The Future of LOTRO and the path ahead

When will it all End?

I have been reading a lot of articles, forum posts, and fishing about generally for info recently (being awake at unreasonable hours with a newborn baby will do that to you), and I have caught sight of a number of discussions and bits of information which have been intriguing to me, about LOTROs immediate and long-term future.

Firstly, there seems to be a lot of prophesying, and doom calling about LOTRO. I have seen plenty of speculations about the end of LOTRO, usually carefully worded as; ‘ all is not well‘,’enjoy it while you can‘, and such, nothing careless enough to be overtly falsifiable, except perhaps this post from The Tobold/MMO Troll, speculating:

I think Turbine will manage to get out another expansion covering the 2nd half of Rohan, but it – like RoR – will be significantly lacking, and overpriced for what is offered.  Players will rightly expect a Helm’s Deep instance of some sort, and it will not be included at launch. If Turbine manages to create such an instance, it will be a raid, and likely the only instance included with RoR2.

Turbine will not make it to Gondor as most would expect next, in 2014. The game will start actively bleeding players in mid-to-late 2013, and be shut down before the end of 2014. If a Gondor expansion is offered, it will also be feature lacking but at a premium price, and the game will shut down within two months of its release.

Brave words, and kudos from me for actually sticking your neck out. I disagree that ROR was significantly lacking, or over priced, but I guess everyone’s mileage will vary on that subjective point.

But to address the actual point being made here, I do think that this is actually a strong potential scenario, least wise the timing of A potential closure date for LOTRO, due largely to licensing. Turbine has the license for LOTRO (and it seems The Hobbit from the following source) until 2014, and an option of extending this to 2017 (source). What does this mean? Well, presumably any extension, would have a monetary payment attached to it, I can’t see any reason to make it an extension ‘option’, unless it was a precaution to save money and close earlier if the game was not profitable. The next 18 months will be crucial. If the profits (and thats actual cash coming in, not the amount of people who play, or love the game) are not seen to be worth the additional license extension, then the end of 2014 will almost certainly be the closure of LOTRO. However, if the Hobbit Movies and the second half of Rohan (presumably including Helms Deep) manage to draw in enough additional players, then we may well find Turbine and WB taking up this option and extending beyond.

I have seen suggestions pointing to Turbine past titles, such as Asherons Call, as an example that they may just let LOTRO dwindle on for years, but this is largely wishful thinking. The crucial thing missing here is the license. Self created, or low value, IP’s don’t cost much to run. Middle Earth as an IP will always have a large figure attached to its  existence, before any other running costs are added, and as such the scope for carrying on under unprofitable circumstances will be unlikely.

Staff losses

It’s sad to see people lose their jobs, but it happens all the time. We lost a 1/3 of our workforce this year too, but we are not collapsing as a company, despite seeing some hard times, there is often the inevitable churn, particularly after a larger project, or towards winter. Some of my friends work in the gaming industry for some quite large companies, and its inevitable that there are layoffs from time to time, especially after major releases, and whilst it sucks, and may indeed reflect some streamlining, or even downsizing, of the team (Community Rep and HR people are often first in line), it doesn’t always bode badly.

That all said, I am fairly optimistic we WILL see an extension beyond 2014, and I think a lot of the grousing currently is based on this trickle release of content LOTRO, and of course on the ever popular addition of grindy mechanics. The reason I say this is that actually, many people I know have enjoyed Rohan, and indeed Mounted Combat, they are mostly subscribers, and a good number buy Turbine points too, including ourselves, so are actively funding the game. It is impossible to judge or draw conclusions from such anecdotal evidence as this, but that is precisely my point. Often if you are on a quiet server, or reading forums, it is easy to get the impression that the sky is falling, particularly the unofficial forums, which tend equally on the negative side as the official forums do on the ‘fanboy’ positive side. I still see very busy chat, and kin channels, though having poked my head on other servers, I have no doubt a merger, or opening up some free transfer routes between some would not be a bad idea, though I guess in the current climate, moves like this would only be taken negatively, or as another sign of doom.

I suspect a lot of the current agitation and annoyance is at the lack of a instance cluster, as this was exactly the same after ROI whilst waiting for its cluster. Once again, in that instance, Emma and I were in a totally different position to many people of only having just levelled through all the content. But its true that what we could do with now is some instances, and not long after, some more content to arrive to keep the game moving forward for other elements of the player base.

Update 9: Instance Clusters, scaling, crafting XP, area loot and a BREEliant revamp.

So we are getting some Instances, and soon, but again, this is not up to everyone’s expectations, or to everyone’s liking. Complaints seems to range from; Why is it Hobbit themed and not Rohan, why are there not more 6 mans and raids, why is it in two parts, etc.

