Saturday, January 2, 2010

What's Next For LOTRO?

WoW and EQ2 have relatively straightforward plans for 2010 - boxed expansion launches, content patches to support them, and probably more creep of real money transactions into account services and item stores. LOTRO's plans for 2010 are potentially more interesting. What happens next?

Business Model Developments
The guys at LOTRO Reporter have a debate going on whether we're going to see any more traditional boxed retail expansions, or whether the game is going more towards a model of paid mini-expansions. LOTRO took a major step towards a hybrid business model last year, releasing a paid mini-expansion accompanied by a somewhat RMT-like "Adventurer's Pack" containing two character slots and a shared bank feature that really looks like it should have been an upgrade to the base game's bank interface.

Personally, I think LOTRO is done with boxed expansions for the time being. Launching a retail expansion means giving a cut of the revenue to a variety of middlemen necessary to produce, ship, and sell physical game discs. This raises prices, and thus expectations, without necessarily adding to Turbine's bottom line. Meanwhile, higher prices bring higher expectations, and there isn't any indication that the live team has the resources to produce any more content per year than they did in 2009.

Realistically, I'm expecting one paid mini-expansion which, unlike Mirkwood, will actually require ALL players to pay (the first one is always free, at least in the US - sorry EU folks). It will also be interesting to see what additional features get separated off for an additional fee - I don't think that Turbine lost any significant number of subscriptions for the Adventurer's Pack, and they got extra cash from everyone who chose to buy one, so there's no incentive for them not to continue the trend.

The speculation is pretty unanimous that the next expansion will be "Riders of Rohan", which is what we all were certain that THIS expansion was going to be before it turned out to be Mirkwood. Also, Ravious posted a screenshot showing that Dunland and the Gap of Rohan have been added to the map. This throws a wrench into things because Dunland is adjacent to Isengard and there is absolutely no way that the campaign advances to Isengard without exploring the political situation in Rohan proper.

Then again, The Fellowship is still camped in Lothlorien, so I suppose it's possible for players to visit Theoden and be kicked out (perhaps even with Eomer and company) BEFORE Gandalf and the three hunters arrive. For that matter, players could potentially run into Gandalf in Dunland or Fanghorn, as his whereabouts in the story aren't really pinned down until he is reunited with Aragorn.

In one final possibility, there is still that pesky Peter Jackson film adaptation of The Hobbit, due out at the end of 2011. I've predicted that Turbine may want to move the game towards Dale and the Misty Mountain around the time the film arrives, since that will probably be the single best time to take advantage of that portion of their license.

New Features and Gameplay
In the somewhat likely event of a story advance to Rohan, there's going to be a lot of attention on horses. Cosmetic traits for your mount (similar to what skirmish soldiers and monster players get) seem like a no-brainer. People want to see mounted combat and massive large-scale battles. Then there's the question of whether the game is overdue for new classes. Mirkwood arrived relatively soon after Moria added new classes, but the game will have been two years without new character options by the time Dunland/Rohan/whatever arrives.

New classes can be good all around for several reasons. Beyond raising excitement for the expansion in general, they provide an incentive to re-roll rather than crowding the new content on launch day, and they encourage players to take advantage of recent revamps to leveling content.

On the downside, there's the issue of how to fit them in with existing classes. Even if the expansion does get mounted combat, I can't see a new class that never dismounts. If you asked me to brainstorm a sometimes-mounted skirmisher, the first thing that jumps to mind is the already existing Warden class - medium armor, highly agile, with some ranged ability. Where's the niche for one or more new classes?

That said, the game's skirmish system could offer one way to get more exotic combatants into the game. I could certainly imagine new soldier race/class options that allow you to bring a mounted Rohirrim into battle with you, or perhaps even an Ent (after the inevitable rep grind to friendly with the Ents of Fanghorn). Orcs didn't sack the Shire on a daily basis in the books, but the current skirmish system offers precisely that scenario, so I don't see why Ent soldiers would be ruinous to the lore by comparison.

LOTRO's lore can be limiting at times, but it also gives a sense of direction and expectation to the game. Amongst possible WoW and EQ2 expansions, there's nothing as certain as LOTRO's advance on to Rohan. Time will tell whether Turbine can deliver, but there's certainly the potential for some interesting developments in Middle Earth this year.


Longasc said...

I think you already read on Killtenrats that I believe we will head south of Eregion, through Dunland, to the Gap of Rohan. But Rohan is still much more to the south than that.

I am not sure if we first will see Rohan in "Riders of Rohan", "Treason of Isengard" would also play in Rohan, but not have the very attractive name. I guess they will indeed start out with Rohan, but still deal with Isengard stuff first. Why? Because it is directly in the path of our heroes when heading south to Rohan.

