Sunday, 10 May 2009

THE STATE OF THINGS

Once again, LOTRO seems to be at a crossroads. Over the last month, the game forums have hosted some long, heated and often quite profound debates about the current state of the game and where it's headed. Looking across a broad range of these debates, both in Europe and in the States, one thing is clear: a large percentage of current players, perhaps more than half, are currently unhappy with how things have been going since the introduction of Mines of Moria. There are many reasons for this malaise, some of which I touched upon in an earlier post, "The Mines of Moria considered as a Chinese Banquet", but it can essentially be summed up as a gradual but definite swerve in the game philosophy from collaborative adventuring to a more solo (some would say selfish) approach. The signs are clear: far more solo content, no multi-boss raid requiring careful study and practice by a dedicated group of players, epic quests which can be completed almost without any outside assistance. So are the results: by all accounts, more selfish player behaviour, fragmenting kinships and players switching off for longer and longer periods.

Those unhappy with this state of things are, virtually by definition, the hard-core players, often referred to as end-content players; of course, there are also many players who prefer solo play, and who are not in the least unhappy. The point is that Shadows of Angmar by and large succeeded in satisfying both groups, by providing alternative routes to success; sure, you needed to join a group of pretty hard-core players to get a complete Rift armour set, but the best crafted armour was almost as good (and anyway, unless you were going up against Thaurlach or Thorog, you didn't need the Rift set). You could also work at PvP, if that was your preference, and assemble an Ettenmours armour set. SoA offered lots of alternatives at different levels. MoM doesn't; it's much more linear and inflexible.

It's been said the current design mindset is aimed at potential Asian customers; I can't speak to that, never having played an Asian online game. But I don't really buy the theory, since it makes no commercial sense to try and expand your client base by pissing off your current customers. And while nobody can accurately gauge just what percentage of the current client base is made up of hard-core or end-game players (they are, indeed, more vocal, so forum activity is not an accurate measure), it would be a commercially dire mistake to write them off - one which I sincerely hope Turbine won't be tempted to make.

What is absolutely clear by now is the immense importance attached to the forthcoming Book 8, and particularly to the inclusion or otherwise of another Rift-type multi-boss raid. Here is a quick sampling of recent comments from the European forums:

"I wonder if turbine know how important the book 8 update will be to them. For a lot of people it seems this will make or break lotro for them." "The new raid will be in Book 8. Another delay would be the last straw for many, they just have to." "If the multi-boss raid is not out soon - they will prob kill the game off... All the bigger kinships on Laurelin are fed up with the watcher, and the turtle seems way too easy and pointless. We all miss the days with the Rift and Helegrod - all night raiding with plenty of loot and happy players."

None of these comments, and dozens of others like them, can be written off as knee-jerk whines; these are players who love the game, want to stay with it and wish it well. What's more, I think they are right: what LOTRO needs, as soon as possible, is a new Rift. Give this group of players another Rift-type raid, and they will forgive almost anything; hell, they'll probably be too busy to notice anything else between now and Christmas. Disappointing them, however, would not be a good move...

9 comments:

unwize said...

We've had the same complaints cropping up since launch. Turbine will never be able to add enough content to keep the more dedicated players happy, but despite all the complaining, the game will survive quite nicely.

Book 8 will add the new 12 boss raid, the complaining will die down for a while, and at some point in the future it will begin again.

Kairos said...

Unwize, I sincerely hope you're right about Book 8. And of course you're spot on when you say that it's effectively impossible to keep the more dedicated players happy all the time. But I think what we've been hearing over the last month or so has been more than the usual background noise of grumbling, and that a lot of players whose basic good will isn't in doubt have felt uncomfortable about the way they perceive the game as developing.

unwize said...

Oh yes, I'm not denying that the playbase's mood is going through a slump at the moment, but Turbine do listen, and will more than likely learn from their recent mistakes.

It's just a shame that the big new raid had to be delayed, otherwise I imagine their would be significantly fewer grumbles than at present.

In the next few months we'll have Book 8 arriving, and will more than likely hear some juicy details about the next expansion. The current unrest will probably be a low point for 2009, but we'll see!

Jaxom92 said...

