Middle-earth in 2015

In my predictions for 2015 I did not have a lot to say about Turbine.  I basically called it as another slow year for Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeon & Dragons Online and expressed a good deal of skepticism that Turbine could pull off their idea of free versions of Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 with WB looking over their shoulders.  Reality just won’t respect good intentions.

Then we got a couple of Producer’s letters from Turbine for 2015, which were enough to make me consider which game might be the big fish at the company.

Opposing the orcs and wargs of misfortune?

Opposing the orcs and wargs of misfortune?

The LOTRO Producer’s letter was short and, by their own admission, more than a little vague.  The six initiatives for the first half of 2015 listed out were:

  • Legendary Weapons: More bling for those at the level cap.
  • Fellowship Challenges: More small group content, though no mention if it will be new or recycled.
  • Episodic Content: I don’t think this means what it means in Guild Wars 2.  I read this more as “There will be no more big expansions, so this is how we’re going to move towards Mordor now.”
  • Quality of Life: When you have to add bug fixes to pad out your list, you might be reaching.  The letter literally says bugs, so this doesn’t sound like CCP’s type of quality of life changes.  It sounds like they’ll just bet getting to stuff that probably should have been fixed already.
  • Server Populations: They want to get everybody onto more populated servers.  This will involve closing some servers as well as hardware upgrades and location changes for remaining servers.  This was described as a “large and complicated process.”

That was fairly weak tea compared to the DDO Producer’s Letter which was all about new monsters, new storylines, new festivals, a new class, and more levels.  No bullet points for fixing bugs or closing servers there. (The DDO Producer’s letter didn’t get a spiffy graphic at the top to make it seem bigger either.)

I have always considered DDO to be LOTRO’s somewhat impoverished cousin… Turbine was willing to gamble on free to play with it first… but the tone of the two letters makes me wonder if that is the case.  Of course, DDO might just have a better producer… or at least one better at writing updates… than LOTRO.  But DDO certainly seemed to shine in this instance, whereas LOTRO felt a bid sad.

Still, some of what was said can be seen as encouraging.  The lack any further expansions and the limited scope of initiatives going forward might incline one to think that Turbine is just riding things out to 2017 when the current contract extension with Tolkien Enterprises comes to an end.

But does a company upgrade hardware and move servers… moving some back to Europe even… if it is just running down the clock and trying to milk the last few Turbine Points out of players?

The one thing that did sort of left me hanging on the whole server population front was how the transfers will be handled and, more specifically, will they be free?

I mean, my gut says that if a company closes my server so that I have to move to another one in order to play, of course that transfer is going to be free.

But it also seems like an obvious reassurance that a community manager might give as part of a message where they mention closing servers but not doing server merges… at least by the second clarification.  I appreciate them saying they want to make this as seamless as possible, but if such moves are anything but free, prepare for an explosion.  Not heading off that speculation now is only going to cause the pot to boil on other topics.

Anyway, the future is not certain.  We shall see how this plays out.  But if you want to enjoy Middle-earth some more, it might be wise to follow Roger Edward’s advice in his look at the LOTRO Producer’s Letter; live in the moment and play the game now.

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14 thoughts on “Middle-earth in 2015

  1. Pasduil

    As Tsu, I was pleasantly surprised also.

    Wilhelm’s reading seems on the dour side of possible interpretations almost to the point where I’d say it’s a misreading of the text.

    They talked about Osgiliath and Osgiliath instances, which considering not long ago Sapience was saying that not only a tiny minority of players care about instances is very welcome to hear.

    “Quality of life” doesn’t mean bug-fixes, it means stuff like being able to send many items in one mail for example, which they implemented in 2014.

    Server consolidation is good sense, and will probably help keep me in the game longer. Already have kinnies that jumped to a new sever.

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Pasduil – Except when it comes to what they said under quality of life, the only reference was to bugs.

    “We have been working to identify your most persistent bugs. You can expect a renewed focus on resolving issues that may be small but troublesome, to improve overall gameplay experience”

    Is there yet another follow up clarification that would indicate that my literal reading of what was written was incorrect? The only thing I have seen is a follow on that indicated they were going to fix the things they broke in the music system, which would be bugs. If there is something else out there, great, but otherwise you seem to be whistling a happy tune on pure optimism.

    As for servers, people keep saying “merger” and “consolidation” but the statement is “There will be no forced data merge from one server to another, or to combine two servers.” Servers will be closed down and you will have to transfer yourself, presumably for free. That populations will be better is great, that the game needs less servers, not so much.

