On the way to fail: Lord of the Rings Online

Note: If your brain usually hurts when you have to read a lot of words, then I suggest avoiding this article.

I previously wrote about Lord of the Rings Online, or LotRo, and how about it was one of the few successful MMOs that was out on the market today as far as a quality MMO goes. I never explained why, however, and given what is currently happening with the game and the company now, I feel it is important to make that clear to see where things are going wrong. After all, if you ban customers off your forums because they have legitimate opinions then it sort of starts to sing the same tune as some other previous MMOs that were on their way to rock bottom.

Turbine is a well-established MMO company and creators of Asheron’s Call, Asheron’s Call 2, Dungeon & Dragons Online, and Lord of the Rings Online. Turbine started off with Asheron’s Call on November 1999. It is important to note November because Everquest came out in March 1999 as well, obviously establishing itself as the main competitor for MMOs when they were on the rise. Asheron’s Call, however, did well enough back in its heydays, and still remains online for the 50 people that are still playing. Their sequel, Asheron’s Call 2, released on November 2002, did so well that the servers were shut down on 2005.

At this point Turbine is unsure of what direction to go. Obviously AC was not appealing enough to the MMO market at the time (and you can’t even blame WoW this time, as WoW didn’t come out until late 2004). This time around Turbine decided to try a different approach; make an MMO based off of Dungeons & Dragons, a game in which all elements of RPGs draw their basics from. Enter Dungeon & Dragons Online on February 2006. And rather than set the game in the popular Forgotten Realms setting that many other games had, Turbine decided, instead, to go with the rather dull Eberron, probably because they wished to put a twist on the high fantasy choice of the MMO market, since Eberron includes a bit of steampunk into the mix. It never gained much ground and continues to have a low population.

Turbine’s true success did not come until they acquired the Lord of the Rings license from Tolkien Enterprises and released Lord of the Rings Online on April 2007. At first there wasn’t much to pass over for Lord of the Rings Online except for the name when it was released. This proved rather true when Turbine used to boast subscription numbers for the game that reached over one million subscribers; a few months after released, Turbine stopped boasting their numbers, and the community has been guessing ever since. Despite with a population that would be considered low by today’s successful standards, Turbine kept delivering updates to Lord of the Rings Online, polishing the game and establishing its niche among the market. This included focusing more on the social aspect in an MMO of interaction, whereas fluff were nice alternatives to the daily grind.

As someone who has been playing LotRo since beta, I can accurately say that I have seen how much the game has come along. I even got myself a lifetime subscription because I felt Turbine was going in the right direction when they introduced housing and hobbies and even more fluff into the mix. Even the endgame content, like raids and PvMP, was finally shaping up to be something worth playing. It seemed that finally a company had realized an MMO should utilize social factors in a social setting. Not to mention that their technical support for the game had been nearly flawless, with the servers rarely going down.

That went to hell in a handbasket.

It first started with the update before the expansion Mines of Moria. Turbine was beginning to have serious troubles with their server service. Rubberbanding, server crashes, freezing, and server rollbacks were periodically and frequently experienced. The Book 14 patch was the epitome of bad on this front. The server problems became tenfold and the patch caused tons of hardware problems for various people, including me. There was an uproar on the forums. Tons of people were posting their technical problems. I was, of course, one of them. I was experiencing video crashes in LotRo (the only game I have ever experienced video crashes). Turbine, however, was denying the entire thing. I was even told through a bold-faced lie that the problem was not on their end; it was all my fault. Customer is always wrong, eh?

A month later the problem finally got a bandaid to the situation. Of course they just claimed it was to the servers; they still deny that Book 14 caused any video troubles for anyone. Either way, it changed the way people looked at Turbine. The bigger thing on mind at the time, however, was the expansion. Now, Turbine is notorious for keeping a tight lid on changes to the game. They usually wait two or three weeks before the content goes live to actually share it with the community. They claim they do this because they would rather release notes that are final rather than ones that are subject to change and “anger” people. Right, as opposed to keeping your community in the dark and then letting them be angry that terrible changes are coming regardless of the complaints…This is the biggest fault Turbine has. They spend much of their time fixing their past mistakes because they apparently need their community to tell them how atrocious some of their ideas are.

