CO gives some business manager some ideas and ask them to pull out of it to increase profit.

  19. I never thought I’d see a MMO company say ‘the sad and unfortunate truth is that we’re selling more of these than we planned.’

  20. I got the lifetime sub after first day of playable open beta. Weee!

    But seriously, this deal was too sweet to pass up on for later since I read that it was limited offer first, and didn’t think to consider it at the end of the open beta. If a deal is good, don’t pass it up.

    Look at how healthy LotRO is, and I missed the lifetime offer for it… and with CO, I wasn’t going to let this pass so I went to grab it first thing when I thought the game was good.

  21. haha well, the whole story is with CO launch is so much fun.

    first people disliked everything. then people disliked XP curve change. criticize that it looked much too much like wow. criticize that it didnt look much too much like wow. constantly whine about life time sub was a badly orchestrated attempt to steal money from customers for a game that gonna go down in half a year.

    now people scream how they were going to do a LIFE TIME SUB! but now are going to PASS the game all together because they are denied to do the first.

    people, meet humanity. always willing to blame someone but not to take the blame 🙂

    as somebody said earlier, Cryptic should have been more vocal about specific amounts of those subs and also they should’ve hold to their promises and keep selling those until sept 1. but CO boards are painful to read right now because i just cant laugh so much, it hurts.

  22. MMO gamers are classically temperamental so games developers should know better than to try and screw them over. I think the problem here is transparency – had Cryptic initially announced the subs were in limited number and may stop at any point, people wouldn’t be complaining now.

  23. @Rog: Hmmm, not sure if that’s the case for some people, but it certainly wasn’t the case with me. My credit card was charged straight away.

    @Pete S: That being said, I never put anything on my credit card if I don’t think I’ll be able to pay it off before the end of the billing cycle, so interest isn’t really a concern. If interest is that much of a concern for you, perhaps you would be better off with a debit card?

    Again, I can understand why people are unhappy, but the temper tantrums many are throwing over the incident are beyond ridiculous.

  24. The idea of limited numbers was probably something to do with the STO Closed Beta.
    That way they could ensure they get the early-adopters, those who are willing to shell out extra money for a game before it’s released.

    I’d look for them opening up Lifetime/6mo subs again without the ST:O closed beta perk.

  25. A storm in a tea cup although much of it is cryptics doing. If they had announced it was only limited numbers then they could easily have avoided this. A part on me thinks that they have been surprised by box sales etc and therefore decided to limit this offer even further than the ‘buy before 1st September’ , in saying that with the bad response from some quarters it wouldnt surprise me if they released a few hundred more as a last offering to appease people who missed out.

  26. The bosees probably realized they were losing money with these packages.

    “If the game is this popular, why are we offering all of these discounted packages? We could be getting full subscription price from the, pull it. ”

    That is a gamble though, because those players will not be locked in for 6 months or 13 months (lifetime) if they go month to month.

  27. I felt a little upset about it as well, because I live in Asia and didn’t find out about them taking the offers down early until I got home from work, at which point the servers were down for maintenance. They were up long enough for me to get my billing information in, but unfortunately the billing system was down and I didn’t get to order the 6-month.

    I suppose its my own fault, but I wish they gave us a little more warning that they were going to remove the offer early AND bring their website down for maintenance the same day.

    @Pete S. above:

    In addition to Rog’s comments (and this is a bit off topic), you only pay interest if you rack up debt. Pay your card off each month and this isn’t a problem.

  28. I decided in CBT that I wasn’t going to play the game, but if this felt like the next WoW to me… I would have definitely gotten this subscription… and I would have been INFURIATED that it was “sold out” before the previously stated terms.

    Didn’t Hellgate London run into this issue before launch also? I planned on getting the lifetime sub, but they sold out before the date. I recall being very upset because I was going to buy it. Glad I didn’t now.

    Cryptic should have started to slowly raise the price of the sub once they saw the rate of the sales… OR make an earlier statement on their site *oh, CO is more popular than expected.. get your orders in.*

  29. @Pete S: Please don’t aim your frustration at me. I’ve been supportive that I think Cryptic should bring the offers back. I also think they screwed up not presenting the information clearly.

    I just cannot support that they’re legally bound to bring back the offer, or even morally. Or claims that these details were never posted.

    That’s not just directed at you. Others wonder about bait-and-switch and marketing ploys that just don’t add up once it’s been pointed out that the original post did in fact mention limited quantities.

