LOTRO past, present, and future: Part 1
Firstly I must apologise for the length of this article. It fact, it’s so long I have split it into three posts that I will release each day to ease the burden on you dear reader! I have been thinking about this, adding to it and editing over a period of a week or two, so it has ceased to become news, possibly even legible, and morphed into more of a review or summary, or perhaps just a vague collection of words and thoughts on LOTRO and its current state and issues as it stands and moving forwards into the future.
Over the last few weeks we have been continuing to play LOTRO and investigate the three-man content, and pursuing some faction reputation, and other tinkering on. The new three-man content is great fun, excellent environments, good stories, and great rewards, which is exactly what I have come to expect from LOTROs instances. We have successfully run the three Isengard three mans, and the classic 3 man instances at 75, and are working on gearing up and getting better, in order to complete some of the tier two challenges in Isengard.
We have been having an awful lot of fun, so much that we have actually been neglecting our Star Wars: The Old Republic characters a little bit. This has struck me as a bit odd as Star Wars is an excellent game that we had been enjoying immensely, and if anything the LOTRO community recently seems to have been generally very disgruntled, up in arms, and running for the hills/raching for the tin foil hats, just as I was remembering all the things I love about it again. This has caused me to think a little about why I am still pulled away from a great game that is a fresh release (SWTOR) and what it is I like about LOTRO, beyond the IP. The current debate has focused my thoughts on the past 12 months and the coming 12 months, and what I have been enjoying, how I think the current problems may affect the game and my enjoyment, and what I personally expect from LOTRO and Turbine in the coming year.
All the thoughts are naturally just my own opinions and assumptions, and naturally must be understood from that point of view. Each person must look at their own gamestyle or enjoyment and come to their own conclusions.
Firstly let’s get the store out of the way. There is no dodging it, statted gear has gone in, relics can only be reclaimed via it, stats, damage and resistance, can be bufffed significantly by it, and levelling can be speeded by it. I imagine it is a large part of Turbine (thus also WB’s) income from the game and they are going to keep pushing it, regardless of promises in the past. Brace yourselves. I confidently predict we’ll see more armour for higher levels go in, I imagine we’ll see more store only horses than you can shake a stick at; the rest of the classes, racial mounts, regional mounts, cosmetic pets, perhaps more ways to ease the legendary grind via store, probably more services to speed leveling or auto-start at advanced levels, or increase the drop rates in instances. Yes, I do also consider these things to be conveniences, not advantages, to cite the tired old line.
Whilst I am not hugely excited by the prospect of this, I think pragmatically I have to consider how this will affect my gaming, and whether I can tolerate this, not on a level of principle, but on a practical level. Politics and philosophy are interesting and important, but not something I feel compelled to demand of a computer game developer in a game world, particularly a PvE one. The players themselves of course should always be free to enjoy tolerance and equality within their leisure time, that is and should never be in question, nor should players treat each other like dirt, we are still all human beings deserving a modicum of respect. This is, however, a hobby: something I do for fun, and it is often the case that people feel more precious or proactive towards their hobbies than they do about real world politics and philosophies. I understand this, as hobbies are often a healthy temporary escape from real life pressures, something we don’t want tainted and feel prtective of, but for me that is all the more reason not to carry too much of that real world baggage in there with you.
If someone is happy with paying £10 to Turbine for three pieces of level 20 armour, which will, with the best will in the world (tactical class puns aside!) see them 15 levels? (you will find quest drops better by 35) will that spoil my game? No, because I just don’t believe that many people will bother with it, and if they did, well its a lot of funding to ensure LOTROs continuation. Why should I dictate what they are able to spend their time and money on? If you could buy anything in game in a store, or earn it in game, yet some players were calling for game play time restrictions there would be an outcry, and rightly so, yet the reverse which we currently have is considered fair and equal. Why should I have a say in someone elses choice, when it does not affect me. If someone goes to the store and spends £15 on a piece of T2 raid armour for level cap, does that affect my enjoyment? Again, No.
I think I already passed part of this hurdle mentally. When they went F2P and announced that the reputation horses would be in the store I was pretty annoyed, this was my end game. I liked earning reputation and collecting mounts, and they were the symbols of my effort. Then a while after F2P it dawned on me what some people had been claiming all along; these still are the symbols of my effort. They still meant something on that character, and indeed, not many people seem to buy them from the store anyway. When I saw one, I didn’t really care how it had been obtained, I knew how mine had and I was happy with it, and finally and possibly most important, even if I thought it was cool, I wasn’t sinking £15 on a horse I could get in-game.