So when Mines of Moria hit, there was a firestorm of complaints. Turbine was pissing on the lore (something the game prided itself being based off of) just for the sake to bring in the WoW crowd. And despite the promise that Lothlorien would come with the expansion, it never did, and the expansion, Mines of Moria, literally encompassed one huge area underground in a dark cave where it was a nightmare to navigate. It was appalling to quest in the area. Turbine completely overdid it on the aspect of an environment that was true to the setting. Moria is a boring place to be. The biggest trouble to it all is that Mines of Moria raised the level cap and Moria was the only place to level. Turbine had previously prided itself on offering numerous areas for leveling content for different environments so people could remain interested; Turbine apparently had no qualms to follow that goal any longer. The one thing that they apparently did right was the introduction of Legendary Items, a dynamic feature to leveling items and weapons, as well as customizing what they may improve with your skills or to your character overall.

However, that wasn’t enough. For some “genius” reason Turbine decided to release Mines of Moria four days after Wrath of the Lich King released. Needless to say Mines of Moria wasn’t even in the top ten computer games sold in November or December. This was further hit home when polled data on LotRo’s population barely even rose three months after Mines of Moria had been released. The expansion pack was far from a success and Turbine obviously saw that. Now, the next content update after Moria is what everyone has been waiting to see. A lot of people were unhappy with the changes with Moria. This next content update, Book 7, is supposed to be the moment of truth to what Turbine will do or what direction they will go in now that the game content is already at the level cap again. Obviously keeping to previous formulas, such as fluff, raiding, and PvMP were what people were expecting for them to continue to polish.

Guess again.

This upcoming patch, which could be better known as the WoW patch, intends to dumb the game down. Self-rez, quest directional arrows, nerfing all enemies, and reducing the XP level up tables were those first steps into the wrong direction. Turbine also insisted that we would likely not see any new raids for a very long time. Fluff has been neglected for God knows how long; all housing suggestions are constantly shot down by the developer who is in charge of such content. And still there is no real incentive to PvMP.

This is not the end, obviously. The game won’t die after the patch or anything outrageous like that. No, of course not. However, this is the first step in the right direction to a shallow grave. You see, when an MMO’s longetivity is threatened because its developers have no idea what they are doing, they panic. They are launching in dozens of regions, including Asian ones, and they’re not selling as well as they had expected them to. These changes are attempts to make such differences in marketing. Changes no one asked for, mind you. Changes that, if they were mentioned, were vehemently shot down by the community.

Turbine claims this is an aim to help out “casual players.” If you’re involved with MMOs you know all about this ridiculous dilemma of “casual vs. hardcore.” It’s a smoke screen. There is no divided community except those that choose to purposely divide from one another. People do not raid because they are “casual” gamers; they do not raid because they have no interest in raiding. And rather than Turbine trying to provide an interest to raid or an interest to PvMP or fixing quest directions, they decided to implement end-all decisions into the mix to make the entire game easier than it already is. The majority of game content is already solo content, so it’s also a wonder why they feel the need to alienate people that do enjoy raiding or PvMPing, unless they feel like losing a “small” portion of their loyal community is worth it if they are going to attract the WoW crowd and rape the game further into submission.

The only trouble is that it’s not going to work. Would you like to know why WoW is so successful? Because it’s WoW. Copying those elements in WoW will not make your MMO better. I thought we learned that lesson with SWG and the NGE patch and the subscriptions plummeted. The reason LotRo has as many subscribers as it does now is because people like the way the game is now. Why Turbine thinks drastically changing that will make customers happy when they obviously aren’t given the forum backlash is a mystery to me.

The biggest contributing factor in my personal experience, however, has been my experience with Turbine employees. It was like flashbacks with Hellgate: London all over again. Funny thing is that the person in question was actually part of Ping0, so it is no surprise to see his Gestapo ways come over to the Turbine forums. Sapience, one of the Turbine CMs, has done nothing but follow me around on the forums looking for any post of mine that he decides that will count as a warning. These are completely legitimate and constructive posts. Turbine has a similar rule set to what was on the Hellgate forums; basically the number one rule is, “If I don’t like you, I will ban you.” Sure enough when I was posting constructive criticism about Moria back in November I was banned by Sapience. My reason for a permanent banning: “None.”

