R M's Guide to Getting Cheap Months
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At the time I'm writing this, City of Heroes: Freedom has recently been announced, and suddenly everyone who purchases a paid month gets $5 worth of "Paragon Points" along with it, to hold in reserve until Freedom allows people to buy things with them. Needless to say, this is interesting a number of people in the game anew, and bringing back some older players as well (either in preparation for Freedom going live, or planning to come back for free play after it does).
In a game that costs a base rate of $15 per month, there has always been an emphasis on finding ways to get those months inexpensively. A few years back, when NCsoft's car-combat MMO Auto Assault crashed and burned, I was able to snag six $30 "Auto Assault" time cards for $10 each—cards that also worked in City of Heroes. Needless to say, all of those cards have evaporated by now, but there are other opportunities if you look for them—though not necessarily as good, nor can they all be used by all players.
The information that follows is correct to the best of my knowledge at the time I am writing it. Needless to say, as with all guides, this is subject to change in the weeks or months after it is written. In particular, prices for items sold on-line fluctuate almost all the time, and I'll only update them if I happen to notice a change. If it's been a while, double-check to make sure these offers are still in effect. —Robotech Master 15:03, 21 July 2011 (UTC)
The Official Way: Subscriptions
The main way that NCsoft would probably like you to get discounted months is to buy a larger chunk of time at once. Buying more time for your PlayNC account offers the following rates:
- 1 month: $14.99*
- 3 months: $41.85* (equivalent to $13.95 per month)
- 6 months: $77.70* (equivalent to $12.95 per month)
- 12 months: $143.40* (equivalent to $11.95 per month)
They offer the discount because an axiom of finance is that it's always better to have cash for future services now than to get that same amount of cash later. (See Time value of money.) But the problem with this approach is that getting the cheapest rate requires you to separate yourself from your cash well in advance, when you may not even feel like playing the game anymore in six months. Is saving $36 really worth that?
And, perhaps worse, it's not even the cheapest monthly rate available.
Christmas Comes But Once a Year
During the month of December, NCsoft has been known to offer free bonus months for people who subscribed for longer periods. For example, in December 2011 the offer was:
- 6 months + 1 month free: $77.70* (equivalent to $11.10 per month)
- 12 months + 2 months free: $143.40* (equivalent to $10.24 per month)
This is a better deal than the above subscription packages, and if you have the money to spend and know you're going to be interested in playing CoH for that long it might just be the best deal you can currently find. Both rates are a better price per month than the $22.50 game time cards mentioned below (though not as good as when they were $18.50 instead).
The Smart Way: Discounted Time Cards
If you do a little web searching, you will find that there are a number of businesses selling new 60-day time cards, retail value $29.99, for a considerable markdown. Amazon offers them for $23.99, with free shipping. (A number of Marketplace vendors offer them for slightly less, but charge shipping, which makes it more. Weirdly, some Amazon Marketplace vendors are selling them for considerably more. Who would pay $999 for a $30 time card?)
But the very cheapest rate I have found yet is from a company called PC Game Supply, which is offering digital two-month time cards for $22.50. There is no shipping involved; the code is delivered in an hour or so (often considerably less) via e-mail. And when you consider that this price effectively includes $10 worth of Paragon Points, the value becomes even better. The first time you order, they will phone you from an Indian call center behind a caller-ID-blocked number to verify your order, so be ready to answer the phone. Then they will make photos of the cards, with numbers intact, available for viewing.
For a while, the cards were offered at the even lower rate of $18.50, which was a remarkable bargain—but even $22.50 is still 70 cents per month cheaper than NCsoft's one year rate—and you don't have to commit to an entire year to get it. (And who knows, perhaps down the road they'll go on super-sale again.)
One person reported PC Game Supply sent him time card codes that had already been used (though they did apologize and refund his money afterward), and that NCsoft said that the company was "not an authorized seller" of the time cards. Another person reported a similar experience.
As for my own experiences with the company, the first three card codes I bought from PC Game Supply all applied to my account just fine. I bought another one more recently as a test after some people reported the problem, and found it did not work. I contacted the company and they sent me a replacement code, which also did not work. I contacted them again and they sent me a replacement that did work. They explained that it was a problem with their supplier sending them a bad batch of card numbers.
