LotRO: You’ll never see Mordor

Let’s talk about LotRO!

Actually let’s not talk about the content of LotRO, because why make everyone suffer, but instead let’s talk about how things have gone for the game overall, and specifically under F2P.

Spoiler alert: LotRO is a third-tier (at best) MMO right now, and F2P is in part to blame.

In 2007, prior to release, LotRO looked like a serious ‘WoW-killer’, and that term wasn’t a joke back then. The pre-release advertising for LotRO said you should join “the millions of other players”, which shows you what Turbine expected out of the title. Also back in 2007, Turbine wasn’t yet in the SOE/Trion bin of developers we love to watch fall on their face; they were respected thanks to Asherons Call and even DDO (while DDO wasn’t a breakout hit, it did well-enough, and not being a huge failure is actually a compliment in the MMO genre).

Plus yea, it had the freaking LotR IP, easily one of the hottest IPs in gaming back then. License to print money really, just like the Sims or Star Wars! :rimshot:

LotRO at launch was solid. No, it wasn’t a WoW-killer, not even close, but it wasn’t a bad MMO. Unlike WoW, it took its lore very seriously, had solid storytelling, and back then did a bunch of stuff different-enough to hold its own, at least for a bit, and the numbers reflected that.

Then for a bunch of reasons, it got worse. Major mistakes were made, people left, and overall Turbine was slipping towards the Turbine we know and laugh at today.

The game went F2P, and, much like with DDO, Turbine released a big “congrats to us!” press release about how awesome F2P was for the game. F2P fans STILL link to that thing (can’t get to it now, someone link it for me please?) as evidence of F2P working, and more than a few people still hold that time as if it were a reflection of today or even the last few years.

Only it didn’t work, because between that press release and today things are very different. There was never a follow-up “F2P is still awesome!” press release. Turbine had a bunch of layoffs. They started to get desperate with the game, to the point of basically selling you The One Ring in the cash shop, among other typical F2P model garbage cash grabs like ad spam and immersion-destroying fluff. LotRO no longer has expansions, and the big outstanding question now for the game is whether the story wraps up before the game goes offline. (Easy money is on offline)

Saying that F2P ‘saved’ LotRO is wrong beyond the fact that the game is still online, and we don’t know if LotRO would still be online if Turbine had kept it as a sub MMO. Most likely not (and of course no one still with Turbine would admit to it anyway), especially given what Turbine became, but unless your ultimate goal with a game is to scrap by for a bit after gutting your studio of employees, LotRO isn’t an example of success; it’s just another example of the F2P price; you get a short-term bump at the cost of any long-term hope.

The real problem is that when talking F2P MMOs, there are no examples of success. The current “hey it worked!” example from some is SW:TOR, a game that originally EA hoped would have 1m subs, then later cut that to 500k, and despite having by far the largest MMO budget and a ‘can’t miss’ IP, still didn’t produce a game good enough to even get that. F2P hasn’t ‘saved’ SW:TOR, as the game still isn’t close to meeting expectations, nor has it risen above mediocrity (I believe it has 1m ‘active accounts’, which is a joke when you consider all of the above). Again, unless ‘success’ in F2P land is “the game is still online”, SW:TOR isn’t a success. It’s not (yet?) at LotRO-levels of failure, sure, but being better than that is still a long way away from success.

And SW:TOR is the BEST example of F2P non-failure that I can think of. If we use EQ2 as the example here, it’s not even a conversation, to say nothing of what effect F2P had on ArcheAge, or the AA-before-AA example, Allods (which as far as I know, is the only MMO to partly move from F2P to a full sub option, which was well-received).

This conversation would be far more interesting if we had even one FFXIV-level example of F2P MMO success (asking for EVE longevity or just WoW overall success is asking way too much), but we don’t. We never have, yet some still tout the model as the new or current formula for success. The ‘formula’ hasn’t yielded a single positive result people. Not. A. One. In what other industry is something that has never provided successful given so much credit? Literally banana land going on here, but that is the MMO genre.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Lord of the Rings Online, Rant, RMT. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to LotRO: You’ll never see Mordor

  1. Kobeathris says:

    What about Perfect World, Second Life, and Entropia Universe? I’m not claiming that any of them are good, but they have managed either Eve level longevity or near to it.

  2. buboe says:

    The thing about the LOTR F2p conversion was that it really did invigorate the game.
    I was a subscriber for about a year(from just before the Mordor release) got through Mordor and played with the endgame, but the servers suffered from low populations and stagnant AH’s and Kinships. it was difficult to get a raid group going, radiance requirements splintered the pool of players, and kinships seemed to fold all the time.

