The quest stands on the edge of a knife: LotRo goes F2P

Obviously this is not my first time talking about Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online. By this time you should know some basics about where I am coming from, specifically being a lifetime subscriber and as someone who has played the game since open beta. I’ve seen it all and was there for the best and the worst of it. Recently I’ve been bestowed the title of doomsayer because of my critique of Siege of Mirkwood as a poor expansion pack, calling it the sign that production has been slowing down. But I love the Tolkien mythos, and I like role playing in his world, so I was hoping I was wrong. Sometimes, however, it’s not all that great to be right all the time, as much was proven when Turbine announced that LotRo was going to switch over to a F2P model.

An era lost in time

I called it quite some time ago—that RMTs would eventually invade the Western market after Western developers realized the profit opportunities with such a business model. However when I thought of it being applied into the MMO market, I assumed that it would have come up in a future MMO in production, and not as a change of business plan. Because if there is one thing that is for certain, it is that when an MMO changes its subscription plan, it does so because it’s not doing all that well on its current business model. Case and point: Granado Espada. Given, Granado Espada is a grindfest Korean MMO, but it was still released in the Western market originally with a subscription model. That didn’t work out so well, and within months the game turned to F2P with an RMT market set up. The game has remained in the dust ever since.

But I know what you’re saying. “That’s because Granado Espada wasn’t fun to play!” Well, what is LotRo then? Because if LotRo was successful, it would mean that its customers would be satisfied with the product as-is and revenue and players would increase. Instead it’s been the opposite. And it hasn’t been because LotRo has become “unfun” to play, but rather there has been nothing to do. The real trouble to LotRo is that its successful years, the era of greatness, was when it had years of development in place and then slowly oozed it out into tri-monthly content patches. Aim and compare: LotRo from 2007 to 2008 and LotRo from 2009 to now. Compare how much content has been put out in comparison—compare how many areas have been put out, how big the areas have been, and how many raids there have been (and I do mean raids and not 12 minute boss fights).

2010 will undoubtedly be Turbine’s worst year for LotRo content development—we will see only two Book patches this year. Two! And the first one had us running around in old areas talking to old NPCs. The second Book update will add another zone. To top it off? There will be no expansion this year. So allow me to reiterate the dilemma here. Turbine expects its current customers to keep their subscription for SEVEN MONTHS before any new content is seen. And what are they supposed to do in the meantime? Your guess is as good as mine, considering their only distraction from the core game is a broken and no-incentive feature known as PvMP. So the real question before we can even ask what F2P will do to LotRo is whether or not it will make much of a difference for a company that can’t even put out simple Book updates.

Making a bad move

Imagine what the predicament might be if Siege of Mirkwood had been a real expansion. Just imagine! There would have been months of opportunity for people to go through the numerous Books Volume III would have brought. Instead Turbine tried to fool everyone into thinking Siege of Mirkwood was an expansion. The only trouble? They set the bar with what expansions are with Mines of Moria, which brought in its own VOLUME of content, with a slew of Books to start us off, as well as the huge world space that is Moria as well as some of Lothlorien. And what was Siege of Mirkwood? It was a Book update. One Book update. To mask the lack of content, they threw in another five levels to the level cap and skirmishes. Skirmishes, on hand, were the only great thing to come out of Siege of Mirkwood. The level cap, on the other hand, enraged the entire community, as the dilemma of legendary items were, once again, rendered completely useless.

The trouble with this release was trying to market to their customers that this was an expansion pack. This was anything but an expansion pack. Instead a another slew of problems were added onto the pile of troubles that already existed, and Turbine created more work they needed to fix for a development team that was already understaffed. Again, they have missed the true troubles surrounding LotRo and why it is not as popular as it should be, believing that throwing dazzling imagery in front of the faces of customers would take their mind off of the broken pile of troubles that plague the game. It was quite obvious that shortly after Siege of Mirkwood they were able to discern that LotRo would not survive much longer under their current actions of plan.

