Saturday, June 5, 2010

Examining F2P LOTRO

So Lord of the Rings Online is apparently going free to play. Given how satisfied Turbine has been with DDO's shift to that payment model, it was probably only a matter of time before they found a way to make it work for LOTRO. Key information available so far include a chart of F2P vs subscription benefits and a compliation of forum question and answers. What have we learned so far?

Trying to close the free leveling loopholes
Unlike the heavily-instanced DDO, LOTRO has a seamless non-zoned open world (like WoW). I'd thought that this would be the largest obstacle to taking the game Free To Play - for example, how would you even get to Angmar if you didn't already own the North Downs?

To address this problem, Turbine is going with an odd compromise. Players will be able to travel through the entire Shadows of Angmar world, regardless of subscription status. Instead, all of the QUESTS in a given zone will be bundled together into "quest packs". All players will get the three newbie zones (good for levels 1-15 or so), but will need to pay to get the quests from level 16-50. (It is not yet clear whether this includes the deeds in any given region, such as explorer and kill deeds.)

There are several quirks to this model. First, it sounds like there will NOT be a level cap on free players - if you want to grind mobs for exp, you'll be able to. To counter this, only VIP's (subscribers) will be allowed to get rested exp. In my experience, it's relatively hard to run out of rested exp in LOTRO, so that's basically a 50% nerf to combat exp. Skirmishes would be another loophole, so Turbine will be limiting free players to four of the game's pre-Mirkwood skirmishes.

The last issue is the previously paid expansions. There's no helping this one if you're Turbine - players have already paid expansion fees for no purpose other than access to the content and expansion owners will therefore be granted permanent F2P access to the relevant content. The odd result is that players who own Moria and Mirkwood (including the Mirkwood storyline skirmishes) can level as free players from level 50 to 65 without paying anything. Turbine is trying to discourage this too by requiring players to pay to unlock all of their trait slots - irritating to be sure - but it certainly could be worse.

Note that this MAY mean that buying a super cheap clearance Moria expansion box if you can find one will be a more cost-effective means of getting access to that content than buying it through the LOTRO store, we can't be sure yet.

Some head-scratching moves
There are a few things that don't make sense to me at the moment. A few:

- Monster play is being described as subscriber-only. Are they worried that free accounts would be used to spy on the opposing faction? I can't see any other reason why this change makes sense, as player versus player only works if you've got players in the zone.

- As Doc Holiday notes, the announcement confirms that the game will not get ANY new content until the F2P rollout "this fall". At that point, the game will be getting what sounds like a Mirkwood-sized miniexpansion, but it will be for levels 62-65 with no increase in the level cap. First, this means that I will have limited reason to purchase this content, especially if the epic book portion of the zone is free to play. Second, I'm not even convinced that the game NEEDS more content in this level range. I hit level 65 very early in Mirkwood, albeit with the benefit of rested exp (which a Premium player won't have). I'd be willing to grind out some extra skirmishes and daily quests if it meant not having to pay for a new miniexpansion just to finish out a level or so.

- Mind-bogglingly, Turbine points will NOT be universally usable in both DDO and LOTRO. If you play both games, you will have to maintain separate balances. Then again, I'm already stuck with two Turbine accounts because they don't have any method to add a free DDO account to an existing LOTRO account, so I would only be in for a headache trying to get that fixed if they did allow a common balance (as SOE does with its Station Cash).

- There's also a gold cap, and it's very low for free players (2 gold) and somewhat low (5G) for premium non-subscribers (anyone who has ever paid real money for something, such as the current boxes). At current prices, neither player type can purchase the larger of the game's housing and free players cannot pay for their level 35 mounts.

- Finally, I don't see any reason why I'd pay for a LOTRO subscription at any point between now and the F2P rollout. There won't be any new content for the next 3-6 months. There will be ways to earn LOTRO Turbine Points in-game, but there will be no retroactive credit for doing things now that will be worth Turbine Points in the future. This means that, if you're thinking of subscribing for a few months to "rent" the content you'll need to get some alts from level 15-50 before "downgrading" to F2P using the expansions you currently own, you may be better off waiting for the F2P rollout to do so.

(Turbine is offering a stipend of sorts for current subscribers, to be paid in Turbine Points when F2P arrives, but the maximum rate for non-lifetime subscribers will work out to fewer points than the cost of the subscription, assuming DDO-like exchange rates. Unless you're planning to actually play in the interim, you're better off buying the points directly when the time comes instead of paying for a subscription to get some points thrown in later. Lifetime subscribers, who seem to be making out reasonably well in this whole deal, need to read the fine print and log in at least once a month between now and the rollout to get all their points.)

Bottom Line
Personally, I'm reasonably okay with the way DDO's store works, so I'm cautiously optimistic for this roll-out. I'd much rather pay for what I use and not get locked into a monthly fee, especially now that I've branched out into four MMO's and counting.

That said, this change also means that it is relatively unlikely that I will ever take a LOTRO alt beyond the newbie zones. I'm not going to want to pay to unlock all of the mid-level content that I've already done on my main, as that would stick a huge price tag on leveling alts that I'm not that interested in from 15-50. For most other aspects of the game - housing, cosmetic outfits, storage, etc - Turbine has done a reasonable job of ensuring that the entry level content is free so that they can sell upgrades in the store. I guess that the fee has to come somewhere, but it does seem to discourage alts.