    But if you want a more dour opinion, I’ll see if I can get SynCaine to comment. Then I’ll look happy go lucky.

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  3. Pingback: Lord of the rings Online – producer’s letter 2015 | Party Business

  4. carson63000

    Are you really speculating that they might say “we’re closing servers X, Y and Z; so you better pay for a transfer or else your characters on those servers will be deleted” ??

    That sounds.. more unlikely than the unlikeliest thing I’ve seen happen in a long time.

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  5. bhagpuss

    I may not play LotRO any more but I am not going to abandon my characters so I will be moving them if necessary – IF it’s free. I’m sure it will be. Has any MMO ever threatened to close servers and required players to pay to avoid having their characters rendered unplayable? Surely not.

    Having experienced plenty of server consolidations in the past I actually prefer this method. At least you get to exercise a modicum of control over your eventual destination. Other than that I agree the letter paints a rather bleak picture. The really interesting question, though, is if Turbine’s license isn’t renewed in 2017 will the Tolkein estate offer it to someone else? This is the ur-IP of fantasy gaming after all…

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  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @carson63000 – If you read the Producer’s letter and the two clarifications linked in the post, they say that they will be closing servers, not doing any data moves or merges themselves, but that characters will be available to move both before AND after the servers are shut down. (No characters deleted, specifically stated.) My assumption is that those moves, before and after shut down, will be free. But nobody has specifically said that, which I find an odd omission. This is where I would expect them to be emphasizing that point. You could infer “free” from “seamless,” but it isn’t the same thing as coming out and saying it.

    I’m not saying, or even predicting, that moves won’t be free, I just find it odd that such an easy reassurance is missing from all the statements I have seen. Seems like a no-brainer to do it and a crowd annoying distraction to omit it.

    @Bhagpuss – My assumption is that Turbine, thanks to being part of WB, will find some way to swing a deal to keep LOTRO going after 2017, so long as they do not screw things up to the point that there isn’t enough money in it to keep all parties happy. They might get some sort of non-exclusive deal where somebody else can go off and use the IP for an MMO… though I am not sure who would want to at this point… the way that DDO got to keep D&D, and even got some Forgotten Realms allowance, even as Neverwinter showed up. We’ll see.

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  7. Pasduil

    > whistling a happy tune on pure optimism

    If they do some new instances and give me an option for free transfers to servers of my choice, I will be delighted. Both those are pretty much what they literally said they would do.

    You might be right that they meant “bug fixes” by “quality of life” improvements though. I don’t care much either way as that part is not a big deal to me.

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  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Pasduil – Please, link to where they finally said “free” so I can put this to bed. Seriously, I would like to see that Turbine isn’t considering doing something really dumb.

    Also, I think if you use “pretty much” and “literally” to describe the same thing, you might be doing it wrong.

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  9. Dersen Lowery

    I wonder how much of this is because D&D itself hit a low point with 4th Edition (hi Pathfinder!), and seems to be experiencing a renaissance with 5th. (And no, I’m not getting into edition wars. I’m just going by the way the new edition is being received relative to the old one.)

    If people are getting excited about the pen-and-paper game, Turbine has reason to invest in the online version.

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  10. Hull

    Has LoTRO had a graphics patch any time in the last few years? That is probably the main thing holding me back from checking it out again.

    I played the game what feels like ages ago, before it went F2P. Initially got to level 10 and went straight into monster play… loved it (early level monsters were so weak… just getting a hero kill was a massive achievement), although it did feel very much like a side game for Turbine. Back then the graphics were beautiful and eye popping.

    Eventually moved on, and then went back to it with a friend a few years ago, but we were turned off by the poor character creation graphics (spoiled by the Eve character creator?) and even the starter areas. So never really got back in to it.

    Oh, I also enjoyed DDO as a game to play with friends. Haven’t looked in on it in ages… anyone got any insights on whether it has been kept polished or has aged poorly?

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  11. SynCaine

    If anyone would charge for a forced server move, it would be SOE/Turbine/Trion, and I hope they actually do it just to provide all of us some excellent outrage. Remember Turbine is the studio that initially said they would never sell items, and then later that day put the One Ring in the item shop, so never say never with that clown car. If SOE can sell power items and that same day tell everyone they don’t sell power, why not right?

    As for the other stuff, I’ve always seen DDO as the better designed game of the two. LotRO is a poor-mans WoW-clone that has been progressively getting worse (F2P) for years, while DDO isn’t much of an MMO, but it does what it does (all instances small group adventures) fairly well for a F2P title. Not all that surprising if Turbine focuses on DDO over LotRO.

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