In short, it seems a number of people have been having this problem lately, but those who've had it happen have reported the company was happy to work with them to provide either a refund or a code that did work (even if it took a couple of tries in my case). It doesn't seem terribly risky to me to buy from them at this point—but if you do, be sure and test the code right away to make sure it works so you can pester them for a replacement if it doesn't.
The New Player's Way: Old Box Sets
And there's one more technique, that only a limited number of players can take advantage of. This has to do with the fact that every new boxed set City of Heroes comes out with includes its own free starter month—and almost every one of those box sets (with a few exceptions) includes a registration code that can be applied to any existing account once per set.
By now, almost every boxed set of City of Heroes has fallen to $10 or less (and many of them are $5 or less), plus shipping—and every one of those sets includes a $15 month (and, hence, $5 worth of Paragon Points) that is still perfectly good. (And as an added bonus: in addition to that $15-value month, many of them include useful bonus powers, badges, or costume pieces—most of which are available from the Paragon Store, but which cost a lot more that way—or little tzotzkes like art books or Heroclix figures.)
If you have Amazon Prime, in which any eligible item ships to you at no extra charge, or if you buy at least $25 worth of items that are eligible for free Super Saver Shipping, you'll get them shipped to you free, too, and save even more.
If you only just got into the game, want to get a new player into the game, or want to start a second (third? fourth?) account for dual-boxing (which will become a lot more worthwhile when you can run one of those "boxes" for free), then you can buy any game box that has not been applied to your account and apply it to scoop that cheap, cheap game time. Likewise, if you only got into the game a few years in and never went back and applied the earlier sets, you can still do so and save a little money.
And yes, I actually have tested this by ordering several old boxed sets from Amazon and sending them to a friend I was just getting into the game. He was able to apply the codes for all but one, giving him a four-month head start (plus the aforementioned powers, badges, costume pieces, and tzotzkes), and the total price including shipping worked out to about half of what it would have cost to buy the months at full price. (And if I'd been an Amazon Prime member, with free shipping, I'd have saved even more.)
Warning: If you're shopping for these on Amazon, only buy the ones listed as "new", from Amazon or trustworthy marketplace vendors! If it's "used", then chances are the registration code has already been used and it's worthless to you if you're buying it for the month. If you're buying on eBay, caveat emptor.
You can also sometimes find some of these boxes locally in discount and overstocked-goods stores that stock older games, such as the Big Lots chain. This has the advantage of not having to pay Amazon shipping costs that can sometimes end up being more than the cost of the box itself.
This is the main exception to the above—the one that my friend was unable to apply. Since this is just the basic client, it cannot be applied to an existing account. It can only be used to start a new one. However, since it currently only costs 99 cents plus shipping and includes everything short of "Going Rogue" and a $15 month and associated Paragon points besides, it makes a great way to get a non-player into the game, or to start a second account for dual-boxing. Apply the code, throw the CD away, and download the current client from NCsoft. Once the account is started, you can apply any of the other boxes to it. (And if you use it to get a friend into the game after sending him a trial invitation, and he pays for a month after that, you can get a free month with NCsoft's refer-a-friend program!)
Update: I have since been informed that apparently the original City of Heroes and the City of Heroes Good vs. Evil edition cannot be applied to the same account: if you start an account with the CoH CD, you cannot apply GvE; if you start it with GvE; you cannot apply this CoH CD. That being said, it would probably be the better choice to start the account with the Good vs. Evil edition, below, and skip this one; GvE applies a number of very useful powers to the account whereas this one is simply basic.
The fact that this disc costs 99 cents plus shipping means that it might be less desirable than later sets that cost $5 or so but come with free Prime or Super Saver shipping—especially since it is mutually exclusive with the far more desirable Good vs. Evil edition.
City of Heroes Collector's Edition
While this would theoretically add another month, plus an "exclusive in-game item", for some reason it seems to have bypassed the trend of discounting older boxes. The new resellers only list it for $79.99 and up, and it doesn't really come with any compelling bonus powers (a bonus sprint and a fading-to-transparency cape), so I'm not bothering to link it. (In the discussion area for this guide, posters suggest the high price might be due to the physical HeroClix collectibles it includes.) Unless the price has fallen drastically by the time you read this, probably best to skip this one.