I spent the next few months trying to contact webadmin support contesting this unfair banning. After a many E-Mails traded, I was brought back. I can’t imagine that made Sapience very happy, especially when I previously tried to contest my warnings with him and brought up his Gestapo tactics back on the Hellgate forums. So when I was questioning the motives and integrity of a Turbine employee for completely legitimate reasons in a constructive matter some weeks back, this then obviously sealed my fate. The developer in question, Floon, was apparently “flustered” that I would dare question the mighty word of God. Not even a minute later Sapience had deleted my posts and warned them. I attempted to respond to Floon but that post was also deleted afterwards as well. Then Sapience decided to post in that thread and publically insult me. When I tried to call him out for how degrading that was, he then deleted that post as well. When I then tried to say that I was no longer going to pursue the issue because my opinion was being censored, that post was also deleted and warned. Ever since then any “wrong” move I made Sapience deleted the post and warned me for it. I attempted to contact a forum administrator about it but I had no such luck. I was being abused by a Turbine staff member simply because a developer didn’t like what I had to say. Eventually I was banned because of my opinions. Again.

This is what any customer of LotRo can expect to experience if they dare to have an opinion that does not agree with a Turbine employee or developer. Couple that with the changes that are paving the way for future changes that will destroy the soul of LotRo and I can confidently say that I completely regret buying that lifetime subscription. It is rather apparent that Turbine does not value my opinion on any level whatsoever, and it is rather apparent they feel the same way about the rest of their forum community as well if they are claiming they are making these changes because of “data mining.” It’s okay though. I had the patience to watch Hellgate crumble; I have the patience to watch LotRo crumble as well.

Originally written: February 2009

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About Agamemnon
Started blogging back in 2007 amidst that whole Hellgate: London fiasco on a blog known as flagshipped.com. Eventually moved on to do my own thing in December 2008 at gameriot.com and started Caveat Emptor there. Wrote there for six months, gained some notoriety, and then left. Now I'm back.

16 Responses to On the way to fail: Lord of the Rings Online

  1. Pingback: The Fellowship of the Ring drags their feet « Agamemnon's Domain

  2. Pingback: The quest stands on the edge of a knife: LotRo goes F2P « Agamemnon's Domain

  3. Shirokage says:

    Turbine is continuing the trend of banning all reasoned dissent, now that people are starting to get hacked. Despite several holes in their “our servers are safe” pat answer, there are several things that indicate that the security breach is, in part, on their end. Turbine’s answer? “Our servers are safe.” *lockembarassingtopic* *deleteembarassingposts* *banwhosoeverquestions*

    Truth lives…

    *waves to Sapience*

    • Agamemnon says:

      And can you believe it, they’ve made him the head Community Manager now that the rest (Ramen, Patience) have left the company. At least Floon “left,” which is reason to celebrate alone. We’ll no longer see any stupid hats. And maybe we’ll stop seeing so much recycled art or we’ll stop being told how hard it would be for the art director to lift a finger to do anything new.

      But yeah, when I called it I called it. When they started to sell rep horses on the store, he locked the topics or moved them into the F2P board. When they sold a $20 store-exclusive horse, he put the topics into the F2P board. Now, when they’re taking away a VIP feature for LIs and they’re going to make people purchase relic removal scrolls from the store, he moves the topic to the beta server board and then locks it afterward.

      That guy is an absolute menace.

  4. Shirokage says:

    He is more than a menace. He is a powderkeg, and WB not storing him away in a dry place, if you follow. One of these days, he’s going to have an outburst so unmistakably bad, no amount of PR will be able to vocer it. At least with Patience, we knew how far she would go.

    Some of the insults that Sapience has flippantly foisted on actual customers on the forums, whether to insult someone’s intelligence or simply to call someone a conspiracy theorist for suggesting a problem with Turbine (that would be damning, if proven), have gone far beyond the bounds of business-customer relations.

    Unfortunately, his behaviour has various enablers. WB, of course, remains oblivious to his actions and sentiments, no doubt because Marketroid et al. don’t pass it along in performance reviews. Then, there is the litany of blind followers on the forums and in-game that preach with no tolerance for debate that Sapience has no faults and “loves” the community.

    Getting back to the account hacks, though, there are holes in the “servers are secure” statement that don’t get a proper audience on the LOTRO forums. If allowed, these holes, properly debated, would undoubtedly start to point significant blame in Turbine’s direction. That is why I like to use external, Google-able (how I found this blog) means to discuss and debate, away from Turbine’s (topic-)lockstep.

    • Agamemnon says:

      I don’t blame Patience for much really. Her blunders over the whole “The store will only offer conveniences, not advantages” was something that was told to her by an actual developer. The same thing when she said LotRO would not go F2P after DDO was announced to be going the way of the dodo. Patience actually has an excellent track record as a pretty good CM in other MMOs. The only trouble is that she’s apparently too busy to be a CM (she was one of the CMs I PMed when Sapience first started bullying me and I never heard back from her).

