Thursday, 29 April 2010


With mounting worries about the LOTRO’s future after the Warner Bros buyout, allied to speculation about Turbine’s financial health (WB wouldn’t have bought it if it wasn’t profitable or it wouldn’t have been sold if it was in good health – take your pick!), there has been a marked tendency for observers, educated and otherwise, to ascribe the apparent decline in the game’s quality over the last year to the lifetime subscription experiment. While conceding the value of the original financial shot in the arm during LOTRO’s early days, the argument goes, we lifetime subscribers are now parasitic on the game, contributing nothing to development. Indeed, some forum posts have suggested, lifetime subscribers are largely responsible for the current doldrums. By the same token, many lifetimers moan that for these reasons, Turbine regards them as less that the dust on its feet, and completely fails to take their interests to heart – the not illogical implication here being that this particular group of players is more likely to be picky and demanding.

I say that’s rubbish. It’s true that lifetimers no longer pay a monthly subscription; on the other hand, this scenario completely ignores the crucial fact that lifetime subscribers actually represent a large and essentially captive pool of customers for paid expansions. Let me put it this way: say that a monthly subscriber, cheesed off by the paucity of content since Vol. III/Book 1 was released earlier this year, decides to cancel his subscription on 1 May. From this point on, both the lapsed subscriber and a lifetime subscriber are contributing the same amount to Turbine’s kitty, namely nothing. However, let’s be optimistic and say that on 1 November, Turbine release a wonderful new boxed expansion, with a new landmass and even (as long as we’re dreaming) a fully revised LI system, retailing for about 30 euros. My guess is that at that point, the vast majority of lifetime subscribers, even those who perhaps haven’t logged on since early summer, will fork out for the expansion – after all, the game hasn’t cost them anything for over half a year, and what’s more, there is little or no hassle involved. However, what are the chances that lapsed monthly subscribers will do the same, given that just buying the box won’t be enough – they’ll also have to go to the trouble and expense of re-subscribing?

Lifetime subscriptions may or may not have been a good thing for Turbine from an actuarial point of view; that depends very much on the specifics of the company’s financing and accounting. But I don’t believe that ongoing financial problems, if any, can be ascribed to the existence of lifetime subscribers; if we don’t pay for the swings, we pay for the roundabouts, and we mostly do so quite happily.

Friday, 23 April 2010


On 16 April, players on Codemasters forum were asked to respond to the the following in the Talk to the Community Team thread: "You are given the opportunity to move two items to the top of our priority list. Choose two of the following items and assign them either first priority or secondary priority: Radiance, Legendary items, Housing, Kinships, PvMP, General itemization (loot, rewards), New Skirmishes, New Raids, Revamping old Raids/instances, Trait/deed revamp".

By the morning of the 23rd, 139 players had responded with the following choices:

• 89:  PvMP
• 52:  Legendary Items
• 22:  New raids and skirmishes
• 20:  Radiance
• 19: Trait/Deed revamp
• 16:  General itemisation
• 14:  Revamping old raids/instances
• 10:  Housing
•  9:   Kinships

That's a huge majority (of those responding, obviously) in favour of improved PvMP; many of those selecting PvMP didn't even bother to make a second choice. Next came Legendary Items, with dozens of different suggestions; the gist of these was "either improve the system or scrap it!". I was mildly astonished to see new raids come in a relatively lowly third with just 22 votes, but if you add the 14 votes for revamping old raids, it becomes clear that many players are unsatisfied with the level and quality of raids currently available. Those picking radiance as an item to be fixed were brief and almost unanimous: "scrap it".

Will this affect Turbine's plans in any way? I'm inclined to think that it will, given how bluntly the question was put: not "what would you like to see done", but the much more direct "move two items to the top of our priority list". It would be foolish of Turbine to be so upfront about soliciting input, only to ignore it.

Sunday, 11 April 2010


A week or so ago, I posted a poll on the Codemasters forum asking people to say which of ten raids (including a raid-like instance) their current kinship had completed, the requirements being that all the bosses had been killed at least once, and that at least 80% of the participants belonged to the kinship. The raids included Ferndúr the Virulent, Master of Imlad Balchorth; Helegrod; Udunion the Rogmul; Bogbereth; The Rift of Nurz-Gashu; The Watcher in the Vile Maw; Nornúan the Turtle; Dar Narbugud; and Barad Gularan in both Easy and Hard modes. Despite the obvious methodological flaws (survey limited to forum readers, inadmissibility of PUGs, etc.), I was hoping to get some sense of both the difficulty and popularity of the LOTRO raids to date.

In practice, the biggest problem was that the relative inflexibility of the CM poll mechanics made it impossible to avoid multiple postings by different members of the same kinship; this means that absolute numbers cannot be trusted - for example, 34 people claimed that their kinship has completed Barad Guldur in easy mode, but does this mean that 34 separate European kinships have done so? It's obviously impossible to say. On the other hand, there should be little or no distortion due to boasting, since kinship names were not posted. It was also questioned whether the survey ought not to distinguish between raids completed on level, and those completed later (i.e., was a raid completed with l.50 or l.65 players?). My gut feeling here is that in general, even semi-serious raiding kinships would be most likely to complete a raid on or near level. In any case, over a period of about a week, 103 people took part in the poll. What follow are the results in some detail, running from the highest to the lowest completion rate.