Also, like the DDO store, it sounds like the LOTRO store will be heavily stocked with one-time purchases. That may or may not be a long-term problem, since LOTRO already has so many lifetime and discounted subscribers anyway, but it's something worth watching in the future.


Yeebo said...

I think the main reason that Turbine points won't go between games is so that players of DDO that also happen to be LoTRO lifers (like me) won't start racking up 500 free points a month (which we get whether we log into LoTRO or not once FtP goes live) to spend in DDO.

I also didn't realize that premium players were limited to five gold. That's a pretty annoying restriction imo.

Longasc said...

Very good summary. You addressed some of my concerns. I do not understand thw "VIP" status for the notoriously underpopulated monster play status either. This might change.

What worries me is, F2P or not, no new content is coming anytime soon.

I also noticed the extremely low gold cap. I have well over 100G and veterans have for sure much much more. And beyond level 30 gold prices rise. BUT there seems to be an option to "buy" yourself out of the gold cap.

But what will happen to my 100+ Gold? 95G locked away or will they get lost? I will be watching closely for answers regarding this in the coming months.

Can't help, but I am still not sold this is good. I will now treat LOTRO as my cheap F2P game I look into every time new content rolls out. And forget about the kill X of Y and do this, do that deeds or fancy gear.

Might happen that I will have to pay for each skirmish in every book or only can do it once.

Hm... let's see. IMO Codemasters ripped the EU players by offering a reduced lifetime offer one month before F2P was officially announced.

Anonymous said...

@ Longasc - "Hm... let's see. IMO Codemasters ripped the EU players by offering a reduced lifetime offer one month before F2P was officially announced."

Yeah.. that just sucks for the EU people. They really slapped the players in the face with that one.

I wonder if Turbine is going to adopt this F2P model with all of it's future games as well. It's hard for me to see how it would work in LotRO. But it seems to be working in their favor for DDO, as I don't think that game has ever been as active as it is now.

Not having a way to combine 2 different game accounts into 1 also really bites. It's 2010, things like this aren't features anymore. They are standards.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

...they don't have any method to add a free DDO account to an existing LOTRO account...

Actually, they do. You can get an activation code for a DDO account that you can add to your existing LotRO Turbine account. I had to write billing support to find this out, and now they have that option listed as a reason if you contact billing directly. Not sure if they can merge two accounts, though. But, yeah, it's a pain in the ass.

The Turbine Points not being transferable is annoying. But, I guess Yeebo has the right of it in that it might hurt income with lifetime accounts in one game feeding another game's free account.

In general, I'm happy enough being a Premium player in DDO. But, it looks like it won't be quite as nice in LotRO. I figure I'll keep paying a sub for LotRO if I'm actively playing. The nice thing will be if I want to take a break I can still log on a character to throw payments for my house and not get locked out.

Longasc wrote:
But what will happen to my 100+ Gold?

Yeah, I don't have a character that "only" has 5 gold. But, according to a FAQ, the extra money goes into escrow. Not completely sure how that'll work, but it's not a loss.

IMO Codemasters ripped the EU players by offering a reduced lifetime offer one month before F2P was officially announced.

How is that? According to the FAQs, lifetime members will get free permanent VIP status, still. Sounds like lifetime subscribers will still get free access to all of the game, just like before. Plus you'll get 500 points per month even when you decide not to play for a bit. Sounds like it's still a good deal to me, or am I missing something?

Green Armadillo said...

I've since heard that there could be a problem mingling Turbine Points because you're talking about two separate licensed IP's. By comparison, SOE owns all of the IP's that share the Station Cash wallet. I guess this makes sense, but it's still irritating.

I'm not a lifetimer, but I'm not sure how they got screwed in this deal either. They might actually be BETTER off because they can bank their monthly Turbine Point stipend and use it to buy the new content, which they've had to pay extra for in the Moria and Mirkwood expansions. VIP's will have some perks that cannot be purchased a la carte (e.g. rested exp) and I wouldn't be surprised if unlocking all the things that come with the permanent VIP subscription (access to all of SOA, bags, traits, gold cap, etc) will cost more than what players paid for the lifetime sub back in the day.

hound said...

I've always felt that this game was on a form of life support. It may have done very well in its first months, but I always suspected that the early performance would be short term.

The things that have been added to the game so far have done nothing to show me a more positive outcome.

I do not like these "alternative" pay structures, especially when they are thrust into a game that was not designed from the ground up with them in mind.

However, more and more I believe that Blizzard is in desperate need of some competition. I am hoping now that this new pay structure for Lord of the Rings Online will stimulate some much-needed revenue and that the game will be able to shine much more brightly because of it.

I may not be willing to "pay as I go" at this time, but I see that many other people will gladly do so. If Blizzard can make over two million dollars in one afternoon for a stupid mount, then there is no good reason why other games can not make some money by selling something, somehow.

Stabs said...

It's interesting how intolerant of change people are.