I agree with unwize's comment. The developers of any game have never been able to keep up the content production to satisfy the hard-core on the edge. Certainly Book 8 could be the last straw for some if it doesn't give them what they want, but that's coming from the more fickle audience. I'm seeing a development pattern that's focusing most on the "casual" player because they tend to be around longer through the development cycles. It's a futile effort to keep the hard-core forever. It's a testament to their commitment to the end-game instances and raiding that it's even in the game, and they're still working on it. That says to me they haven't given up on the hard-core player. It's just naturally more difficult to satisfy those types of players.

Anonymous said...

I'm not hardcore and I'm bored to the teeth with MoM and book 7. Only one raid that requires a full 6/6 set of radi gear (I have 3/6) the 'regular' instances are so difficult now people can't be arsed trying them regularly, so getting to 6/6 now is difficult enough! I have my elf and dwarf rep maxed, a few 2nd age lvl 60 items almost maxxed out, all i have now is the grind to get the leaves for the gift box that currently doesn't work.

I'm levelling a new alt char for now, but I am bitter about the lack of top end content to aspire to right now.

Barrista said...

@Jaxom92: I'm seeing a development pattern that's focusing most on the "casual" player..I've only been playing LOTRO for a couple of weeks. People are leaving WoW for the same reasons (The upper end content is too "easy" they say). I don't necessarily think casual players will stick around longer as much as they need it to be easier to continue playing/leveling. If the majority of your player base only has a few hours a night to play on the weekend, you might make it so that they can see more content in a shorter amount of time. Or you might make things more soloable to aid leveling.

As a new LOTRO player, I was told repeatedly that the people who played this were more mature than WoW players. They didn't ninja nodes or mobs, not a lot of stupid talk in chat channels, etc. The truth is the ninja-ing has happened to me repeatedly and I see tons of spamming in OOC/advice.

So having just come from the land of Azeroth and enjoying Middle-earth, I really see the same issues and complaints. I think it is developers trying to attract more people to their game. If it dumbs it down for one or two people? Who cares as long as the other 8 or 9 are still willing to play.

Kairos said...

Barrista, the sad thing is that SoA did actually manage to satisfy both kinds of players - casual and hard-core. So it can be done, with thoughtful enough design, and we're all fervently hoping it will be again.

As for behaviour... Which server are you on? Of the European servers, Laurelin (RP) is pretty good as these things go, except for the 30-odd morons who spam the GlobalLFF channel every now and again (another issue that needs to be looked at - the problem being that GLFF is an unofficial channel, and therefore unmoderated).

unwize said...

@Kairos

I'm not convinced that things are that different from SoA regarding the hardcore players. For many months Helegrod was the only raiding content, and the hardcore Kinships were complaining right up until the Rift arrived, and they starting complaining again a month or so after Book 11.

I think what we might be seeing is a case of 'everyone that plays more than me is hardcore, everyone that plays less is casual'. Many of the 'harder' core players already left LotRO (I'm thinking many of the original members of Precept on Laurelin), and we're now seeing the same arguments from a new wave of end-game players.

Developers can never provide enough content to satisfy people who play several hours a day. It just can't be done. No matter how much they do manage to churn out, you'll always find many people complaining that it isn't enough.

Yes, LotRO really could have done with the new multi-boss raid in Book 7, but most of those complaining at the moment seem willing to wait until Book 8. If it slipped again it would probably be a significant blow for LotRO, though still not a terminal one.

Let's face it, no matter how disgruntled some players manage to get during the year, how many will be able to resist the prospect of a Rohan themed expansion in Q4?

Barrista said...

@unwize
Developers can never provide enough content to satisfy people who play several hours a day... you'll always find many people complaining that it isn't enough.And alternately, if you put out too much, the people who are not able to play several hours a day are displeased as well. The content gets so far ahead that maybe they wind up leaving their kinship. Or they feel they will never be able to get to content X, Y or Z and so they quit playing.

There is a fine line they must walk. Also, I have no clue what goes into developing new raids and instances, but I don't assume it happens overnight.

I honestly can never remember my servers name as I'm horrible with names, but it's likely a newer server or a low pop server (it was recommended by the game when I signed up).