I expect PvMP Skirmishes, the System could easily expanded and would be a great opportunity to get consensual pvp out of the Ettenmoors ghetto.

Regarding new classes, I wondered about that, too. I just see no opportunity to include new classes nor a good reason beyond the expectation that games "need" some new classes now and then. I was thinking about this "mounted only class" thing, too, but this would be almost as half-assed as STO's Klingon faction will apparently end up.

I expect another major revamp of combat, and Turbine will have to tackle a challenge: Mounted Combat. How to do it, how to do it right?

I hope they focus again on the world, Middle Earth. There must be new areas, dungeons, zones - at least about as much as Moria.

Yep, I am asking for a lot of areas. At least 5x Mirkwood, please. But this game lives from its beautiful environment, at least this is what sucked me in.

Green Armadillo said...

Though I won't complain if we do get 5x Mirkwood, I don't think we're going to see that in a single expansion, possibly ever. Why would Turbine do that, when they can charge $20 per Mirkwood equivalent and have people pay it willingly?

Also, I don't get the impression that this is a huge team, and three-year-old live teams don't tend to get larger. Unless you believe that they have significantly more content prepared and sitting in a box somewhere waiting for their next release, one Mirkwood equivalent was all that the team was able to produce in an entire year post-Moria. I don't think the game would be well-served by sitting for more than a year with the content that's currently available.

Longasc said...

I think a whole bunch of new areas, let's say Rohan, Dunland, whatever these regions down there are called, would entice people to come back or try LOTRO.

Just adding one area - even if they add new mechanics like skirmishes - might keep already paying&playing customers happy for a while, but they asked for half the price of a "full" expansion and even asked for some extra money for some features, unless you got them as part of extending the subscription and all that.

Imagine Moria broken down in SoM chunks. I would not be happy to pay 20 bucks for every 1-2 new areas... :(

I think it is smart and makes them some money to release something like SoM between expansions, and you already stated they will probably ask for money for future book updates, I fear you are right.

But now and then you just need to add something really large and significant to keep people playing. We really need a Moria-sized expansion, they cannot expect us to pay every half a year for something like SoM. I personally think this is not enough to keep people playing nor would it bring new players in.

I guess and hope a lot of "Rohan" or whatever is coming next is already finished or close to, a late 2010 release of a SoM sized first part of an expansion would drive a lot of people away, I am afraid.

Jayedub said...

I do like the SoM model, but I agree with you Longasc, I would like to see a large paid expansion next.

Look at EQ2, they continue to release game updates and expansion on a consistent basis and the player base pays for it, so I don't think it's unreasonable to think Turbine will do the same thing.

Green Armadillo said...

The average revenue per user for LOTRO can't be anywhere near EQ2 thanks to all the discounted LOTRO subscriptions and added transactions/item shop purchases for EQ2. We don't know the relative sizes of the userbases, but it would not surprise me if LOTRO brings in less revenue, and therefore has a smaller dev budget.

Overall, I'm not disagreeing with you all that it would be better to have a big expansion occasionally. The question is whether the LOTRO team is currently large enough to deliver on one in a timely fashion - small expansions would be less damaging to the game than NO expansion for two years until Rohan is ready.

If, as Long guesses, they're substantially finished with Rohan, we could see a full-sized expansion this year. Then again, if that's true, why didn't they just skip the detour into Mirkwood and have Rohan ready sooner? Time will tell.

Thallian said...

Btw its "lonely mountain" not misty mountain (which are already in the game) AND we still need Beorn and northern Mirkwood and all that.
Goblin Town connects already so we have that, and if they add Dunland and the gap fine but they need Fanghorn and the Riddermark

Knutor from Vilya said...

Atari is running the show over at Turbine, ever since DDO went free. How does Atari roll? Just like Quicksilver. How does Quicksilver roll? They murder game franchises for a quick profit. Quicksilver makes promises their programmers can't keep. They later deny ever making them. They will bait new players on that hollow hype, and then switch their direction as often as the tides, in order to keep those new players from understanding just what is going on.

The Mirk EULA provides for Turbine Points to be used in LotRO. When the Quicksilver people get enough support, Microtransactions(the asian model) will rollout and all that was once green in Middle Earth will go BLACK. Instead of adventuring for loot, players will have to buy it from a Turbine storefront.

The loot generator doesn't compensate for their Mirkwood changes. Do you think that was an oversight or mistake? I don't. Its purposeful. Its my guess they won't bother fixing the world loot-generator, until after they rollout their Turbine Point store. Just look at all the items generated by that broken thing, that are subpar. Why's the generator doing that? Because they plan to sell loot someday, and they don't really wanna overshadow their barter/rep grind currency.