If you currently subscribe to Lotro you can still subscribe and will get pretty much the same game experience for your $15 per month. A few bonus exp potions and fluff items in fact.

I think in some ways the industry has never really recovered from the NGE. Not only did that ruin Star Wars Galaxies for many fans but it crystallised the notion that MMO fun is in constant jeopardy from interfering developers who don't understand their games.

It's also fascinating how much of the opposition to this change is from people who aren't currently subscribed. They're actually the group with the most to gain since they will be able to play a bit of Lotro if they feel like it whenever it suits them without committing to it.

Anonymous said...

I also got a DDO subscription key by contacting support so I could add it to the Turbine account where my LOTRO subscription lives. Got there because I was trying to merge the two and get the same forum name in both DDO and LOTRO forums. The short of it is that their systems are imperfectly linked, and they couldn't do exactly what I wanted without some negative impact.

Tanek said...

"That said, this change also means that it is relatively unlikely that I will ever take a LOTRO alt beyond the newbie zones. I'm not going to want to pay to unlock all of the mid-level content that I've already done on my main, as that would stick a huge price tag on leveling alts that I'm not that interested in from 15-50."

If you have already taken your main through all the content, that implies you have purchased the game and have had a subscription at some point. Turbine says (and you note) that they are not going to be taking content away from players who have already paid for it, so I don't think you'd have to worry about re-purchasing 15-50 quests from the store.

Unless I misunderstood what you meant. In which case...sorry. :) I spent a good chunk of the weekend trying to scrub misinformation from the OOC channel in-game and it may have warped my brain.

Green Armadillo said...

@Tanek: The VIP benefits chart is very clear that owners of Moria and Mirkwood would have free access to those expansions. There is no such disclaimer for SOA. I would be very surprised if they included literally all of the current content (minus some skirmishes I guess) for lapsed subscribers.

Perhaps they view the $50 I paid for a box back in 2007 as a fee for being allowed to create an account, rather than having paid for access to the launch content. (By contrast, it's very hard to make the same argument for expansions, which is why they're not trying.)

Tanek said...

@Green Armadillo

Wow. You know, this is the first time I have seen the question over the original content and how it applies to previous subscribers. I had been putting it with Moria and Mirkwood in my mind, but I suppose they may view it the way you say.

I'll certainly be doing more research into it, though, because I would have thought the purchase of the original game implied access to the content just as much as buying the two expansions. If they don't...hmm, I'll have to roll that around a bit more.

Yeebo said...

There is a thread in the LoTRO forums that addresses the issue youy guys are discussing specifically:

Long story short, apart from book quests most of the 20-50 quests have to be repurchased if you aren't a VIP.

It's debatable whether it is more of a restriction than DDO. On the one hand, quests are not repeatable in LoTRO. On the other, it's possible (but tortuously slow) to level just by grinding mobs in LoTRO. Access to zones and mobs is free.

It would be interesting if this leads to a revival of grinding mobs to level in LoTRO. It's a leveling style well out of fashion among modern players.

Tanek said...

Well, color me shocked. I really thought the SoA content would be treated like the expansion content if you had purchased the box. Of course, someone also told me that you no longer need to purchase SoA and can just start paying the subscription fee now. If that is the case, I can better understand the decision to treat it differently. Need to fact check it, though.

The other thing that surprises me a bit is the need to pay to unlock trait slots. While there can be debate over how necessary traits are to the overall game, it seems like the one thing in the store that is a direct purchase of additional stats for your character. Seems to go against my understanding of the store philosophy.

With months of beta testing ahead, any or all of this could change. If it does change, Turbine made the right move to aim more restrictive at the start and back of from some limits later rather than to "promise" more at the start and add limits later.

Green Armadillo said...

Thanks for the update, Yeebo. As I said, I'm not surprised to see a charge somewhere. All talk of store "philosophy" aside, the point is to make money. They won't make much money if absolutely everything that you need to play is free - the fluff market is fine as a supplement to charging for the game, but not as a replacement.

Frankly, I think they would have charged for Moria and Mirkwood too if there was any way to spin that as not making players re-purchase content. The fact that they feel backed into making so much of the game available to non-subscribers (15-50 and 50-65) probably has something to do with them going digging for things like traits that they can charge for instead of the content.

Yeebo, I do think there will be people who try to level via grinding and the free to play skirmishes, but will that be enjoyable? With no rested exp (VIP-only), that's a lot of kills that won't be in any way difficult, just time consuming. They might not even give you kill deed credit, if they rule that those deeds are local quests. The thing I'm more concerned about is whether there will be a major nerf to your first daily skirmish reward, in an attempt to nerf the rate of free player progression via skirmishes.

Tanek said...

"Frankly, I think they would have charged for Moria and Mirkwood too if there was any way to spin that as not making players re-purchase content."

Is that because they are more recent content, or because they were purchased as expansions rather than the start of the account? Or maybe it will be differences in the store offers. Maybe there won't be a SoA package, but there will be for the others.

The reason behind my thinking on the SoA content was that I saw it as a purchase just like MoM or SoM. When they said you won't lose content you have purchased, I lumped it all together.