LotRO F2P Update

Back when LotRO announced its non-subscription pricing option, we had some of the best MMO blog drama of the year. If you want to see your favorite blog-folk being mean, spewing hate, and accusing each other of ruining the industry, I recommend Keen’s post and many of the responses to it. I promised to circle back to the topic after six months. Where are we now?

If you are a regular reader, you know that I have been unhappy with LotRO’s content development pace. It is a quest-based theme park game that has released three zones in two years, one of them as a paid expansion. This is not to say that LotRO’s development has been on hold. Those two years saw a re-vamp of early content, retrofitting of content to make is useful across greater level ranges, and several entirely new systems. So we have seen improvements in quality, if not much growth.

Economically, LotRO looks to be doing great. More servers, higher population, and every indicator I have seen suggests that the cash shop is making good money and subscriptions are up. I do not know if the result was as extreme as with DDO, but I am always struck by having subscriptions increase when a game goes F2P. The economics also recommend working on the lower-level content, rather than expanding at the cap, because the new income sources (players) are going through the early content, while the non-income sources (lifetime subscribers) are at the cap and can hardly pay less.

My current judgment is “too soon to tell.” In a business sense: so far, big win. We will see if that holds up after the initial surge from what is effectively a re-launch. In a game sense: so far, not great. The game has not gotten any worse, nor has it sunk into adding problems just so that you pay to make them go away, although I imagine the restrictions are pretty harsh on anyone trying to hit the level cap for $0. My biggest problem with the cash shop is the frequent advertising for it. “Let’s add a cash shop button to every screen in the game, even if the subscriber/lifetimer already has everything you could buy there! Let’s add a pop-up alert for the store every time we give the player a nickel worth of points!”

The main reason it is too soon to tell is that we have not seen what Turbine is doing with their new dollars yet. If revenue is put back into the game, with development in year 4 more like year 1, this will be a big win for the players, whatever it might mean financially. I would like to think that the re-investment would pay off, but for the moment, I am thinking only about the question of whether more $$ -> more designers, programmers, and artists -> more game. If 2011 sees “free” updates with at least two each of new zones, raids, book updates, and skirmishes, plus continued class updates, I will call F2P a win for the players, existing and new. If content development continues to limp along, neutral. If all the crunch goes into the paid update in late 2011, negative. And if things actually get worse in all the cash shop ways we know and fear, I may need to get my own torch and pitchfork.

: Zubon

Hmm, by that measure, how positively does Blizzard’s development rate speak for the subscription model?

9 thoughts on “LotRO F2P Update”

  1. Looks like it’s a long wait for more content as the Isengard expansion (with level cap raise) isn’t supposed to be released until fall 2011. Hopefully the PvMP revision will be finished well before then. So another year with no new content? As long as we get a steady stream of class/crafting/graphics improvements, like the excellent new vault system, I’ll be happy to kick some ducats there way.

  2. One problem with LotRO is that a lot of development time seems to have gone into re-vamping older zones. I’ve only been playing for about 2 years now, but it looks to be the 3rd overhaul of the elf/dwarf starting area I read about in the developer notes. Breeland, Ered Luin, and the Lonelands have all had major changes to the zones to make them more newbie friendly. But, of course, while developers are fixing up these zones they’re not adding new zones to the game.

    I suspect that Turbine took a look at things and saw that the major problem wasn’t keeping the old hands interested by adding new content, but rather that new players entering the game weren’t sticking with the game. Streamlining the new player experience was obviously a higher priority. But, if you’re not rolling more alts, you probably won’t appreciate that as much as a new zone.

  3. The increased motivation for designers to focus on the low-level game is an aspect of “F2P” conversion that hadn’t occurred to me, although it really should have.

    As a dedicated “low-level” player I not only have many characters in every MMO I play, but I also tend to take each of them through as many low-level zones as possible. One of my persistent complaints as a long-time player of various MMOs has been that after a while almost all development time and money is directed to “end game” content in which I have little or no interest.

    The received wisdom until now seems to have been that in order to keep making money from an older game one has to pander to the wishes and desires of the established playerbase, which will inevitably be of a high average level. It would be very interesting for the balance to tip so that development was aimed squarely at attracting new players rather than holding on to the old, although presumably the Holy Grail would be to do both.

  4. I’m okay with the pace of LotRO and even the revamping of the older zones. I have kin-mates that bought extra character slots on our server just to roll something in the new area and experience it.

    I’m also not the type to try and “conquer” all of a games content, especially if I know an expansion will be a year away. I know I can then relax and take my time getting my deeds done, exploring a new area, or having fun on my creep.

    I didn’t buy Cataclysm. One reason was some changes they made to one of my favorite classes, but the other was the burnout factor. The rush, rush, rush to conquer content got old. I shouldn’t get up from a game more tired than when I left work.

  5. F2P = more subscriptions because people feel more comfortable knowing that if/when they stop subbing, they can still login and still be able to play their characters. They’re no longer behind a “you can only see all the work you’ve put into this game and talk to your in-game friends only if you pay us” wall.

    Thats why I think that subscription games in the current zone/questhub style should be called Themeparks (pay to enter, all rides free), and F2P should be called Carnivals (free to enter, pay for all the rides individually). :)

  6. I gave up on LOTRO back in November, at least until the next expansion. There just isn’t enough for level 65’s to do right now.

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