Allarond, Champion of Gondor, Protector of the Shire, Hero to the Lost, and, yes, Weird of Worms, eagerly awaits the forthcoming Mines of Moria expansion. I'm just going to wait for 6-12 months after it comes out for them to actually finish it.Well, it's been the requisite six months since the expansion. In Syp's study of MMO-latecomers, I'm the rare person who actually took the "wait 6 months" advice. Meanwhile, prices have never been better - $40 will get me an expansion key AND three months' subscription. So, why am I considering throwing my hands in the air and waiting for the forthcoming Rohan expansion?
Case Study: LOTRO Moria
Zubon of Kill Ten Rats just wrote a less than flattering retrospective of the expansion, in particular its endgame. I can already hear Tipa reminding me that there is no such thing as a completely comprehensive review of an MMO, and I ordinarily would not give such weight to a single opinion. However, it isn't really just one opinion.
- Zubon's criticisms (e.g. "If you like lotteries, you will love these treadmills.") parallel comments I'm seeing elsewhere on the LOTRO blogs.
- My own experience with the game's launch was that the game's opening areas were highly polished, but that the content simply wasn't ready in the later levels.
- In particular, the endgame reputations, which were not even added until 4-5 months post launch, failed the "is the time/benefit ratio worth it to me" test - exactly what players are saying about 2nd and 1st age Legendary weapons today.
The issue, broadly, is how much longer it will take to get the content into shape. We know that a "Book 8" patch with more fixes is planned for June (i.e. 7 months post launch), that a "Book 9" patch is due at some point (no ETA), and that the next expansion (almost certainly Rohan) is due this year (not more than 6 months from now).
That $40 deal sounds great right now, but becomes less impressive if you figure that there may not actually BE three months worth of new content that I want to use (Zubon's update came on Day 61). Meanwhile, that expansion key for Moria will presumably be included for free with the Rohan expansion (I don't see a game that launched its first expansion as a "complete edition" changing the plan for expansion 2). If I wait until the next expansion, I will get the final, 100% polished version of Moria, and will have the opportunity to delve into the (possibly not-yet-finished) new expansion content as well.
Is the annual expansion model creating an incentive for me NOT to resubscribe and buy the current expansion?
Case Study: Unnamed EQ2 Expansion for 2009
The only semi-officially confirmed news we have about the new EQ2 expansion is that there will be a new good-aligned city, balancing the number at 3 for each faction. (Technically, they haven't confirmed that the city will be in the expansion, but both arrive this year, and it would make sense for the city to be a listed "major feature" on the expansion box.)
Unofficially, I would say there are a few safe bets:
- The new city will include starting area content for levels 1-20 (balances the good/evil split - several of the good races have only a single choice of starting zone, and it wouldn't make sense to implement high level content for just one of the two factions)
- An increased level cap (they're still working to tune the AA curve six months out from the last horizontal expansion, so I don't think it would make sense to leave the cap unchanged again - fresh 80's would need to work through two previous expansions just to get ready for the current expansion, at which point they'd effectively be far more powerful than level 80 in all but actual level number)
- Player crafters who have chosen Carpentry will not get new furniture recipes that are good enough to hurt the sales of RMT furniture items.
That speculation aside, I am not expecting the content that is currently in EQ2 to last me through to the expansion, even if I roll an alt in the mean time (probably an evil-aligned character, to save my other good-aligned alt plans for the hypothetical new starting areas).
Again, it seems like I am, in some ways, better off passing on the just-past-beta version of the November 2009 expansion, so I can get the expansion key and access to the fully polished version for free when I buy the November 2010 expansion. If I do indeed decide to punt on the Moria era in LOTRO, I'd have that game's first two expansions to tide me over during the time when I might otherwise be playing this year's EQ2 expansion.
Publish or Perish?
In some ways, games that have a smaller subscriber base face greater pressure to release frequent paid expansions than a Goliath like Blizzard. When you can't rely on literally hundreds of millions in fees every month, you need to think creatively about expansion box sales or RMT options (and this goes doubly for Turbine, which chose to offer lifetime subscriptions for LOTRO and therefore has a portion of its playerbase that ONLY pays when a paid expansion is launched).
On the other hand, the expansion box fee, like the all-or-nothing monthly fee, is another point at which players need to decide whether to remain customers. When expansions are a mere twelve months apart, you do end up with a perverse incentive for players to simply wait out the next expansion cycle, an incentive that gets stronger the further we get into the year. You can blunt that slightly by offering aggressive discounts as the year progresses, as Turbine has done, but you do so at the risk of convincing players that they should await the discounts.
There's also the social factor to consider. Let's assume that, if you skip the worst of the endgame grinds, you're left with 2-3 months of content per annual expansion cycle, some of which is packaged in content patches post-release. If you do two expansions worth of content in one 5-6 month stint, that's enough time to make social ties, join a guild, etc. If you split it up into multiple month-long stints as content is added, you're not going to have the chance to meet people (especially if your fellow players are doing the same game-hopping dance, and may be gone themselves when you return).
I don't know if we're actually at the point where it makes sense to play every other expansion just yet. Still, the fact that you can make a case for doing so is as strong an argument as any that we may need to consider business models - both on the billing and content generation sides of the equation - that have a bit more flexibility than the all-or-nothing buy the boxes and then subscribe or quit model.