Thursday, 10 June 2010

RUNNING FREE

So, LOTRO is going Free to Play in the autumn. I can't say this came as a surprise; given how hard Turbine and Warner have been pushing F2P and micro-transactions in Dungeons & Dragons Online, it was pretty much inevitable they would hit LOTRO sooner or later. The big question is, how will this affect the core group of dedicated players? There have been some outraged responses on the forums, but to be honest, I'm inclined to see this as a positive development.

Why? Well, for one thing, there is the inescapable fact that for the last seven months, there has been a marked decline in the game which no amount of obfuscation can hide: on the one hand, the almost total lack of any new input since Mirkwood (I still refuse to take Vol.III/Book 1 in any way seriously), and on the other, the news that key Turbine developers were taken off LOTRO and put to work on other projects. It became obvious that LOTRO was being starved of funds, and risked dying a slow death by a thousand cuts. Something had to be done, and that something turns out to be going F2P.

Will this have a negative effect on existing players? Not in any way that I can see. Lifetime subscribers will acquire VIP status, and will continue to play free on a day-to-day basis. While it's not entirely clear how major new expansions will be paid for, that's hardly an issue: whether we buy major expansions, as we've done so far, or purchase them from the LOTRO store, really makes no difference. As for micro-transactions in actual items, I honestly don't think this will make the slightest difference to existing players, since apart from some starter kits of low-grade weapons and armour, the items available for sale will have no effect on performance. If the store goes on to do a booming business in summer hats and wet fish, it's no skin off my nose...

At least this way we will finally be getting new content. Reports from DDO players are almost entirely positive about the rejuvenating effect of going F2P, and apparently a respectable amount of new content has indeed been forthcoming. One possible downside which has been commented on has been the possible influx of "WoW-type mindless idiots", but this strikes me as a wild exaggeration. For one thing, basic F2P access will be strictly limited to certain areas, so that much of the time we wouldn't even see any of these rumoured barbarian hordes. For another, why would such players flock to LOTRO in the first place, rather that the Other Game itself? That said, I wouldn't be averse to making the RP servers in Europe (and in the States, if Turbine decide to set one up) VIP only.

What I am less happy about, though, is that this development clearly means we won't see any additional content until F2P is launched in the autumn (September? October?). It's going to be a long summer. Hope you all have a good time fighting your way up to the Lieutenant...

4 comments:

Green Armadillo said...

I'm guessing that future "major" expansions (if any) could go one of two ways:

- Big bundle that includes the increased level cap, new content, and misc features
- Everything a la carte in the store, possibly with the content included in the VIP/lifetime subscription

The advantage to the bundle is that they can slap a larger price tag on something that everyone, including VIP's, will need to buy. The disadvantage is that you don't want to have players talking about "upgrading" to F2P.

Because of the way the previous two expansions worked, Turbine has already been forced to grandfather in all the level 50-65 content in the game as free to play for current players. The last thing they want to do is kill the incentive to subscribe by continuing that trend.

So the question is: would they rather have everyone buy a $25 expansion at the cost of some subscription revenue, or would they rather settle for a $10 level cap increase fee and rest assured that players will be paying for the content one way or another?

badgerAlum said...

@Green

I'm confused by your comment. The only folks who got any of the 50-65 content free were multimonth subs, and then only Mirkwood. Turbine can't charge twice for that content, but it definitely isn't being "grandfathered in". Or am I completely missing what you are trying to say?

SeaEagle1 said...

One of the aspects of the move to F2P that's much overlooked imho, is that from Turbine's perspective the F2P model favors lots of short-term players (ie. people who play for a few months until they're at or near level cap and then quit). While a in a subscription model long-term players are far more important. What we very well might see because of this is that a significant amount of dev resources will be put in revamping current areas/systems to attract new players, at the cost of new high-level content. After all those high-level players will have payed their share already and they're only interesting for Turbine when there's a new payed expansion to have them buy it and play for a few weeks again.

Not to mention that I'm very disappointed that 10 months after Mirkwood they're going to release an update that basically 'does not change much' to current subscribers. It seems that as part of their new payment model they're willing to lose a number of their current subscribers in favor of the expected masse of F2P players.

Dave said...

I wonder if F2P is a way to pre-empt the elephant in the room: namely, Star Wars: The Old Republic that is supposed to drop in the spring.

F2P strikes me as a way to draw a bunch of people in early in the hopes that they either leave WoW or start playing Star Wars and come back if TOR turns out to be as bad as galaxies.

Personally, I think the 10 day trial doesn't do a good job of roping in the "casual" player. After all, if someone is only able to devote time to an MMO on the weekend, they're really only going to get four or so days in at most. F2P gives those people the option to try the game out for a little while longer.

Sure they're restricted to certain areas, can't amass enough money to buy the fast horse (to keep the gold farmers away) and only get a limited amount of storage, but that may be enough to entice them into signing up for additional content (at the nickel-and-dime rate) or even sign up a full VIP account.