How to make the subscription model work for League of Legends

How would you feel if this button suddenly appeared in the LoL Client? Yesterday, a post about one of Riot's surveys regarding a potential subscription model hit the front page.

How would you feel if this button suddenly appeared in the LoL Client?

     Yesterday, a post about one of Riot’s surveys regarding a potential subscription model hit the front page. Now, Riot has been sending out surveys like this for years and the vast majority of the ideas never get off the ground, but the survey hit a sour note with a significant portion of the community afraid that Riot might place features they previously offered for free behind a subscription wall. This is a reasonable fear, but I don’t think the community should necessarily disregard the idea of Riot introducing some kind of Subscription model to the game. In fact, I think that a subscription model could bring widespread benefits to the community at large if done correctly. They just need to follow three simple guidelines:

Don’t Subtract from the current player experience

     League of Legends is a free to play game in that the amount of money a player spends has little to no impact on their ability to be good at it. An argument could be made that the ability to access more champions/rune pages faster grants some small benefit, but those benefits are mostly convenience. If Riot were to make certain features like the PBE, or special game modes available only to subscribers,  their hands, and that’s including their misguided attempt to prevent professional players from streaming other games. When someone is used to getting something for free, they act extremely negatively when they are forced to pay for it. This would absolutely be the wrong way to go, and would likely cause irreparable harm to Riot’s reputation. The most important consideration is that all currently provided features must remain absolutely free.

Give the Community things they want

     Subscriptions would be an excellent way for Riot to solve longstanding community problems and give the community features they’ve asked for. The time required to acquire all the Champions and Runes has been an issue within the community for years. League of Legends had forty champions on release, and now has three times that number. That’s a huge barrier of entry for new players. Finding a solution to this problem not only benefits the community, but Riot as well since that barrier of entry likely hurts the growth of their player base. Below you’ll find a number of possible benefits Riot could offer to subscribed players to alleviate this problem:

  • The cost of each Champion drops one tier. As an example, 6300/975 Champions would cost 4800/880, and 4800/880 Champions would cost 3150/790. Players are allowed to purchase newly released Champions for the regular 6300 cost instead of the temporary 7800 IP.
  • Double IP Weekends either every weekend, or once a month depending on feasibility. 
  • Access to the initial 40 Champions as long as they are subscribed. Champions become permanently unlocked after either 3 or 6 months. This would help newer players close the Champion Pool gap they would have with a player like myself who’s played since December 2009. The stipulation is to prevent players from subbing for one month just to get a lot of Champions on the cheap. 
  • Permanent 10-25% IP Boost that stacks with regular IP boosts and promotions like Team Rewards.
  • Lastly, Riot could go all out and allow subscribers access to every Champion as long as they are subscribed. However, there are a number of potential issues there. One is how that access would interact with skins. If a player buys a skin for a Champion and has to stop their subscription for one reason or another and they don’t own that Champion, what happens to the skin? You can’t buy a skin unless you own the Champion, but in that instance you would own the skin but not that Champion. Riot would have to find a solution to that dilemma.

     These are all tangible benefits to the community that solve one of its biggest problems without granting Subscribed players an in game advantage. But we needn’t stop there. There’s a whole host of benefits that Riot could offer subscribed players.

  • Subscribed players get one refund token every 3 months. The limit on Refunds has been an off and on hot button issue within the community for a few years now. Currently, a player gets 3 lifetime refunds. Riot’s stance up until now has been that player’s won’t receive more once those refund tokens are used. However, that stance will have to change eventually. Riot can’t expect 3 refund tokens to be enough for players who have spent five, and eventually ten years playing the game.
  • Alternatively, subscribed players could be provided with an unlimited return window of say, 72 hours. Currently, the refund window is 90 days. Providing an unlimited window for that length of time would be unreasonable as it would essentially allow players to just rotate through skins for free any time they get bored. But a 72 window provides enough time for people to return skins due to buyers remorse without leaving open the possibility for abuse.
  • Instantly level an account to 30. One of the issues that has come to the forefront over the past year is the sometimes negative experience new players have when leveling up. This benefit would have to come with restrictions as we certainly don’t need brand new players in ranked. So Riot would likely have to change the qualifications to play a ranked game if they provided this benefit. This was one of the example benefits in the survey
  • Free level 30 Smurf Account. This could come with the stipulation that a player must already have a level 30 account to redeem their free smurf account. This would solve the above issue.
  • One Free Mystery Gift every month. Another example from the survey. I think it’s important for the subscriptions to be fun. The reason people do loot crate is that they enjoy getting a surprise every month. This would serve a similar function.
  • Access to PBE without going through the invitation process. It’s quite possible that this is what Riot meant in the survey and just worded it poorly. Currently, there is a waiting list for PBE Access. Allowing Subs to bypass the line would be a reasonable benefit so long as this didn’t prevent regular players from getting in through the waiting list.
  • Free Shipping from Merchandise Shop and discounts for official Riot events. Another example from the survey. 
  • All 20 Rune Pages unlocked.
  • One Free Server Transfer.
  • One Free Name Change. This could be a feature that renews every few months, allowing subscribers the ability to play around with their summoner names.
  • Special Ward Skin/Subscriber Border/Subscriber Border/Yearly Subscriber Skin. This type of thing is par for the course for subscription models.

     All of these are benefits that the community has asked for at one time or another. There are a few things missing though. I don’t think Riot should offer subscribers a discount on skins. The free mystery skin is enough. In my mind, the goal of a subscription service would be to provide tangible benefits to the player, not cosmetic ones. You’ll also note that I didn’t suggest Riot allow subscribers early access to special game modes. Frankly, that’s just a matter of logistics. The que times would be pretty long during those early access periods. So just seems like a waste. Lastly, I left out access to the legacy skin vault as Riot has consistently advertised their limited status, and making them available all the time would be a significant breach of trust.

Ensure Cost equals the benefits provided

     Cost is the biggest concern for most players. $15 a month is the norm for most subscription models, with discounts provided when multiple months are purchased at the same time. In League terms, that’s about 2000 RP, or the rough cost of a champion and a skin. It’s quite possible that $15 a month might be too much. In World of Warcraft, $15 a month buys you access to the entire game. Player’s used to the subscription model might find paying that same cost for a few added benefits to be a hard pill to swallow. It all depends on what benefit Riot chooses to give subscribers. If you get access to every Champion, than $15 a month is undoubtedly worth it. If all you get is PBE Access, early access to game modes, a special border and summoner icons, than $15 a month would be way too much.