To address the Rohan issue, I think its clear Turbine are aware they need to grab more potential customers, and cater to them, to drive up profits, keep hitting targets, and allow that crucial 2014 extension.

You may have heard there is a new film out in a week or two, part of a trilogy, by Peter Jackson. They are, I’m told, quite popular. If you ran a Middle Earth game, would you want to miss out on this opportunity to attract new players? In addition, if you were attracting new players, would you want to give them some Hobbit themed instances, and make them scalable to a lower level so they could try them out without having to level to cap? Would you also think that giving them some crafting XP to help speed up the journey a little, and adding area looting to the game to improve mechanics would help? What about some new Steam packs, and perhaps revamping some of the lower level hubs like Bree and Archet to look more in line with the current endgame spaces, and impress new players? You betcha.

From the longer term players such as ourselves point of view, would you want two instance clusters in Rohan, one with East and one with West? It would be a bit monotonous to me, as a Dwarf there is only so much Green, Grass, Horses, and Blond blokes telling me their ‘need is Dire’ I can take. In Eastern Rohan there would only so many ‘meaningless white hand boss A‘ threats you could conjour up for instances, but for Western Rohan there is Helms Deeps, Edoras, The Paths of the Dead, and presumably some more Isengard stuff… so If you are going to replace one of these potenital clusters with a Hobbit themed cluster, and there just happens to be the first movie out with the Eastern Rohan expansion, it seems like a no brainer to me.

Why there are not more 6 mans and raids I do not know, or why they have been delayed. I presume that they have the figures, and know what sells and what is popular and are basing it off that. I personally prefer the 3 mans, but I guess, anyone who has read this blog would say thats obvious. I can only assume the scale of Rohan and what they need and want to deliver, and the size of the Dev team, are not perfectly matched. I doubt, given the need there seems to be to maximise profits, that they will be hiring more soon, especially as they had a few new guys around Rohan we met in Betas, and some new high profile staff members at Turbine generally, so the current team is having to break content into smaller chunks.

In addition they have scaled the Mirkwood cluster, including the raid, and finished the second half of the Moria revamp, so some extra content there, and something else that will definitely make it easier for a new player, and provide incentive to purchase these two pieces of content as they are now usuable whilst levelling, and also at level cap, especially as Mirkwood will now provide things to do at end game indefinitely.

New Areas and Old?

We know we will be getting Western Rohan next year, or possibly early the year after and, given the available space, it will be another large area, with some of the most iconic locations in Middle Earth in, so plenty for old and new players to look forward to. I have no doubt there will be a cluster with it, and that it will be inevitably delayed, and indeed that the expansion will be a similar price to this year, perhaps a little more?

There has also been suggestions we may get some more landscape prior to ROR: Part 2 as well, or some other content. A few posts that have been swiftly deleted on the forums have suggested so. A post in the Beta forum described how to find a way out of Limlight onto the Rohan side of the River via a Youtube video, and work your way over the Hills into a secluded forest valley, with a dusting of snow, which was far too polished for the usual Off Piste areas, and also had paths and an NPC Ent. I cannot now find this, or the Youtube Video it linked to. Sadly ,I didn’t copy them to my hard drive in time. *Edit: thanks to Roger from Contains Moderate Peril who pointed out it is still there, but has been made private by the owner

In addition there are also some images visible in a google image search still, which linked to a thread in the LOTRO forums detailing the Western Wold and Northern Fangorn. One image has disappeared entirely but appeared to denote the areas on the map on the large hill range behind Cliving, to the West of Harwick, and the North of Mirkwood, all South of the River Limlight, as I have highlighted below. Naturally the thread was very quickly deleted.

Rohan Secret

A Google image search for ‘Northern Mirkwood LOTRO‘ linking to a Forum thread which has gone, produces the following result. I saved the images below. Quite how accurate these are, or what exactly these entail is anyones guess, I’m sure BETA participants can verify it. These are just copied directly from Google Images and were not taken by me. I haven’t currently even logged on to Bullroarer since pre ROR release.

2my1d3p

This seems to be looking out of the Orc Camp in Limlight a gorge, to a narrow valley leading up through the mountains to the south, towards northern Fangorn

1zmgig4

A bridge in the Limlight over the river, leading to the valley

mr0b5

Another view of the new bridge

Intriguing stuff! It seems like this snow dusted forest and the gorge up towards Fangorn are all one and the same thing. Looking forward to finding out!

I have also heard some titbits that scaling of Moria instances is a WIP, though quite how far along that is I don’t know, but given how much seems to be known about 2013 so far, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t 2014 before that rose its head.

