Saturday, 14 June 2008


The next two to three months will likely prove important to the future of LOTRO. I'm assuming that Mines of Moria will not be released until September at the very earliest, with October being much likelier and even November an unlovely possibility. In the meantime, the game has been hit by an unfortunate combination of three factors; any one of the three alone could easily be shrugged off, but it's bad luck (and some bad management) that they should have hit simultaneously.

The first is simply seasonal. In the summer people go away on holidays (usually quite long ones if they happen to be Europeans), the days are longer, outdoor pursuits beckon, parents, significant others and spouses become even less understanding than in the darker days of winter and, what with one thing and another, most people spend significantly less time playing computer games. For the same reasons, people also buy fewer new games, which in turn leads to a small but significant drop in new players.

The second is the arrival of Age of Conan which, whatever its virtues or vices, has attracted a number of LOTRO players simply on the basis of novelty value. Some of them will stay with AoC, some are playing both games and most of them will, I suspect, drift back to LOTRO when the glitz has worn off. In the meantime, however, that represents another drop in activity.

Finally (and this is where bad management comes in), no matter what goodies Book 14 or, most likely, Mines of Moria eventually brings, it was a bad idea not to provide LOTRO players with some new raiding opportunities at the beginning of the summer. I know, I know, raids are not the be-all and end-all of online gaming. The point is, LOTRO is now 15 months old, and includes just two sets of raids, Helegrod and the Rift; this is plainly not enough. Most serious players have completed both raid sequences several times; in the case of the Rift, maybe even dozens of times in order to acquire complete armour sets. The result is that boredom is beginning to set in.

Consider: most average keen players probably hit the l.50 cap around Christmas time, so while they will have completed many of the new Forochel quests out curiosity, quests are simply never as interesting if you can't get experience from them. On the other hand, there are only so many times you can repeat the Rift raid chain, and once you have completed your set, it all becomes increasingly tedious (I know that if I have to face Barz one more time, I shall cut my own throat). Helegrod offers a more varied and interesting environment, but to be honest, how many kinships can rustle up 24 reasonably competent players often enough to make Helegrod adventuring accessible on a regular basis? A new 12-man raid coming out at the same time as Book 13 would have been an intelligent marketing move, particularly as the arrival of AoC was a known factor. I sometimes wonder whether the Delvings of Fror in the Ettenmoors may not perhaps have started out life as a potential raid venue which got side-tracked...

On balance, none of the above will in my view be enough to hold back LOTRO in the medium to long term, given its core client base of Tolkien fans and the very real positive aspects of the game (in a nutshell: looks, plot and updates), but it promises to be a slowish sort of summer... unless, of course, Codemasters choose to surprise us all.

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