LOTRO Goes the Route of DDO: Free!

June 4th, 2010

This bit of news caught me completely off-guard: Turbine's other big-name MMO, Lord of the Rings Online, is following in the footsteps of its brother, Dungeons and Dragons Online, in adopting a free to play business model. This is pretty fantastic for fans of the game who aren't up to paying the monthly fee, but it seems an odd move; I thought the game was going strong on its current subscription system, not at all like DDO's floundering population base. I had a lot to say about DDO's change, and most of it positive, but I'm not sure the same success will come to LOTRO.

You see, DDO's game model, that of having lots of little adventure packs you can bundle together and sell piecemeal, works well for F2P: players only need to buy the adventures they want to play and, because the game has no linear design, nothing is required for anything else. However, I'm under the impression (based on 3 months of press review coverage when the game was initially released) that LOTRO is a fairly traditional MMO, with big open areas and strong linear progression. I don't really see how you can bundle up LOTRO in the same way you can DDO.

I suppose the model might just focus on microtransactions: eschew selling adventure area and focus on selling supplies, cosmetics, and other goodies. This could prove catastrophic, however, especially since North American players typically despise the "buy your way to success" that fuels most Asian F2P games (and thus tarnishes the entire category). In DDO, convenience items were strictly that: for convenience. Because you only played adventures with a few other players at a time, you couldn't ruin the balance of the game world by introducing "cheat" items (like store-bought rest shrines). Players uninterested in such conveniences simply opted not to use them or party with people who did. Players who did want to use them could. But these decisions were isolated to the instanced adventure the particular players in question were in. In LOTRO, however, "cheat" items affect the entire game world and, more importantly, the opponents players face in PVP.

I suppose this is all conjecture; I really have no idea what sort of items will pop up in the store, how the game world will be divvied up for payers and freeloaders, or what sort of gameplay will be most affected by all this. At the very least, the game going free means I'll be able to take a look, one way or another.

Posted by: Soulrift

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