And here is when the real trouble to all the problems comes into play that could solve everything—the trouble of money. Because it is quite obvious Turbine was not seeing much of it with their MMOs. Indeed, to even start LotRo in the first place they would have first needed Warner’s help to invest in their opportunities. What this investment meant none of us were quite sure, but we knew that millions of dollars were involved. Obviously such an investment meant that Warner had quite a lot riding on Turbine and their hopes for LotRo being a success. But here’s the trouble with trying to get your investor to help you with your idea of needing more money—there has to be some tangible evidence that they will be able to make a return investment. At the time of Siege of Mirkwood, it was quite clear that Turbine wasn’t able to prove as much. Which is why we come to the main attraction of the sideshow now…

Keeping everyone on the edge of their seat

Dungeons & Dragons Online hit the Free 2 Play model first. I’ve had some experience with the DDO community before—they’re anything but friendly (and it was from a minor comment about how DDO was not a successful MMO—I take this time to say, “I told you so”), so you can imagine what the backlash was like for it. But, with all things involving calamity, things calmed down and Turbine made short work to proclaim the change as a “success!” That 1 million subscribers and their revenue shooting up by 500% was more than a convincing sale on their part. Of course nothing is all that special on the case of “subscribers” when they can count all the F2P folk now as well. Unless you would like to, which at that point you would then have to recognize RuneScape as the most popular MMO of all time. Yeah, I didn’t think so. However, what was impressive was the 500% revenue increase statistic. Even if DDO had 20,000 subscribers at the time before F2P, you’re looking at then at least 100,000 new players spending more than what original subscribers were paying.

LotRo players, on the other hand, were not as convinced. Immediately the obvious was asked—“Will this happen to us?” And the answer was a resounding, “NO!” by community managers. The only trouble with this bit is that F2P had always been in store for LotRo ever since Turbine was in negotiation deals to sell their company to Warner. DDO switching to F2P was their crowning moment of proving that purchasing them would have them see return investment opportunities, and being under the wing of a conglomerate corporation would certainly help the cash flow troubles. Either way, it proved to be a true slick businessman day for Turbine when they lied to the LotRo community about its future, and even worse on Codemasters part when they sold lifetime subscriptions to EU players weeks before F2P was announced, knowing full well what was in store.

Months went by without any future word on production issues with LotRo. People became testy, as they usually do with nothing to do. Soon rumors began to spread from the community managers. “News will be coming soon!” They said. “It’ll be a big announcement!” Immediately, like school children that had just watched scrambled porn for the first time, everyone began to fantasize what might the news actually be. A popular bet was a Harry Potter MMO—this was reinforced when Warner bought out Turbine (although this was also the first cause of panic for players as well). My money was on bringing LotRo to the consoles—after all, they are looking for people with experience in that neck of the woods. The reality, however, is that we were all wrong. What was their super huge big and happy announcement? LotRo goes F2P in the fall.

The flame war begins

The reaction was all negative, of course. Like in true Turbine fashion, they dropped a bomb on the player base without first ensuring that they covered their bases completely. A little press release followed, detailing what it meant for current players, although the real tough questions weren’t obviously answered until later. But yes, LotRo will be seeing a turnover this fall into the F2P business model with an RMT in-game market. Something Turbine swore it would never do and they went and did it. What followed were a number of typical “I quit” responses. The only question is: why don’t I feel the same way?

Pick up your jaw for a second, because, yes, I did say I was not all that bothered by the situation. After reading everything on what will happen, not much of anything will change. As a lifetime subscriber, I will be entitled to the benefits of earning monthly points to spend in the market, even with reassurances that we would be able to buy expansion packs for free if we saved up the points. The other issue isn’t much of an issue at all—I get to keep everything I already have, courtesy of also being a lifetime subscriber. And, as what they are calling a “VIP Member,” I still get my free updates and what not (when ever they actually come out). In reality, this doesn’t effect me at all as a player.

The pluses, on the other hand, is that the exact same thing will most likely happen to LotRo as it did for DDO—a massive influx of players will storm the game and profits will go up. And, honestly, this is exactly what I have always wanted for the game. F2P will be a glorified trial for F2P players, as they can stay in the game as long as they like, but they will need to purchase quest packs from the market to actually progress. And, as someone who plays LotRo solely for the role play, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing, considering most role players don’t make it past LV20 anyways, so it’s a double plus once again if it will bring in free role players. But, if you know anything of me by now, you should know that this is all leading up to a point where I say “however…”

However…

Success is short-lived, as they say, and at this point we don’t know how successful F2P will be in the long run for both of Turbine’s MMOs. By experience, however, this has always spelled disaster for an MMO that switches over from a subscription model to a F2P model. What happens first is exactly what we saw for DDO—an influx of new players and profit revenues going up. However, the real trouble to the game will still remain, and, free to play or not, it will not keep players around if they are still present. This is why Granado Espada never made a rebound and continues to remain in the annuls of MMO shadow history. And, what’s worse, this situation has gotten us to face the problem that we could have only whispered and guessed about—that this was Turbine’s ONLY solution to the troubles they were facing, as everything else they have tried has failed (even the terrible Rune-Keeper class).

