Monday, March 21, 2011

F2P LOTRO Version 2

LOTRO had its update 2 patch this evening, adding in some long awaited group content, major revamps to the UI and some existing content, and significant changes to the game's store. 

Back in September, when the F2P model was newly introduced, I was underwhelmed with the game's non-subscription model.  Today, the premium free to play option is far more attractive, especially for infrequent players and tourists, but the higher end of the store does far more to push the limits on how much of what used to be gameplay is now for sale in the cash shop.  Update 2, feels like it has moved the F2P business model to version two, with all the blessings and curses that go along with the more traditional free to play label. 

More open for less money...
At the time of the free to play relaunch, the game's two pre-F2P expansions were mandatory purchases for the increased level caps.  This restriction was removed in a previous patch, allowing players to advance all the way to the cap if they were so inclined by grinding the freely available skirmishes and scaling dungeons. The Lone Lands zone was added to the completely free content, pushing players' decision points back to the neighborhood of level 30.  In another change, former subscribers are now allowed to use swift travel routes, which were previously restricted to subscribers only (one of the big things that I really disliked about the model back in September). 

The update two patch also adds a major update of the Evendim zone, which I happened to have picked up for cheap in a sale using points from retroactive reputation deeds after the relaunch.  With some sale discounts, I was able to get the riding trait for an old hunter alt for 57 TP, which is the only thing that you absolutely have to buy as a non-subscriber if you didn't have it from past VIP days.  I'll probably make that back while leveling the new character to the revised content, and I don't know that I'm going to need to spend very much money from here to the cap on that character if I really wanted to. 

...And more ways to spend
That said, Update 2 also adds many more ways to spend money.  At an approximate exchange rate of 1 cent per Turbine Point, you can now buy:
  • Up to three additional cosmetic outfit slots for $5 each (account-wide).  No complaints here since we still get to keep the two slots we had.
  • Up to five additional millstone destinations (LOTRO's version of hearthstones) for $3.50 each PER CHARACTER. All of your destinations share the 1 hour cooldown, you just get to pick multiple destinations for that one cooldown.  You can also halve the cooldown to 30 minutes with another paid unlock, that costs $5 PER CHARACTER. 

    (Note that this is separate from the reusable travel skills and consumable maps that were available at the F2P relaunch.  The travel skills share a cooldown with each other and any racial/rep teleports you might have, for $3 per destination per character - unlike the additional millstones, each skill has a single fixed destination.  I haven't ever used the consumable maps, so I don't know if they have a cooldown, but it would seem strange if they did.) 
  • Up to two additional Legendary Item slots for $3 each PER CHARACTER.  This one starts to get concerning because having additional legendary items at your disposal can actually affect gameplay by giving you more options. 
  • And finally, the big and controversial one: the Legendary Item system has been overhauled to be less random, but now there are even more consumables that you can use to upgrade your items... and they're all available in the store with no ceiling on your potential expenses.  The reaction in my kinship chat has been punctuated with the occasional "wait, you can buy what?!" as each player notices the new tab in the store. 
Throw in other stuff that's been here from the start, like outfits, consumables that raise you from the dead, consumables that let you track mobs, crafting materials, etc, and this store is starting to look much more like the traditional F2P cash shop, which is unfortunately not a compliment.   


Bargain for tourists, iffy for long-time residents?
The good news is that this game is far friendlier to low-spending tourists.  You probably won't enjoy the game you get if you try to play it without spending a dime, but you can see the world of Middle Earth for far less than $15/month - and, as with DDO, all the content you unlock is yours at no additional cost for future alts. 

The okay news is that this model is increasingly designed to get you in the door in the hopes that you'll buy stuff once you're there.  Only fair, I suppose, Turbine has to pay the bills somehow, and letting players choose what they want to pony up for is a relatively fair way to offer options. 

The bad news is what I feared when the game relaunched.  Things about the game that are not good - like the travel system or the random legendary item grind - are being preserved in order to sell cash store fixes rather than improved.  Maybe the game is still worth playing, and maybe it's even worth paying for the fixes, but it sets a dangerous precedent.  If you consider travel and legendary items "fixed", the biggest problem left in the game is the insane proliferation of bound-to-character tokens, none of which are allowed to go in the in-game currency wallet.  A dev commented that they have a proposal for this issue, and the fix may well involve another cash store purchase. 

The big reason why I like Turbine's other F2P success, DDO, is because they give you some of the game, which is good, and then you can pay them for more of the game.  The big thing that I have enjoyed less about other F2P models is that they give you the whole game, but the game is not good until you pay them to make the things they broke better.  I hope that LOTRO isn't going down the latter road. 

8 comments:

jimr9999us said...