1. Nornúan the Turtle: 96.12 %
With the highest success rate (only four kinships did not list him), Nornúan is also the easiest and quickest raid in the game, with an average completion time of under 5 minutes. Though technically a raid, in some ways it's a bit silly to compare Nornúan to, say, a raid like the Rift which, when done at level, can take a competent kinship two evenings to complete.

2. The Rift of Nurz-Gashu: 92.23 %
Everybody's favourite: difficult, demanding, well-designed, with good rewards. Not surprisingly, the second-highest completion rate, despite being vastly more demanding than the nominal first.

3. Bogbereth: 86.41 %
Another quick and simple raid, easily accessed, it was in fact designed as a "learner" raid and could be farmed by a much smaller group even at l.50.

4. The Watcher in the Vile Maw: 79.61 %
The first radiance-gated raid. Despite being quite easy of access and containing a single boss with no trash mobs, the exact tactics required are tricky, and many kinships struggled to learn the fight, particularly as the designers made several changes to the combat mechanics over time. The fact that even at this relatively late date, 20% of the kinships represented in the poll have not completed this raid is indicative of the problems raised by radiance gating.

5. Helegrod: 78.64 %
I was surprised to see Helegrod achieve this percentage, since almost every kinship would struggle to field a 24-man force over the two evenings necessary to complete this very, very long raid. My guess is that there has been some gentle cheating here, and that some of the raids were perhaps nowhere near 80% single-kinship participation.

6. Udunion the Rogmul: 78.64 %
Technically not a raid, but a very hard fight which required a fellowship to defeat several bosses before reaching Uduniuon. The relatively lower completion rate is almost certainly due to the difficulty of access; at level, reaching Barad Gularan was a feat in itself, and a wipe meant that the entire journey had to be repeated again.

7. Dar Narbugud: 73.79 %
The second radiance-gated raid, with the success rate dropping to just under three-quarters of the kinships polling. Most people dislike DN, with its heavy trash mob population and unimaginative graphic design.

8. Ferndúr the Virulent: 70.87 %
It's not surprising that Ferndur has the lowest completion rate of all the early raids, as many people don't even know of his existence; you only find out about him after competing a long string of quests. The raid is non-instanced, however, so you might just stumble across him if you travel far enough into Imlad Balchorth.

9. Barad Guldur (Easy Mode): 33.01 %
Barad Guldur is the third and most heavily gated raid; you cannot realistically even attempt it without +120 radiance, and the deeper into it you go, the more radiance you will need. There are only three bosses, but each needs to be defeated in both easy and hard modes, making it in effect two raids. The biggest obstacles to success in Barad Guldur are the nightmarish so-called trash mobs fights which precede each boss; not only are they difficult and time-consuming, but unless the boss is defeated, they reset in under an hour. This last and utterly inane detail makes learning a boss fight almost impossible, since you normally get no more than two chances before the lead-in fight resets and you have to spend anything up to another hour fighting your way back in order to try again. Frankly, very few kins other than hard-core raiding kinships can devote the enthusiasm and time necessary to overcome such handicaps, so it comes as no surprise to find the success rate crashing to 33%.

10. Barad Guldur (Hard Mode): 12.62 %
For hard mode, the completion rate drops again by two thirds from the easy mode rate. And remember, that's 12.62 % of what we can assume to be the moderately serious to hard-core group of raiding kinships, not of all the kinships on the server. Overall, I am prepared to guess that less than 2% of all kinships, and maybe 1% of all players, will ever complete Barad Guldur in hard mode. While that might be acceptable if it were due to a fiendishly designed and tricky raid, it is unacceptable as the result of a) the radiance gating system, and b) the glaring chicanery of trash mob fights which reset after almost every wipe.

Conclusion: While this admittedly rather superficial survey probably tells us nothing we didn't already suspect, it's still good to get confirmation. Using the information gathered, I plan to look into ways of hopefully performing a more elaborate and accurate survey, perhaps by means of questionaires addressed to kinship leaders or kinship raid officers.

Monday, 5 April 2010


In case it's not immediately obvious, the fragment of an ingame log, above, posted on Codemasters forum yesterday and immediately copied onto a number of private forums, refers to something which took place on the Laurelin server. The player identified as Denwyn was leading a fellowship in the Sammath Gul instance, where the rare Symbol of Celebrimbor dropped after the group successfully took down Gorothul. All six players rolled for the item, with the leader scoring a lowly 7; immediately after the roll, the leader assigned the item to himself and left the fellowship. In game parlance, to acquire loot items by fraud of any kind is to ninja them.

The player concerned, a Hunter once known as Deniro, promptly changed his name once again to "Alitis", arguing a certain amount of premeditation (whether he knows it or not, by the way, his new name is the Greek word for "thug"). Now, Codemasters have rules about naming and shaming which forbid the outing of bad player behaviour on their forums, which means that by the time you look for it, the thread may have been deleted. CM Gamemasters are also under strict instructions not to take any action over player v. player complaints of things like ninja looting. I can see where they are coming from, of course - to do otherwise would almost certainly lead to a flood of trivial or even malicious complaints, quickly swamping the system. However, it strikes me that in a few serious, well-documented cases, or those where the same player has consistently been reported for abusing the rules and/or disruptive behaviour, there is every justification for GM intervention leading to a partial or total ban. The proof is easily available in the form of game logs like the one above, and I believe there are catch-all rules about harassing and inappropriate activity which could certainly be made to cover blatant ninja looting. And it's in nobody's interest to have thugs running around ingame - not even, or perhaps particularly not even the publisher's.