What Happened to LotRO – How We Arrived at Free to Play

Wow, I’m shocked. When I read the news on Massively this morning, I had to sit and let it sink in for a minute: LotRO is going Free to Play this fall. Wow. Which was quickly followed by, how will this impact the game and what does this mean for my lifetime subscription?

More importantly, why? When this change happened with DDO, it was because the game was floundering. Yet, Lord of the Rings seems more alive than ever. I never feel alone in a zone because my chat log is constantly piping up with new messages. More than that, there actually seems to have been a resurgence of players lately, as they return from stints in other MMOs and big console titles. Maybe it’s just a matter of perception, but I never felt like LotRO was doing poorly. Actually, the game seemed much more alive than many of the other MMOs I’ve played recently.

So, if it’s not a matter of subs, then it has to come down to profit. Either DDO has begun outearning LotRO or the conspiracy theorists are right: lifetime subscribers are hurting the game. Yet, I simply don’t believe that lifetime subscriptions are that bad of a deal; it’s a guarantee to the developer for, at cheapest, 13 months of subscription time. At best, it would be 20 months. I honestly don’t think the average MMO player stays with any more than a single game that long, consistently. Unless, of course, it’s their Home Game which is another matter entirely.

I think the most likely option is that DDO is doing incredibly well for a game that sat on Death’s door not more than a year ago. Turbine has said that going F2P has resulted in more subs than when it required those subs to stay alive. That can only mean that players are loving the cash shop model. Now, apply that same philosophy to a game that is commericially much more well-regarded.

The risk, though, is that existing players will feel alienated by the business model change. There are already forum threads popping up from players who feel slighted by the lack of content updates lately, which we can only assume is a result of the pending restructure. After all, if we pay for the continued development, and then that development is put off to fund a restructing of the product we’re paying for, it’s easy to feel a little ripped off. Now, I’m not saying that’s what they’re doing, but the fact remains.

I personally see this as a good change. One of the things that attracted me to LotRO in the first place was that they put out lots of new content quickly. That hasn’t been the case this last year, while development for DDO seems to be at an all-time high. Once the game turns free to play, they’ll almost certainly release more content to capitalize on the cash shop model. Let’s consider too, the game will be more active than ever now. Having trouble finding a group for a low level dungeon? I bet that won’t happen as much after the change.

I’ve always felt that LotRO is a game that deserves more attention than it gets. If this change earns them that, I say good for them.

But, not all is sunshine and roses. The type of content DDO produces is different than what we’ve come to expect in Lord of the Rings. An “Adventure Pack” is generally a set of quests/dungeon(s) to occupy the player for a short amount of time. Our usual book update usually features several great adventures, a dungeon or two, game updates, and a new feature of some kind. The difference is content is much more likely to make older, existing players, feel nickel and dimed. Yet, when you consider that none of these packs will be required and, arguably, remaining a subscriber through the change will result in more content for your buck than ever, it’s not that bad.

I do feel a little bit slighted as a lifetime subscriber, however. When I paid my $200, I paid for a game in the vein of a traditional, subscription-style, MMO. For better or worse, a cash shop game is almost a whole different beast. I almost feel like my toy is being taken away and replaced with something “just as good.” But, in the end, that’s a little silly. I’m still getting lots of fun content for “free” and, so long as the quality stays as top notch as it’s been, I’ll be more than satisfied. Honestly, I can see myself being drawn in more than I am now to see all of the new bits and peices they add to the game. Still, this is the feeling of apprehension that I know many of we lifetimers are having.
We have to remember, as well, that Turbine has a plan in place. I’m quite sure they’re aware of the possibility to alienate existing players. I don’t think they’d take that risk unless they thought they could give enough to keep us happy. Turbine is a company whose reputation precedes them; they listen and respond to their players.

I’m going to let my trust guide me on this one, away from the nervousness about the unknown and towards the excitement for more fun content.

PS: I know many of you are concerned about what this change means for you. A Casual Stroll to Mordor has an excellent article up that breaks down how the changes will effect every type of player. Thank you to them for compiling it.

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