    F2P changed that for a good six months – the cash shop sold mostly fluff and XP potions, and server populations were back up to levels where you could find kinships and groups to raid and run dungeons.
    They released the Mirkwood expansion, and it was really good.
    Admittedly, it went south, and the cash shop became worse and more intrusive, but make no mistake – LOTR was dead before F2P.
    It had been six months since I’d found a dungeon running group (AU timezone, but still).
    IT wasn’t unusual for a 2-3 hour playsession in Moria to see no other players outside of the camps/towns.
    So F2P might not have been a long term fix, but a lot of people got a good six months more out of the title.
    And that’s not a bad thing.

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  4. carson63000 says:

    I guess that, even though we don’t have an example of F2P success in the MMORPG genre, publishers still look at massive F2P successes in other, tangentially related, genres – like LoL – and dream the dream.

    • SynCaine says:

      Which I’d argue is even worse than dreaming the WoW-clone dream, but yea, I’m sure some do. Hell, remember when Farmville cloning was a thing? Dummies will chase anything for a quick buck (that rarely comes).

  5. waxwind says:

    As for aucceasful F2P games, how about RuneScape? Sure, it’s model isn’t very similar to that of modern F2P games, but nevertheless it’s still successful. Admittedly the RS model resembles a progression limited free trial with sub.

  6. tsuhelm says:

    Really I think you have your cause and effect all muddled up:

    LOTRO MMO’ decline

    f2p and payment models

    I discussed both of these in an old post from a LOTRO F2P fanboy angle, you are warned:

    I think instead of blaming the decline of LOTRO on its f2p status rather than neglect (mismanagement) of the developer and I would even suspect those evil beancounters of WB being the ultimate villains in the story rather than the folks at TURBINE.

    It should also be placed in the context of gaming today. Where casual gaming is the norm, middle aged women being the majority,at least in the US! (Which for me is a much better gaming world than the closeted teen fanboys of the past I grew up in :) Where a ‘small’ mobile app can generate more revenue than a fully fleshed out PC/console game. (I am not taking anything away from the designers or developers in this they are responding to the customer base as ALL industries do.)

    BIG MMO gaming is suffering as it is a genre going out of fashion even the recent more ‘casual friendly’ iterations are not doing well.

    WOW maintains it’s hold on the majority and other fill in the gaps…(and even this giant was shrinking until recently…)
    LOTRO is in my opinion one of the better of these others…

    How the companies gather revenue from these games is I think rather a mute point, I am pretty sure they do it in a way that generates the most revenue possible that suits THEIR customer base, current and FUTURE!

    I do think there are many criticisms that can be directed at LOTRO’s model, at many of the items on sale and even how they are advertised! But compared to mobile gaming it is very, very mild intrusion and a price worth paying!

    Obviously, in my opinion…

    • SynCaine says:

      Few things:

      My argument isn’t that F2P is the sole, or even primary reason for an MMOs failure. But it is A factor. Think of F2P like bad graphics. Do bad graphics instantly result in a bad game? No. But would any game be BETTER because it has bad graphics? Nope. The sub model is good graphics. Do good graphics always result in a good game? Nope, but they sure do help.

      Consumer shift, while true, doesn’t mean having a successful MMO is impossible. FFXIV proves this, as do the continued success of WoW and EVE. Why couldn’t LotRO do what FFXIV does today? Turbine is the main or root cause of course, but F2P is also a factor.

      • tsuhelm says:

        I can see where you are coming from but I still think that f2p if done right should not necessarily be a reason for a games decline and specifically for LOTRO, I really think it would be fairing even worse without it.
        The same argument I suppose applies in reverse, subscription games done badly would have a detrimental effect on a game. The ‘sub model’ is no real indicator of quality than say ‘graphics’ as both are subjectively defined.
        So…good graphics are +ve, bad graphics -ve ergo a good payment method is a plus a bad payment method a minus.

      • mmojuggler says:

        FFXIV, and WoW for that matter, benefit from having 10+ years of developing a fanbase of computer gamers. That’s due to their success and hard work of generating multiple non MMO hits before going into MMOs: the Final Fantasy series for Square Enix, and the Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo franchises, any of which most other studios would kill to own.

        I doubt there is any other studio that could roll a game out to terrible reviews, suspend subscriptions, pause for over a year, reenable subs as they shut the game down while launching the successor, and not have their entire customer base bail. Square Enix basically has enough loyal fans to buy them years to fix a busted game and charge for the re-release.

        I’m sure the real answer is somewhere between “Turbine blew it” and “F2P is the cause”. Back in 2009/2010, with DDO being effectively saved by a F2P conversion, doing that for LoTRO probably looked like a great option. Now they are owned by another company and may not get to call the shots about their future like Square Enix can do with FFXIV.

        • SynCaine says:

          “I doubt there is any other studio that could roll a game out to terrible reviews, suspend subscriptions, pause for over a year, reenable subs as they shut the game down while launching the successor, and not have their entire customer base bail”

          Sadly, AV with Darkfall…

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