MMO News during the first half of my vacation was interesting enough to lure me out of hiding for a round-up post. Spinks has a good summary of the news out of PAX week, which seemed like a slower convention by comparison. What caught my eye was a pair of seemingly unrelated posts that suggest the honeymoon may be over for Turbine's touted and popular hybrid free to play business model.
Underwhelming DDO and LOTRO updates
Over in Middle Earth, players are concerned with what they're getting for their money in LOTRO's new expansion. Syp's column at Massively calls Isengard "the Unfinished Expansion" and writes that it "feels a little weak" in comparison to the game's previous paid updates. Turbine's CM's had to rush to head off a controversy by confirming that there would be no additional charge for the level 75 instances that would not be ready by the players who pay full price at the expansion's launch.
Meanwhile, seemingly the biggest news for DDO out of PAX was that the new Artificer class will initially be limited to players who pay in the cash store. The class will eventually be available as a favor unlock (think reputation or faction reward), but there will not be enough quests in the game to obtain the required favor until the next patch, which will presumably come 2-3 months after the class rolls out. Non-subscribers should be relatively accustomed to this aspect of the DDO business model, but this marks the first time that subscribers will be forced to spend Turbine Points for access to a major character-building feature.
One one level, I'm not sure how many stones should be thrown in this situation. Both games are still delivering far more content to players than they were before their changeovers, and the premium options in both games allow players far greater flexibility to get by for less than $10-15 per month. I would still prefer to pay a developer when they actually deliver something worth paying for, rather than paying a monthly fee whether or not they've done anything to earn it other than not kicking me off of the servers.
That said, I think these two stories illustrate a shared flaw in the premium model used by both games, and one of my earliest observations of the DDO model - for a player who doesn't spend money on cosmetics and consumables, Turbine's monthly revenue will only drop each and every month as that player permanently unlocks the features they want and lives without the features they don't want. This bargain is precisely the feature that makes the Turbine premium model so popular with players, but it leaves Turbine getting less and less money for the same amount of work as the playerbase matures.
In this context, it makes sense that Turbine would be interested in some combination of higher prices and less content. Unfortunately for Turbine, players may not cooperate, and the flexibility of the models give players unprecedented leeway not to pay for stuff that isn't worth the price tag.