      Sapience is a different brush altogether. He’s a cranky old man with a track record of silencing anything negative and shrugging off his Gestapo tactics like water on a pebble. And as you’ve said, those that are not under his ire proclaim their undying love for him. Just like some nitwits did for the old art director, Floon, who was publicly abrasive to customers all the time. They apparently liked his “honesty.” Something tells me those sort of people would also like some Herbert Spencer literature as well.

      Now that he’s the head honcho CM (and pretty much the only active one), Turbine has pretty much let go of his leash. What justification is there in permanently banning someone from the community over CRITICISM? None whatsoever. Because of his actions I cannot participate in my.lotro or its lotteries, I cannot edit or use the lorebook in-game, I cannot participate in beta testing or character copies to Bullroarer, and I am stonewalled if I ever want to purchase a premium service from Turbine (like a character transfer or character undelete). All because I said it was sloppy work not to optimize the game for new hardware. I’m one of Turbine’s most loyal customers and this is how they treat me.

      Speaking of character undeletions, isn’t that just some more salt in the wound for the numerous hacked accounts? First they proclaim they cannot restore deleted characters. Now they’re CHARGING people to do it. It wouldn’t surprise me if Turbine was actually slipping customer account info to third party sources just so they could subjugate people to this new service.

  5. Shirokage says:

    I didn’t have to wait for a ban to stop using my.lotro and its lotteries. Since F2P and the subsequent hacking infestation, I just don’t think that Turbine’s framework is safe enough to use. Either their ports are being sniffed and they can’t see it or they know there’s something infesting their system and they just don’t want to admit it for PR’s sake. Either way, for me, that means no lotteries, no posting, no my.lotro blogging (which is sad, because I had an excellent series on the lands and cultures of Middle-earth planned).

    On the matter of character undeletions and item restoration (the latter reportedly announced on a page at the support.turbine.com site, I have to question the completeness of the solution. Don’t get me wrong. To have the options is great if you’ve been hacked, but it doesn’t address the root cause that pushed Turbine into a corner to make the new policies available in the first place: the hackings themselves. Until Turbine finally gets a handle on their security issues, people will keep being hacked and having to pay money for deleted characters and petitioning for the restoration of their possessions. In the meanwhile, a hacker looks at this situation as beneficial to them, because they will not only be taking what is able to be restored for the account owners but they will also have the option to hack the accounts _again_ when the characters/items are restored. I’m sure they’re happy as clams about it. To summarize:

    – Turbine: more work, less resources for other things, eventual lost revenue.
    – Players: more work, less play, less potential interest in subscribing.
    – Hackers: same amount of work, more profit, more apathy (the latter because they have no qualms on kicking someone when they start to get up again).

    But, I digress. Okay, it’s not a digression; it’s a diatribe. Anyhoo…

    Back to the topic at hand, I think that WB and Turbine are going to get bitten in the rear about squelching reasoned debate of the effectiveness of their policies and coding. After all, they may control their own online property, but they don’t control the posting of viewpoints outside of their realm of influence (e.g. this blog). I mean, some of the external MMO sites are in Turbine’s pocket (otherwise, they won’t get the fancy interviews and shinies to dole out in special contests), but the rest of the blogosphere is not so shackled.

    The old axiom is still true today. It takes a brief moment to lose a good reputation and a lifetime (pun intended) to get it back. If WB/Turbine continues on this path, with the people in place they have running things now (e.g. Sapience), they are full-steam ahead on a course for the loss of that good reputation.

    • Agamemnon says:

      Turbine takes advantage of their rather unknown status by being this distasteful when it comes to censorship. Kotaku and Gamasutra can’t go a week or so without reporting on that ridiculous Snowblind LotR title War in the North, but they completely missed to report on when LotRO went F2P and its subsequent Book updates. They managed to report when every other MMO went F2P, however. What’s left is the exclusivity of Ten Ton Hammer and Massively–both of which seem to not take up any of the important issues gamers often discuss on the forums themselves.

      Flagship Studios did the same thing with Hellgate: London. The forums were actually private for a very long time–you actually had to have a purchased copy of the game just to read the forums. And goodness was there an abundant amount of negative feedback (with subsequent censorship, of course). After the company went under one of the old CMs revealed that they were under direct orders from higher ups to purposely censor comments and retroactively ban people who weren’t saying positive things. As this article mentions, want to know who was part of that team? Sapience.