    As Starayo mentioned, the details are now all erased and replaced with the sold-out notices, so no I don’t have a convenient link to show them to you, but I’m not the only one indicating they existed either.

    There is no “win” in this. It’s not a competition.

    I and others here are only giving our experiences so everyone can make sense of the collective info. If you’d rather be comforted by anger, that’s your right too.

    Discussions like these are among the best solutions to the problem. Cryptic is far more likely to make a change if people are being reasonable, but dismiss the over-reactions and wild-claims as kooks who aren’t their customers anyway.

    I’m saying this to anyone:

    If you actually have a valid claim that a company is using dubious and illegal marketing tactics, report them to your local representatives, authorities and the Better Business Bureau as well. I recommend against posting libellous slander.

  30. @Winde: I’ve got a reserved charge on my credit card. I assume that will go through at release, but I could be wrong and it may complete sooner.

    Website says “Pending Retail” so I kinda put 2+2 together with that.

  31. Thanks for the economics lessons, folks.

    But sound economics does dictate that you buy things just before you need them. OK so if I use a debit card, then that’s money in Cryptic’s bank account rather than mine for several weeks.

    BTW, if you use a debit card online, I really, really hope its connected to a separate bank account from your main account. The first time you get hacked, have your account drained and miss your mortgage payment because of it, you’re going to be in a world of headache. Eventually you’ll get it straightened out, but it can take a few weeks for the bank to offer you “provisional credit” while they investigate your claims.

    I’ve been there. Which is why I no longer use a debit card online. Using a credit card gives you much more leverage. Having a debit card attached to a 2nd account with limited funds in it works too, but is just too much of a hassle for me. Plus I get points for using my card. 🙂

    If I’d read that they wouldn’t bill until launch date, I would’ve felt better about ordering ahead of time. But I missed that.

    And I find Winde’s comment interesting, too.

  32. I’ll add my voice to the chorus of those disappointed with Cryptic on this issue. My wife and I play these MMO’s so with any big limited offer deal we have to take the amount times two to get it for the both of us. That being said we thought we had until the 1st to make a decision so we made a concerted effort to try out various powersets during the Open Beta period before making a decision. We talked on Monday and had some concerns and reservations but overall felt that it would be worth our while to at least get the 6 month offer for both of us – it didn’t hurt that she is a big Star Trek fan and wanted an opportunity to get into the STO closed beta.

    So we fire things up Tuesday morn (didn’t even check the Champions site or receive any e-mail from Cryptic announcing that supplies were dwindling order now) and were greeted with the ‘Thanks but no thanks!’ message on their page.

    Did we know about the offer since Cryptic published it on their page? Absolutely. We’re not exactly plucking dollar bills from the money tree either and we were not about to make a decision without actually playing the game and there didn’t appear to be any indication going into Open Beta that there was a number count on these offers and that the ‘limited offer’ pertained simply to the deadline being Sept. 1.

    To say we were shocked and dismayed by things yesterday is an understatement. Still we are going to be buying the game and playing but certainly in those first moments of discovery we were both fed up enough to say screw it all and not give them a single cent.

    They need to rethink this plan however and do right by their fans and extend the offer at least to the 1st as originally stated. I must say that there have been issues in Open Beta that show strange communication issues from Cryptic that are concerning – perhaps it is for the best that we’ll be month-to-month with the game than in it for a 6 month haul?

  33. This blunder has definitely lost Cryptic 10 would be CO and STO subscribers. The thing is, I can’t with good conscious support any company that treats their customers this way. I do not fault those that do support them but my friends and I simply will not. We will find other MMO’s and give our hard earned dollars to them. For the sake of people that support this company(and if you are giving them money, you support them) I hope this is not a reoccurring theme but I have a feeling it will be.

    After playing my main character to a level that I felt comfortable with paying 200.00 for a lifetime membership I can say I am bummed, sad and flat out annoyed with Cryptic. I have been an avid Cryptic supporter since I learned that they took over the STO project (I have followed STO for almost 5 years) and this is perhaps what bums me out the most.

    Do I feel entitled in some way? No. Cryptic owes me nothing however, they should live up to promises made to thier community and stick to the Sept. 1st deadline date.

    It is simply against my principles to support a company with that seems to change the rules midway through a promotion.

    Also, if I made any mistakes here it would be putting more than 5 buck dosn on the game in my preorder at gamestop. Infact, I paid full price because I was so stoked on this game

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