I feel pretty much like this about the armour debate. So long as I can acquire good, suitable armour, fit for purpose, by playing the game I don’t mind how other people go about it. I also actually doubt they will ever put current ‘end-game’ armour in the store, maybe the rift level 50 set, maybe higher tiers, but for now they realise that there does still need to be something to keep us comign back and buying those relic scrolls. Just as finished this post, I saw this from the forums, which you can take as you will. I personally thought this should have come out with the announcement, but demonstrates they are aware what sort of ground they are standing on, and may be at last that communication we have been so desperately waiting for.
Would I personally buy a piece of Draigoch armour for £10? Perhaps. I have earned three pieces on my Dwarf Rune-Keeper and almost my second piece on my Dwarf Guardian pretty easily with Isengard and classic 3 mans, supplemented by a few skirmishes, for a couple of weeks, so if I could obtain 4 pieces that way, then add a helmet or shoulder guards for £10 from the raid from the store I might just for the set bonus. I have little desire to raid anymore, and If I did, the odds of winning a coin are pretty low, so that may well be something I choose to spend money on.
I have thought through many of the worst case scenarios, indeed I suspect many will come true; increased reduction of legendary item grind via the store, auto-level services, buying worn symbols, or increased acquisition rate buffs for tokens.
I don’t particularly care for all of these, and don’t misunderstand me, I do not for one second understand why anyone would pay money to skip parts of a game. but I have empathy with people wishing to speed somethings up or increase rewards, or complete elements that their lives do not always allow them to the way many gamers do, particularly repetitive ones. Our game time is limited, and we like to play with a smaller group of friends, so what we do with it is precious and we try to spend the time carefully. If I can double rewards from an instance with a scroll, I probably will, because in all likelihood I’ll only run one or two a week, and for £1 I can make that time more productive towards earning some new armour it is actually a small price to pay.
In short, the store is here to stay, and will only get ‘worse’. I am fairly hardened to that, and of all the things currently in, and that I have mentioned, I actually don’t think there is anything that irritates me more than the Relic removal scroll which Roger from Contains Moderate Peril aptly cited as the first wedge in the door. This is largely because it was a necessary and existing part of the game which has been shuffled to the store under the guise of ‘revamping’, and now there is not an in-game equivalent. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same, but when you remove functionality from a game and add it to the store, you break players trust. I for one will think twice about spending my money on their products if this particular behaviour continues, which the pessimist in me does believe will happen. Thankfully, these scrolls rarely need using as relics are not essential for levelling (if you want stick tier 1 relics in) and I only tend to use them when I am certain I will keep a weapon for a long time. Oddly they have not done this with deeds, the slayer buff tomes sell well, and yet the Isengard slayer deed and discovery deeds were some of the easiest and least grindy to complete, which I expected to be the opposite. If ever there was an opportunity to increase the necessary kills and increase sale I felt sure this was it.
I suppose many may see this as a store defence, or store apologists post, and perhaps it is? Personally I think it is more of a reconciliation. I have heard some talk of ‘Turbine folks needing to put bread on the table’, which is clearly nonsense, if that was the only issue we’d be laughing. The issue is justifying why, in an aggressively competitive market, Lord of the Rings is taking up resources when we could spend it making another few Call of Duty/Football/ Harry Potter, etc games. that are clearly very lucrative for the number crunchers, but likely would not interest me. It’s a fine balance making it turn good profits, and keeping the players onside. If as an individual you can’t reconcile to the Stores existence with regard to your gaming style, and what will inevitably come into it in the future, it is going to be a tough year!
At the end of the day, this is a game, I look to the enjoyment I get from playing it, and the cost in real terms, and focus on that. Luckily I am a lifetimer, so even though I sink money on points (probably £40-60 a year) it is a very cheap hobby. I ask myself the question often, does an hour of my leisure time doing this justify the cost, and LOTRO, even if I added a subscription is still well above that threshold for me personally, when that stops becoming the case remains to be seen, but I doubt us as players will get much say in it.
So tomorrow I’ll discuss the current rewards and currency system, and the content situation in 2011
thanks for reading!