Free to play might seem like a good idea at first, but it usually spells disaster for a company that once made its business off of a subscription model. If Turbine continues their developmental act of what we are seeing now in LotRo, it won’t matter if they even start offering free handjobs—the game still won’t make a comeback if the problems that make the game not worth-while to stick around for are not fixed. Couple this with a steady stream of no content coming in, and LotRo remains the same no matter how you may change it, from its own NGE patch (when ever that may happen) or to even changing the business model to the game. Hopefully I won’t see you guys here in January of next year announcing the time of death for the game’s servers…

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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.

9 Responses to The quest stands on the edge of a knife: LotRo goes F2P

  1. Jordan says:

    Hello there, after I heard Lotro was going f2p I started lurking the boards on g-faqs and it didn’t take me long to see how passionate you are about this game and how knowledgable about it you are. I played this game for awhile back but I played with my brother-in-law and others in their kin and it was hard for me to get into the game cause I was always catching up and being left out of raids because of my low level. Eventually I got frustrated and left. I’m strongly considering renewing my sub though and starting over, leaving the kin (they don’t like me anyway I think), and finding my own group to play with. I’m one that enjoys solo rpgs like dragon age and mass effect. I primarily play those on consoles so I can see why playing this game where you’re more dependent on having a group, and social interactions can make or break your experience, could frustrate me. Anyway I guess knowing what you know about me from this post and from what I’ve seen on the ability to solo through some of this game now, in your opinion would it be worth me getting back into it?

    • Agamemnon says:

      It depends. The progression through LotRo has largely been turned over to a solo-friendly MMO, so you can definitely hit all the way to the level cap and never join a group through the entire journey. But to me it sounds this is more like a problem of you not liking MMOs in general, which is also understandable, because I have the same problem in a way (I’ve trialed just about every MMO you can and LotRo is the only one I’ve liked). For me what helps staying interested and focused is the double fact that I’m a big Tolkien nerd–I love the Lord of the Rings mythos.

      So you sort of have to weigh what you liked in the game in the first place. Skirmishes will help somewhat in that solo progress, but you will get burned out from them if you tackle them often. Truthfully it’s the community that keeps me in the game these days, so I would say try coming back and seeing if you can find a kinship that has the right fit for you. I know on Landroval we’re nothing but friendly, and we’re not all role playing kins, so there’s a thought to consider (especially being the second-most populated server).

      • Jordan says:

        Sounds good. I didn’t want to ask if you wanted to play with me and I do have a friend or two that I could get the process started in finding a group that I enjoy playing with, but yeah you’re pretty much hitting it on the head. It’s not that I don’t enjoy MMO’s but most of them don’t appeal to me because of the content it’s based off of. I can’t wait for Old Republic. That will probably be a game I play even if it sucks because I love Star Wars. But I’m counting on Bioware to continue their streak of excellence. I also started out as a guard and I’m not sure that tanking is my favorite thing to do. I play a lot of tabletop and I’ve only enjoyed tanking for a group once and that was far into the stories and levels. Thanks for the input and I may jump on Landroval and look you up. What’s your main?

  2. Pingback: One does not simply buy his way into Mordor: LotRO now F2P | Slightly Relevant

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  4. Lamilac says:

    I’ve decided to give the F2P a chance with LotRO. I have played DAoC for the past 6 years and if you want to talk about a decimated player base, look no further. I do have a question though. Being F2P and having to purchase expansion packs, I’m wondering if there are certain packs that are “must haves” compared to others. MoM obviously, but what of the others?

    • Agamemnon says:

      By packs I take it that you mean expansion packs? I would say none until you’re LV45 or so. Aside from the two classes that come with MoM, there’s not much to the expansion to low-level players, as it’s all LV50+ content. SoM is much of the same way except for the fact that it allows you unrestricted access to all the skirmishes in the game (which you will find out is one of the easiest ways to level in the game).

      • Lamilac says:

        I was wondering mainly because there doesn’t seem to be much in turns of quests from just the main areas. North Downs, Lone Lands, Trollshaws, etc. can be travelled to, but all quests are off limits unless I purchase the expansion pack. I’m wondering where I should be going then to level with just the F2P content.

        • Agamemnon says:

          North Downs, Lone Lands, Trollshaws, etc. are Shadows of Angmar content and are only available freely if you are a subscriber, otherwise you need to buy the quest packs. As far as content, however, the North Downs alone can take you from 20 to 40 in technicality, but you will need the quest content of the Lone Lands and the Trollshaws to fill in for the fact that there are gaps in the North Downs.

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