      You know they really let the leash go when he made the ballsy move to changing the forum regulations. I mean, the rules already said, “We can ban you when ever we feel like it for what ever reason,” but under the new rules it’s three strikes and you’re out. Forever. Oh, and infractions don’t expire. I remember that bit. Everyone who already had ten infractions were freaking out, wondering if they received just one more infraction if it meant or not that they would be permanently banned. They would be, of course.

      I would suggest to make a separate account that has nothing to do with your main one just to post on the forums but even that is against the rules (you can only post under one account). Essentially he’s managed to write a set of rules that makes it so you can NEVER EVER return to the forums under any circumstances once you are banned.

      This from a company with the slogan: Turbine: Powered by our fans.

      • Shirokage says:

        You mean, “Turbine: Sustained by our bans.”

        Seriously though, the 10-infraction policy was a power grab. It gave them license to immediately permaban dissenters, while pointing to their shiny, new policy and saying, “No ambiguity here. We did it by-the-book.”

        As far as a separate account goes, it wouldn’t help me much. All the juicy, in-depth stuff I want to post would just get me banned anyway. The only real use of this “community” site is my.lotro and the lotteries, anyway. Still, the overriding reason against logging in with any account is that I can’t trust their framework’s security, and I like my computer too much to risk it on shoddy security on Turbine’s end.

    • Agamemnon says:

      Heh, I should’ve checked their site before making a post. 😛 Either they’re listening to the community or someone picked up on our conversation; they just started an account reimbursement policy.

      http://forums.lotro.com/showthread.php?383812-Compromised-Account-Reimbursement-Policy

      I will be curious to see the cases of “Restoration of most items lost as a result of an account compromise” and “Alternative compensation for items which cannot be restored.” Something tells me if you lose your raid gear and raid jewelery Turbine will compensate you with skirmish stuff instead. I’m not sure why they think not being able to not sell raid gear will some how help combat this issue–people who hack accounts are dicks and most likely will just delete your character altogether (note that this policy says nothing about restoring characters, just items).

      • Shirokage says:

        They really couldn’t ignore it. Codemasters, who implemented account restoration far in advance of Turbine (which was embarassing in itself, since Codemasters is a publisher and Turbine actually _owns_ the code). When people kept saying, “Codemasters can do it. Why can’t you?” their back was against the wall.

        Still, getting back to my prior point about the implementation about this and the deleted character policy, without securing things on their end, these things will actually reward hackers.

        The overall feeling is that they want to resist every good idea that players have and need implemented, forgetting their roots, where they relied on customer feedback to make the game better, and forgetting that they couldn’t have made things work without the player base. I see failure in the future, if they don’t change course.

      • Shirokage says:

        This just in. Turbine will be taking operational control of European accounts this Summer. One might surmise that Codemasters showing up Turbine on account restoration may have embarrassed Turbine to such an extent as to discontinue the relationship, but that’s just speculation. Historically, however, Codemasters has treated those under their care with greater respect than Turbine will, and I expect many detailed complaints in French in the near future.

        Stay tuned…

  6. Shirokage says:

    Oh, it’s on now. Seems a white hat found a serious security breach on the forums, and Turbine just bunged up the whole thing. Have a look the topic entitled “Official Forums Down” at http://lotrocommunity.com , if you want a to-and-fro about the implications.

  7. The Big Boss says:

    Game is a joke now… Riders of Rohan was the worst expansion to date. New expansion announced. It will only have west rohan questpack and some helms deep instanced battle crap… But full solo content from now on. They even told us they are not thinking to work on any group content because they are working on Helm’s deep.

    All the raiders are gone. Thousands have left the game. These idiots in Turbine can take a deep breath now because they kicked the raiders from the game so they can work on only solo content now.

    Not to mention how poorly this game runs…Lag, crashes, bugs, memory leak, outdated graphics, long login times (5 minutes to log in your character)… Also when you say something on forums, you are getting raped by Sapience and his fanbois…

    This is not an MMO anymore. All that left in forums are soloer fanbois telling you MMO means playing alongside other solo players but not playing with them… Yeah, way to cover that you can’t manage to play in a group. Difficulty of content is a joke. You can kill monsters by autoattacking…

    Gj turbine, you killed a once amazing game. I can only hope your game fails officially (already failed after RoR)…

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