Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Best Buy Wants PVD To Go Back To The Shadows

Tony at Mmeow noticed something interesting at his local Best Buy: $10 Moria expansions (regular and CE) and 60-day time cards for LOTRO. I decided to check up on this tip in the Washington DC area.

The local Best Buy had Moria collector's editions listed at the original list price ($80). In keeping with general retail practice, they also had out-of-date boxes from the original LOTRO release with a $20 price tag, which no one would ever want since Turbine is carrying the all-in-one package that includes the original game with Moria for $10. However, I didn't see any regular editions or time cards in the computer gaming section. I was about to leave when I noticed a row of crates full of discount games - "buy one, get one free" - at the checkout line. I went over and, sure enough, found the missing regular editions of Moria and a game time card. As a result, I walked out of the store with an expansion and game time card that retailed for $70 last November for a grand total of $10.

It's hard to tell whether we can draw any broader conclusions from these major discounts. Best Buy only stocks games in the first place in the hopes of selling hardware and accessories, and one can make the case that game time cards are especially obsolete now that players who need to pay in a store can just buy a pre-paid credit card. If someone in the corporate structure is paying attention, they might have concluded that now is the time to cut their losses on Moria boxes, before they get rendered obsolete by a new expansion, especially since Turbine itself is selling the all-in-one pack for $10 (75% off of the launch MSRP, 8 months later).

Then again, Turbine can't be thrilled to see their product being dumped from store shelves at prices that undercut a direct subscription. If they can't count on shelf space in stores anymore, attracting new players could be difficult. Turbine can't even count on revenue from the game's most faithful players, since many of them purchased lifetime subscriptions at launch for a mere $200. If this is where the game is, the aggressive free retrials make a bit more sense.

(Just two weeks ago, I wrote that I would be skipping the Moria era. Like most of my less-than-reliable predictions, I failed to anticipate that a major retailer would offer me two months of a LOTRO expansion I did not own for the price of two months of premium subscription to Free Realms. As an aside, if anyone has any advice beyond the public realm forums on how to find a good LOTRO guild on Vilya-US, I'm apparently in the market for one. The timing coincidentally works out reasonably well for me - given my struggles with EQ2 expansion content, I'm not going to want to use any content while level-capped until after the expansion in February.)


Keith said...

I've been waiting for you to blog about Moria!

Actually it's really not bad, they did a great job on the expansion, story and leveling wise. Just wish they had more dungeons or stuff to satisfy me every day.

The dailies at max level just don't seem as fun, varied, or rewarding as WOWs.

Also I played on Windfola and there wasn't alot of groups going on. Once people had some radiance gear (top tier), they didn't do dungeons (no daily quest or rep to bring them back). There were tons of lower levels trying the free retrials however and people soloing. I played march to may, hope the player base hasn't shrunk even more.

I'd actually play LOTRO if I wasn't so insecure about Turbine's business status (how many free weeks this year?)

unwize said...

I'm not sure whether to read too much into the reductions. Remember, Turbine are a private company and don't have a mass of shareholders to appease, unlike Blizzard, for example.

They simply need to bring in enough revenue to support ongoing development and to fund future projects (they received a big chunk of venture capital from Time Warner a little while back also).

Also, if by almost giving the game away (Free2Play!), they can encourage a few people to buy a lifetime subscription or become a long-term subscriber, it's hard to argue that losing those initial $$$ is hurting them too much.

And the more people that are committed to the game now, the more people that are likely to pick up Riders of Rohan on launch day at retail price.

Anonymous said...

Heya! Come play on Landroval - it's a very busy server full of good people. :)

Green Armadillo said...

@Keith: Yeah, the main reason why I declined to bite at the anniversary retrial offer was that I didn't think there was enough endgame content to keep me entertained for a full three months. With the deal I got from Best Buy, I can actually pay for two more months at full price (immediately, or sometime later) and end up no worse off than I would have been had I taken the renewal offers.

@unwize: Two comments here. First, LOTRO is a licensed game. We do know that the deal runs with extension options on Turbine's side for another couple of years, but we do not know the details of the agreement. If the rightsholders are getting a cut of revenue, things are fine as long as there's enough left to run the servers. If, on the other hand, they're getting a flat number, it is much easier to get into a situation where the cost of the rights is what tips the game from sustainable to unsustainable - SOE has stated that this is basically what happened to The Matrix Online.

The second is that Turbine is not accountable to shareholders, but the lack of transparency means that they are also not that accountable to customers. This is the company that released a paid AC2 expansion and canceled the game a few months later - the dire numbers would have been harder to hide in a publicly traded company. (I will concede that they probably won't want to try that stunt a second time for the sake of their brand name.) Also, I would imagine that Warner's money is restricted to use for a new project that Warner will own a piece of, not general operating funds that could be tapped to support operating LOTRO at a loss if it came to that.

@Foolsage: Unfortunately, my level 50 champion is on Vilya, and I'm not tremendously interested in starting over from scratch. If I don't really find a home on Vilya, I'll definitely consider rolling up a Warden or somesuch on a different server to try the new class and recently revamped low level content.

unwize said...

I'm pretty sure I read that Turbine have the rights secured until at least 2017. Also, the servers have been extremely busy since MoM, with plenty of new players about.

I see absolutely no reason to suspect that Turbine are in any trouble at all. They'll almost certainly see a boost in revenue for DDOEU, and soon after they'll be starting to talk about Book 9, and probably the Rohan expansion.

Heck, even with the worst estimates for their current revenue stream, it's hard to imagine that they aren't covering their costs.

Green Armadillo said...

IIRC, the 2017 date represents option years on Turbine's side. Without knowing the terms, we can't tell how those options compare to the guaranteed portion of the deal. Sometimes option years will be relatively less favorable to the side that holds the option - the idea being that the two sides can renegotiate a new long-term deal, but that the option deal for the rightsholder is good enough that they won't object if the licensee wants to pay a high option price to ensure that they are allowed to renew the rights.

Also, my point was NOT that the entire Turbine studio could go under - an unlikely event for precisely the reasons you describe. NCSoft, Turbine, and now SOE have all closed AAA MMORPG's without going out of business. This does not necessarily mean that Turbine would not pull the plug on one specific game, be it DDO or LOTRO, if it INDIVIDUALLY was not profitable. That's where the question of LOTRO's revenue compared to its costs - two figures that no one outside the company has - could become an issue.

unwize said...

Well, I guess the only evidence that matters is whether they are still releasing regular updates for LotRO. If those start to dry up it probably indicates a shift in focus due to falling LotRO revenue.

And there's always the F2P option if things get too bad, which seems inevitable at some point. My hunch is that subscriber revenue will remain healthy enough to push that back for a couple of years or so.

If I was a betting man, I'd wager that LotRO is actually one of the more profitable western MMOs. Probably behind EVE, but very possibly pushing WAR, depending on how many of the announced 300K are still playing several months on.

Victor Stillwater said...

Got here through Syp's blog.

Was reading this and wanted to inform you that, at present, creation of trial accounts are wonky, as I haven't been able to create a trial account for myself since Tuesday. There's more info on the Trial Forums.

Related to this, I also can't seem to purchase a digital copy of the game. Not sure if it's my location (Philippines), or if it's related to the Trial Account nuttiness, but I thought I should let you know.

Anonymous said...

There was a LoTRO box in the software section of a local Big Lots the other day. $5.00