As you all know, The Secret World went Buy-to-Play, dropping the required subscription in return for giving subscribers more perks and allowing the unwashed masses to play (and presumably spend some cash in the cash shop) by simply picking up the box copy. Like any other town with a bridge to live under, there is a subsection of players who are apparently licensed, practicing, ambulance chasing lawyers, and naturally someone brought up the idea of suing Funcom over the transition. The claim is that the terms of the subscription/lifetime account have been changed without prior knowledge, and that somehow Funcom has diminished the value of the deal without offering a refund.
If you take a look at The Secret World pre-transition, you’ll find two tiers:
- Access to The Secret World for that month.
- Cash shop points based on multi-month packages.
Grand Master (lifetime):
- Access to The Secret World forever.
- 1 additional character slot.
- Set of XP potions.
- Set of Talismans.
- 10% discount to cash shop.
- Snakeskin Jacket.
Following the transition to buy to play, the following benefits were added to accounts:
- Mayan time accelerator (reusable bonus xp item)
- $10 worth of bonus points (cash shop)
- Item-of-the-month gift
- 10% discount to everything in the store.
- 20% discount to cash shop.
- Everything subscribers receive above.
Additionally, Funcom instituted a “price guarantee” to subscribers and grand masters ensuring that they will be able to receive any DLC for free by marking down the price to match the monthly bonus point stipend. For example, if a piece of DLC is released that costs $20, the price will be marked down to $10 for subscribers and grand masters. In the shortest sense: There isn’t anything in the new plan that subscribers or grand masters no longer have access to in the new plan. In fact, the benefits (even over the new buy to play tier) have only increased.
I suppose it all comes down to whether or not you see the addition of another tier (buy to play) as removing a benefit from subscribers/grand masters. Perhaps it would have been better from a PR perspective for Funcom to allow players to request refunds for multi-month packages that still had time left rather than to force the players into adopting the new system. Like it or not, there are still a good deal of players who remain loyal to subscription-only games and would not touch a buy-to-play/free-to-play game with a ten foot pole, let alone spend money on it.
Heading forward, however, the MMO community should always know that when a company states that they have no intention of going free to play, they actually mean “at this time.” With the market of MMOs very heavily favoring optional subscriptions rather than mandatory subscriptions, such a transition isn’t as much a possibility as it is an inevitability with the only question being how far post-launch does the game move over? There are obvious exceptions to the rule, strong titles like Eve Online and World of Warcraft who see a better environment in subscriptions, or games like Warhammer Online that simply don’t have the funds to make the transition.
Regardless, you won’t find any legal expert who will agree that Funcom has done anything worthy of legal action, even if some customers aren’t entirely happy with the transition.