Summary

So all in all, I think There is plenty of evidence out there, that LOTRO is still attempting to grow, and build. Scaling old Content, revamping new areas, and cosmetic revamps of low-level hubs, new instances tieing in with the Hobbit films which scale to attract new lower level players. Updating the loot mechanics, craft XP, and new started packs and promotions all make levelling a little easier and more attractive, and undoubtedly some new store items to help speed levelling further will follow in the New year. Throw into that a new MAC client and associated steam pack to open up access for more players again. All this is undoubtedly designed to help build and promote LOTRO, to increase and sustain revenue from this point on, to keep achieving profits, and hopefully get us over that 2014 bump, which I believe Tobold/The MMO Troll is right to point out.

Last but by no means least, there are plenty of signs that more Rohan, Instances, and Indeed perhaps some new areas will follow, meaning there is still plenty to be hopeful for. Not to my mind, the actions of a company thinking of closing up shop just yet, so lets just hope its enough! What will happen in 2014-17, well thats anyones guess. I suppose, we may well see lifetime accounts being sold, over priced items, little new content, who knows, we may see some tail off, though of course, we may see a continued effort to extend the games span again. But for the time being, in contrast to a lot of opinion, I think we will see a continued effort to get more content out, and more money out of us, the players, in the next 12-18 months, things that it has to be said are not mutually exclusive.

Adam (a fanboy)

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Posted on December 8, 2012, in Games and Guard News and Events, Thoughts and Musings. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. There was a You Tube video recently posted showing the area you reference.

    But the owner has made it private, possibly as it’s footage from the Bullroarer test server.

    I think there is still a lot a work going on LOTRO and the people at the sharp end (IE the actual game designers etc) do have plans.

    But, my concern is for the accountants. It doesn’t really mater what is being planned or is in beta test. Nor ultimately does it matter how big or small the player population is.

    The key thing is how much money the game is making. I think that Turbine face strict financial targets set by Warner Bros. each quarter. The F2P model is really only a short term fix. The fact that the powers that be want to populate the store with $50 items is very telling.

    It is this factor that will decide the fate of LOTRO. Remember we’ve seen games close for similar reasons (CoH).

    • Thats possibly why I couldn’t find it again, the searches couldn’t find it writing this today. Certainly some of the other images have gone, I think this is all pointing in one direction, that there is some truth to it, and that Theres a new landmass being worked on there, for some content for U10 or U11 I suspect.

      I completely agree about the money, its exactly what I’m suggesting. This 2014 dilemma is going to be an number cruncher looking at figures and making a decision. LOTRO made XX much money, and we can project XXX much, and this extension of license will cost XXX, if those numbers look good, we are on, other wise we’ll have to have a party on Dec 31st 2013. This content drive and store experiments are early attempts to maximise and get to grips with what they can get out of their customers.

  2. Agree with a lot of what you’re saying. Didn’t know they hadn’t yet extended to 2017, thought I’d heard some time ago that they had. What bothers me is the feeling that they aren’t being upfront with us. We’ve known for a LONG time that the Hobbit movie was coming out in December. If they’d planned to release the Hobbit tie-ins then why didn’t they tell us ‘you’re getting these first before the RoR instances, instead of letting us assume we’d be getting the RoR instances in November? (think they said November first, before saying they’d be delayed to Feb) Were the Hobbit instances a last minute thing and, if so, shouldn’t they have been more upfront with us in what they were doing?

    That said, I think the Hobbit instances are a great move by them and I’m sure they’ll be a lot of fun. I just wish they’d told us they were going to take time away from the instances we’ve been expecting as part of our RoR purchase so they could get these out before the RoR ones.

    • There has been no official news regarding taking up of the extension, beyond 2014. I speculate that there will be fees attached, as I can’t see this not being the case, I presume this was merely a precautionary double license in case the game died on its arse soon after renewal, then they would save some money.

      I think, as I alluded to, the teams not as full as they’d like, and they don’t know what will be ready when, and how much, so road maps are not as detailed as they could be. That said, the Hobbit Instances are not that last minute, and some form of heads up would have been appreciated by some parts of the online community. Half the players I game with never come near blogs or forums, and just play games, and what releases contin are often genuine surprises t the point of release/purchase. That said, many of us like to know, and some of us don’t take surprises well, I don’t mind personally, but I don’t speak for everyone, so its kinda poor form to not at least gives people an idea.

  3. All I can say is if you have access to Bullroarer time to get on. A lot is addressed already. Love this article and I also share your sentiment that LOTRO will comntinue. Sad if it goes away.

    “2yr veteran VIP”

  4. Knowing the licence terms (well roughly the 2014, with option to renew until 2017) I’d always assumed that this MMO would end and it felt fairly refreshing… I had assumed however, that we would get to see the showdown in Mordor and then hopefully have a tying up of loose ends before the servers closed down. However, from what I’ve been reading (probably same sources as you :)) it does feel as though as this may be sooner rather than towards the latter end of the licencing agreement and I’m now thinking that perhaps we won’t see Gondor or Mordor after all.

