Whew! Has there ever been a week this crazy in Lord of the Rings Online's history? If there has been, I wasn't there to see it. I've been reading and digesting a mountain's worth of forum posts on the subject, not to mention all of the chatter in the blogosphere: Sneaky Hobbits, LOTRO Weekly, The Green Dragon Inn, Harperella, Overly Positive, Screaming Monkeys, FlexYourGeek, Game By Night, Simple-n-Complex, Multiplaying, Stargrace, Casual is as Casual Does, Spouse Aggro, The Stone Kingdom, Doc Holiday, Mordor or Bust, Player Versus Developer, Nomnom.info, A Ding World, LOTRO Reporter, A Casual Stroll to Mordor, Spinksville, Kill Ten Rats, Tobold, No Prisoners No Mercy, Mordiceius, Yeebo Fernbottom, Ardwulf, Tish Tosh Tesh, Of Course I'll Play It!, Broken Toys, The Ancient Gaming Noob, NecroRogIcon, Psychochild, Keen, Blue Kae, MMO Gamer Chick, LevelCapped, Bio Break, Games and Geekery, Rainbow MMO and The Pix'led Life all had an opinion, for and against, and weren't shy about sharing.
The point is, it's hard to be neutral on this subject. Changing the business model to a F2P hybrid and implementing a cash shop isn't small potatoes, and even a week later, people are still struggling to figure out where they stand. In today's column, I want to take a look at many of the reactions I've been seeing (and personally feeling), and see if we can't calm the waters somewhat. After all, it's going to be a long wait until the fall, and heightened emotions are hard to sustain.
"Change is bad! Why can't things stay the same?"
People are creatures of habit, and as such, we tend to fear and dislike change. Trust me, I understand. We understand how LotRO works and operates right now, and if we're playing, chances are we like it just fine the way it is. To introduce a massive change to the game incites unease in us, even if we're intellectually in favor of the new version. And let's be honest -- even the most ardent supporter of this move can't give a 100% guarantee that everything will be just as good if not better come this fall. Nobody knows the future, not even Turbine.
While change for change's sake is usually stupid, change with a purpose can be a wonderful thing -- and LotRO's F2P switch has a definite purpose behind it. They're giving us more choices as well as enticing a whole new group of players (and returning ones) to swell the game's population. We may fear change because of the uncertainty, but to stubbornly resist it just because you like the status quo is to blind yourself to better things that you might end up liking even more.
"If I can't get a sparkling eagle mount in the LotRO store this fall, then I quit! I wanna fly like an eagle, to the sea!"
To be honest, this might only be me. And I probably just said this facetiously. Probably.
"What do I get out of it?"
Over and over, this was the dominating theme of most responses: What do I personally get from this transition and how am I personally affected by it? We may say that we care about the game in general or the community, but our gut reaction to this news is to analyze how it affects us specifically.
I applaud how Turbine delivered this news, because the subtext of all of it was to answer the above question in various forms. Are you worried about how this might impact the community for you? The executive producer talked about that. Do you want to know what you get for free versus if you subscribe? Enjoy a chart, my friend. How am I going to be rewarded if I'm a longtime player -- or a lifetime subscriber? Dine on these delectable bonuses. Even their F2P FAQ is peppered with answers of how this impacts my -- and your -- play experience.
No matter who you are -- a current subscriber, a lifetime member, a potential free player, Tom Bombadil -- you stand to benefit from this change, and you can bet Turbine's going to be drumming that message from here until launch.
"Oh noes! It will destroy the community!"
This sentiment is perhaps the loudest objection thrown at the news, one that I find a little bit hysterical and silly. No, I'm not dismissing the concern outright, mind you; LotRO is blessed with an incredible community, and we're understandably protective of it. However, engaging in a hypothetical scenario -- with no proof whatsoever that a corrupted, destroyed community will be the end result of this business model shift -- lacks intelligence and common sense.
Sera put it beautifully in her article, but I want to add a few thoughts of my own here. The first is that the community we currently have and love will still be around, barring the apocalypse. If people who love the game and love the community as it is are still playing, they will be a significant force to influence incoming players to be a part of what makes the community great, instead of corrupting it into Barrens-chat levels.
My second thought is that there's a common misconception that "out there" exist only a roving pack of half-insane F2P trolls who lurk in the shadows and wait for the opportunity to pounce on a game and render it crap -- and that this hypothetical crowd will be the majority of the F2P influx of new players. While trolls and jerks and nebbish noobs are always a threat to our games, this perspective ignores that there are a lot of wonderful people out there as well who will be giving LotRO a try. My wife, for example, is budget-conscious and therefore reluctant to subscribe to LotRO in the past, but is looking forward to giving it a test drive for free. She, and many like her, could be a wonderful asset to the community as long as we don't shun them with a kneejerk judgment based on their F2P status.
"This disrespects lifetime subscribers!"
I'll admit that I never thought LotRO could go free-to-play, if only for the issue of lifetime subs. It's a significant investment made by many that came with a promise of forever-free gameplay, and while Turbine didn't take away from that, there's a case to be made that they've weakened the comparative benefits of a lifetime sub by offering the F2P option. How many people would have never bought a lifetime sub if they knew F2P was on the horizon? We'll never know, but I have heard from a few disgruntled lifers who wish they had that cash back in their pockets.
Of course, it's not like lifetime subscribers are going to be hurting from this change. On the contrary, they not only keep everything they have now, but they also get a nice chunk of Turbine Points every month -- in essence, bonus goodies.
"I can't believe there's no new content until this fall!"
Due to the immense undertaking of this change, it looks as though Turbine can't provide another content patch until F2P happens. That means that by the time LotRO Unlimited (or whatever they'll call it) hits the servers, we'll be subsiding on a half-year-old content patch that wasn't too beefy to begin with. I understand why they can't, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. What's worse is that this probably means no new expansion this year, just an additional zone.
"I'm excited... cautiously excited, but excited nonetheless!"
I'd say that this positive sentiment outweighed most of the negative ones that I read the most on both forums and blogs. The benefits of a F2P move appear to far outweigh any potential drawbacks, benefits which include a larger community, additional incentive for Turbine to create new content, and more options for the consumer. DDO proved that "F2P" doesn't have to be a dirty term, and that community weathered the same storm we did on their journey to the game's transition (believe me, I was there).
While DDO's F2P switch isn't a perfect parallel for what LotRO will go through, we've seen many positive results come out of it that could potentially benefit LotRO as well. Results like an embrace of the DDO Store, a swelling of the population, a new server, massive amounts of press coverage, numerous updates (including free content), and a large number of additional subscriptions. If Turbine can increase LotRO's visibility, playerbase and revenues, all while offering us more options and content, then they're setting up a win-win situation.
Next week on a very special episode of The Road to Mordor:
Blossom gets her first boyfriend, Doogie Howser tackles racism, and I will look at the exciting goodies in store for the game.