Thanks for the great post. Sadly, update 2 crossed the value threshold for me and I chose not to renew my subscription. I am concerned about what Turbine/WB's "hybrid" model means for the mmorpg genre especially considering how little attention LotRO's endgame monetization is getting atm.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Yeah, I suspect in the long term it might be more profitable, but I also dropped my 2 year subscription a few months ago as I wasn't playing as much. What really pushed me over the edge was some of the cash-shop only options that weren't available to me as a subscriber.

I went crazy with crafting in LotRO and have Supreme Master crafters of every crafting skill. One of my goals has been to collect every non-single-use recipe for my tailor (there were LOTS of them, many of them racial variations of items with different cosmetic outputs. Less recipes now it looks like as they've likely made the recipes multi-output.) But, I noticed that there was a cosmetic item available in the store that I hadn't seen in a festival or as a drop. It's a small thing, but for me it meant one long-term goal I set for myself was essentially impossible unless I ignored the cash shop.

Given what I know about the business side, I know that they'll probably make more money in the long term with these changes, but I have to wonder how many subscribers they're pissing off. Hopefully this same attitude doesn't infect DDO, as I really am enjoying that game currently. It's also unfortunate because LotRO used to be a game I enjoyed for the immersion. Now the Turbine Store icons stick out everywhere.

Green Armadillo said...

My guess has been that DDO's content model is much better for premium free to play. I have no idea about the size of the respective teams or the amount of time to make a LOTRO zone versus a DDO adventure pack, but I'm guessing that the latter is far easier because Turbine is making far more of them.

You can sell an adventure pack for $6 when you're making four of them per year and various other goodies that players want (like new races, etc). If you've only been able to crank out one LOTRO zone in that same year, you have a pricing problem - you want it to come in around the $6-8 range so it still works as an impulse buy, but that really can't be your only income for the year.

Bertie said...

I haven't played LOTRO in a few years, but this post inspired me to read up on some of these changes...apparently there's also store-only potions around which the latest dungeon/raid content is tuned?

I mean, wow, that's the Asian MMO cash shop model of mandatory consumables...I couldn't imagine being even remotely tempted to comeback into LOTRO now...we annoying types who were always chanting "free to play is pay to win" while most of your extended blogroll was singing Turbine's praises to high heaven are sure smirking a little now, though.

Guinadrodd said...

I started playing with F2P and so far have purchased all of the content (minus the Amon Sul skirmish) and subscribed for a little bit to remove the account restrictions. Most of the content was purchased with 20% discount, with a lot of it even cheaper.

From my perspective, I am enjoying the leveling content and don't see anything else in the store as necessary. I enjoy the travel system (as a hunter) but I can see how it is more of an issue for other classes. Paying for virtues and other shortcuts (time or experience) really does not interest me at all. I'd like the trip to 65 to take a long time.

Having said that, I think the game needs better PvP (perhaps instanced scenarios or battlegrounds) and a better system for encouraging grouping. I really didn't feel like I was getting value for my money while I was subscribed (vs. other AAA games), especially when I couldn't purchase content that was on sale.

I'd love to see more lower level skirmishes. I'd definitely pay for those and they likely could fall in the impulse buy range.

Mike ... said...

@Guinadrodd

I have hunter and a lore-master and the difference in the time I spend traveling is very noticeable. One of the problems is that, as far as I can tell, there's no direct travel between many of the hubs. For example a non-hunter cannot go directly from Tinundir (sp?) to Rivendell.

Fidjit said...

I recently started playing LOTRO for a change of pace after quitting my "regular" MMO, and I'm enjoying it so far. I bought the riding skill and a 50% off mount for some travel convenience, but that's it so far.

Actually, I almost didn't read this article. Right now I'm blissfully ignorant about most of the game, good and bad things. I'm just a little hobbit who is still in the shire delivering pies, collecting sticks and helping hobbits. I'm deliberately taking a very slow pace and not trying to analyze design too much. I don't know how long I can keep it up, but for now LOTRO is a very relaxing diversion. Well, the Shire is, anyway. I wouldn't know about anything else.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Bertie wrote:
we annoying types who were always chanting "free to play is pay to win" while most of your extended blogroll was singing Turbine's praises to high heaven are sure smirking a little now, though.

I'm one of those who has supported the "free to play" business model in the past. And, yes, I'm disappointed in how Turbine is handling LotRO's business model.

There's nothing inherently virtuous about subscription-based services; perhaps you can look at most people's distaste for their cell phone provider or the attempts for ISPs to put monthly caps on usage to see how a subscription business model can still screw the customer.

In the end, I'm still a fan of the free to play business model when done right. I play a lot of DDO and my better half subscribes and that works well for us. Turbine got a lot more money out of me initially for DDO, which increases income due to the present value of money. Yes, I'm wary after these issues with LotRO. But, I remain convinced that a well-designed "free to play" business model is better for both players and developers in the long run.