    Its very hard to judge though, I think though if we see more ridiculous store items, lifetime subs being offered and server merges, I think it’ll be pretty clear.

    I do think though that they made the f2p and premium account statuses too generous – I’m seriously starting to wonder why I pay a sub every month. There really should be more vip-ness for being a vip but I guess subs are old fashioned now and presumably don’t generate enough income…

    I did check out the winter festival on Bullroarer and the reduction in quests is now do-able. There are 9 (10 if you don’t mind giving out some tokens) very quick and easy quests that can be done in around 1/2 hour – so you could do it daily in 10-12ish days (and the quests on BR reset every 13 hours, so every other day you could theoretically do them twice). The tier 3 rewards are nice (the yeti cloak and feet and war-steed appearance) but I’m not convinced I want them enough for the grind I would still have to put in. I’ll see how I feel when it’s released and how much time I have.

    It’s such a great expansion though, especially so once we finally get the instances :P, it’s a real shame.

    • I remain optimistic to be honest, I think often there is a lot of cynicism and negativity masquerading as objectivity floating around out there. Of course be realistic, be pragmatic, and be measured, but theres little need for the doom calling, you would oftewn believe it was Turbine who wanted it to close from the way some folks carry on. Time will tell, but I think they have scheduled to try and get us to Gondor in 2014, and hope to maintain profitability to extend to 2017. If A hobbit tie in, and Rohan and Gondor don’t get us there nothing will. At worst we have a couple of years and a few expansions, at best, we have the length of time I have been playing so far (5 years) all over again!

  5. Two problems loom larger than licenses with LOTRO. Its core game mechanics – following faithfully a pattern of success begun with EverQuest and perfected in World of Warcraft – have passed their sell-by date. People are tired of the item based leveling game. What’s worse, lovers of the lore, steeped as it is in remarkable achievements among unexpected groups, have to struggle mightily to keep from playing most of the game alone. The high level multiplayer content is scripted and contrived – so much so that people who showed up to play a multiplayer game are a minority group often derisively referred to as raiders. Finally the underlying front end and back end technology simply cannot handle an organic, epic, large scale multiplayer alternative. The graphics engine is very limited in the number of objects it can display on the screen, no matter what computer the customer is running, and the server libraries strain to handle even 100 players in the same zone at the same time. I came to these conclusions sadly after much denial because I think the LOTRO community is the most interesting and by far the most civilized of any in the so-called MMO world.

    • I totally agree that there are inherant issues within the game and systems itself, naturally this leads to a slide away in players, disinterest in an old game, its ne of the contributing factors to the lag, hitching, and people getting annoyed and leaving certainly.

      The distinct issue here IS the IP. If it were not for the IP hard deadlines and cost, I have no doubt that LOTRO would be allowed to dwindle on like Asherons Call has, with a few Devs, patches and small content additions, but nothing major added, just kept running as is so long as it has a loyal core still willing to play, pay and sub. The IP ensures this won’t happen to LOtRo, it will just go.

  6. Good point. And this may well be a good thing, for the reasons you note, if your scenario comes to pass.. Perhaps it will find a fresh home for certainly Bilbo, the 13 dwarfs, and the later Fellowship of the Ring, did not set forth to complete discovery and slayer deeds.

    Plus, touching on your reference to AC, there’s something sad about coming across the bulletin board on a house in Ultima Online, noting the time stamp of the last post made by the owner was seven years ago. Yet they could not bring themselves to stop paying that substantial monthly fee. Houses, and the thousands of collected items each contains, vanish in that game when you stop paying.

    The forums go wholly negative, devoid of any spark of discovery, imagination or joy and you wish to hell some kind soul would do the right thing and send the once proud game into history.

    • Perhaps your right, I can’t help but feel, given the amount still playing, that a closure in 2 years would be a far cry from AC or UO levels still though, perhaps in 5? Both are a long way away still, we have been playing 5 years, but the thought of our characters, and all the fun we’ve had with friends dissapearing is heartbreaking! At least we’ll have the Screen shots!

  7. OR….we’ve simply created a synergistic, temporary (I trust), gloom bubble and jumped inside, mistaking it for shelter ;)

  8. Nice to have these information, but, for the Hobbit film to draw new players and so new profits to the game, it should be announced somehow and NOT on the lotro-forum. Where I live, NOBODY knows of this game. Myself, I stumble on it by accident. (misspelling actually)
    They want profit ? Alright, then they should begin by making sure people know this game exist.

    Just my 2 cents, mind you, but making things to arrange players already there and waiting nicely for new players to learn of a game barely advertised on some websites… Well, that’s calling for a game who lose money, and players since most players now are not happy with the changes they’ve made to the game since one or two years.

  1. Pingback: LOTRO Reporter Episode 164 – Pronunciation 101 or How Not to Say Hot-bolt

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