You would think that, like the plain-vanilla City of Heroes CD, this would not add an extra month to an existing account—but it does. At the time, it was made to, since City of Villains was not made available for all players until after NCsoft bought out Cryptic's rights in it. So adding another month to an existing account was one of the "bennies" for players who were persuaded to upgrade. If you never bothered buying it at the time, or weren't around back then, try adding this to your account. At $1.75 plus shipping, or $5.79 with free Prime or (over $25 total purchase) Super Saver shipping, it's one of the cheapest months available. Note: I've seen mention that, if applying both this and the City of Villains Collector's Edition (below), you should be sure to apply the plain City of Villains before the Collector's Edition. Though I haven't encountered this myself, it's probably a good idea to be safe.
Unlike the CoH one above, this collector's set is available for about $10 with Prime/Super Saver shipping (or less plus shipping from marketplace vendors). And since it includes bonus items, as a lure to people who'd already bought the "vanilla" (or should that be "devil's food"? :) CoV to upgrade, it can be applied alongside the base set.
Amazon was down to $13.92 on this the last time I checked, but a number of marketplace sellers list it for $6.99 plus $4.99 shipping. And since this set includes the insanely useful 30-second Jump Pack and Pocket D VIP Pass Teleporter powers for every character on your account, anybody who hasn't applied it yet should snap it right up just for those and count the free month as an added bonus.
This is also the best way to start a new player in the game, since it comes with those extra, useful powers that can help them right off the bat.
The most recent box set before Going Rogue, this is another really good deal, since it costs $12.90 and in addition to that $15 month also includes the buyer's choice between the Cyborg and Magic Booster Packs that used to be sold in NCsoft's on-line store. They cost $10 each when they were sold in the store, but now that they're sold piecemeal in the Paragon Market the price to own all the pieces in a given set has gone up considerably. (Though they are no longer available for separate purchase in the store, buying this box set will still let you add one or the other to your account when you apply it.)
The Cyborg set comes with a really useful "self-destruct" power, like an AoE-damage nova that debtlessly "kills" you—extremely handy if you're about to faceplant, especially if you have a self-rez. The Magic set comes with a tarot-card random buff temp power. And…excuse me, I just noticed I never did get this boxed set myself, and I had been thinking about getting that Magic booster for a while now. I'm just going to go one-click order this one for me!
Since this guide was originally written, and Going Rogue was new, the price on this pack has fallen considerably. When I checked just now, Amazon had it for $9.77, and eligible for free super-saver or Amazon Prime shipping (and some marketplace vendors price it as low as $6.88 + $3.99 shipping). Some of what this expansion includes is now offered free with the free-to-play game, and it no longer includes the two free character slots that came with it before City of Heroes: Freedom launched, but considering that it includes a $15 month of gameplay and a couple of power sets that are now sold for $10 (worth of Paragon Points) each into the bargain, it's still worth getting for those who don't have it yet.
The other method of getting this expansion that I had suggested, via Valve's Steam, actually no longer exists; NCsoft has pulled the game out of Steam. Not too surprising, I guess; they can now make more money selling the bits and pieces included in it separately.
The Old Player's Way: Invite a Friend/Invite a Friend Back
After a time of offering $6.25 worth of Paragon Points as a bonus for inviting lapsed or new players to the game, NCsoft has returned to offering a free month of VIP play time instead. This can be done either from the NCsoft website or within the Paragon Market. The person you refer does have to pay for a month of game time before you get your free month—but registering one of those discounted game boxes I list above counts as paying for a month (or at least it did the last time they were running this promotion). So if you want to get a friend into the game, send him an invitation and a cheap box. It's a win for both of you!
City of Heroes is a great game, as well you know or you probably wouldn't be reading this. But at a base rate of $180 per year, wow is it ever draining on the pocketbook. Just as well it's going free-to-play soon. But if you want to keep playing it with the VIP perks to which you've grown accustomed, or if you're a free player wanting to try out those perks for a while and see "how the other half lives", hopefully some of the above methods will save you a little money. Remember to make sure that you're buying a new item before you buy—as always, caveat emptor!