Monday 7 June 2010

In Memoriam Lord of the Rings Online

So. Farewell then
Lord of the Rings
You were quite good
With a subscription.


Without a subscription
You will be rubbish. (Even
if the game
is the same.)
(And there is still the option of
A subscription.)

E. J. Zoso, age 17½

Turbine’s announcement about the future business model of Lord of the Rings Online has been seen by some as the end for the game, notably Keen, perhaps channelling Joseph McCarthy slightly with his suggestion that “Your communities will now be inundated with the free-to-play crowd which will infiltrate and destroy you from within.”

I have to say I’m slightly surprised by the news; the subject had come up in the pub just last Thursday as rumours were rife, and demonstrating my typically uncanny prescience I said I couldn’t see LotRO going free-to-play as its design wasn’t really suited to it, unlike the more modular Dungeons and Dragons Online. (Slight aside: I really don’t like the phrase “free-to-play”, it sets false expectation; developers and publishers aren’t charities, of course they want, and should receive, remuneration. Until someone comes up with something better, though, it’s a catchy shorthand. And it’s slightly less painful than “freemium”.) LotRO also looked to be fairly successfully ticking over, there didn’t seem to be a great need for a radical overhaul to save the game as happened with DDO. The free-to-play “Unlimited” version of DDO, though, has been a natural-20 critical success for Turbine by all accounts, so perhaps it makes sense for them to try and repeat the formula.

As well as being a commercial success for Turbine, I’ve really been enjoying DDO myself, playing almost every Friday for the last nine months in a weekly sort-of-but-not-totally-static group (maybe a non-Newtonian liquid group). It’s the only MMOGing I’m doing at the moment, and it’s working really well like that, no pressure or burn-out, no monthly sub nagging away. I’ve probably spent around £30-40 on “Turbine points” in that time for various other bits and pieces, which seems like a pretty fair deal for both me and Turbine. It’s about options; if you’re really into one game a subscription makes sense, if you want to dabble a bit then it doesn’t. The crucial thing with DDO, and LotRO in turn, is that you still can still subscribe if you want (whether it’s a called a subscription or becoming a “VIP”), that option doesn’t get taken away, and that puts an effective limit on costs for the player. It may be the end of the subscription-driven world as we know it, but I feel fine.

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