What Does LOTRO Need?

Yesterday Massively OP reported that Standing Stone/Daybreak/Enad Global 7 had announced a new expansion bundle for Lord of the Rings Online which allows one to purchase the six expansions between the base game and the current War of Three Peaks expansion for one… price…. that is lower than buying all of them individually.

The headline at Massively OP declared that the bundle “smashes its huge barrier to entry,” a suggestion that made me grimace.

The LOTRO Expansion Trove if you’re were interested

While not exactly a “people aren’t wearing enough hats” level of analysis, if I were to make a ranked list of problems that keep people from playing the game, buying all the expansions would be far down the list, as it is something I suspect never becomes an issue for the vast majority of the people who bother trying the game.

The problem there is that, as with my list about EVE Online from a few years back, there are lot of things that are simply outside of the scope of reality to address.

Yes, thanks to EG7 giving us a peek behind the curtains, we know that LOTRO is a viable, money making concern, but its income is more in the range of “sustain the status quo” rather than “rebuild and revamp.”

Page 15 – Year to Date numbers as of Sep. 30, 2020

That number is only through Q3 2020, so we might be able to assume that the game brings in maybe $13 million a year.  That is sustainable, but there is no bonaza of cash for updates in that number, and it falls well short of the estimated $100 million the game was reported to have made back in 2013.

I was honestly a bit surprised when SSG decided to upgrade the client to 64-bit, though that was more of a long term survival plan than something that would make things better.  At some point in the not too distant future Windows will stop supporting 32-bit apps, so better to get that done before it is a critical item for survival.  Certainly that move did not improve the client’s actual behavior in any noticeable way.

And I fear that anybody who is holding out hope now that EG7 is running the show that they will pour a bunch of money into the game is going to be disappointed.  The idea of there being a console version seems so far from reality that the only answer could be a completely new game build for modern consoles, which would leave the current game out in the cold.

So LOTRO is likely going to stay pretty much as is, a cranky old fantasy MMORPG from 2007 with a difficult to read UI (at just HD resolutions, don’t get me started on how it looks on my new monitor) and a lot of mindless repetitive game play.  Has anybody ever counted how many bears, board, and wolves you slay following the quest chains to level cap?

What can they do?

They are stuck because at their current revenue they clearly cannot make any large changes to the game.  And they are even more restricted than some comparable MMORPGs because they have to stick with approved Tolkien lore and have a game that tells a linear story so the expansions are not independent.  EQ could copy Blizzard’s parallel expansions idea is they had the mind and the budget, but would LOTRO be allowed to even tinker with having Moria and Rohan as parallel experiences on the way to Mordor?

The EQ version would have 26 parallels

Without something dramatic… and I have my doubts about what would even qualify… making money off of new players seems unlikely, so they’re left with the MMORPG standard policy of farming the installed base.

One way to do that is via expansions.

The SSG team can’t simply crank out more expansions for revenue.  I mean, the are trying, but they have trouble keeping up their current pace, have made some customers wary due to lightness of the Battle of Three Peaks expansion, and they’re running out of places to expand into in any case.  They do have another expansion coming this year, but the next thing needs to be in planning.

The other way to farm the installed base is special servers.  LOTRO has played this card once already, and successfully so far as I can tell, with the LOTRO Legendary server of late 2018.

They can always just play that card again.  I am sure there would be a decent response to a fresh start.  But if they want something different, I have an idea.

I’m grabbing this idea from something Star Wars: The Old Republic did a few years back.

I call this the LOTRO Epic Storyline server.

Turn off the side quests… if possible… and tune the xp output/curve so that players can level up through the story just running the epic quest line.

Maybe you don’t even need a special server for that.  Maybe you just have players buy a token for a character on a live server that boosts xp for the epic quest line.  It would be a nice way to catch up and get past some of the less inspired content that lays astride the path to level cap. (Looking at you Siege of Mirkwood.)

There are problems to be solved with the idea.  You would have to have a mechanism to keep player gear up to level along the way.  And then there are the special mechanics like legendary weapons or mounted combat that players would need to be guided through.

But it seems like a possible, reduced if not low effort way to attract some players and boost revenue a bit.

Or is there something else they can do?

Addendum: I mean, besides irritating their installed base by making the awful legendary system even worse.

12 thoughts on “What Does LOTRO Need?

  1. flosch

    There is actually one thing I can think of that works significantly better with the 64-bit client, and that is Minas Tirith. They basically bit off more than they could chew when designing that city, and the 32bit client is quite unstable when doing even such innocent things as riding through the tiers up to the top. Sometimes it just crashes. I never looked much into it, but rumor has it that the number of assets is so high (or the asset eviction algorithm so bad/lenient/slow) that the game actually runs out of address space and crashes-on-oom, basically. Considering the 64bit client works a lot better (it’s still a slow slog, but at least it doesn’t crash outright), there might be some truth to that. I wonder whether that sped up the push to 64bit.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. flosch

    Oh, and that LI leveling limitation would probably be really bad. It would indeed be a perfect example of “making a bad system even worse”. After the changes, it sounds like you would still need to grind the insane amount of upgrade scrolls, but limit even more where you can get them.

    For sure, people have complained about how you need to farm content from several years (and expansions) ago to get a decent amount of scrolls, but in a classic case of “be careful what you wish for” the proposed solution seems to be to simply level-limit the rewards from these quests without really replacing them with anything comparable in never expansions.

    That makes it sound like I should really get back into LotRO and grind out what I can before this goes life… but then again, I had my LotRO phase just a few months ago, and it will probably be a few more months before I feel going back.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @flosch – I’ve been stopped at Mirkwood a couple of times, and the one character I did boost up ended up in Rohan with gear so poor that they couldn’t handle the local mobs even one at a time, so Minas Tirith remains well beyond my grasp. I’d like to see it, but my ability to stay engaged has remained challenged.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. flosch

    I understand that point very well. It has taken me almost a decade to get a character to that level, bit by bit over the years. And some parts I’m not sure I would want to do again on a different character, because while I remember them being kinda-fun, I also remember a lot of sameyness in some expansions. Rohan was beautiful, but it just… did… not… end.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Naithin

    You have quite possibly already covered this, in which case I’ll have to go back and check what I missed — but curious in the context of this conversation your thoughts on the potential visual update ‘planned’ for LoTRO for ~2022.

    It’s referenced in the EG7 December 2020 Investor pack (https://www.enadglobal7.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/EG7-Investor-Presentation-Dec-2020-Acquires-Daybreak-Games.pdf) on Slide 19.

    No discussion on scope of the update, some reddit comments (perhaps cynically) rate it as likely to be nothing more than enabling 4K resolution and calling it a day, but surely if the plan is to capitalise on the renewed hype of the franchise alongside Amazon’s TV series it would *have* to be more than that, right?

    (As an aside, I was quite surprised to see that DCUO is their biggest game by both EBITDA and Subscriber count! And that EQ1 surpasses EQ2. If I’d had to guess without first seeing this information, would’ve thought EQ2 or LoTRO to be their big two.)

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  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Naithin – What they said was vague enough to mean any number of things. I hope that we’re at least getting an update to the UI to make it more legible; ideally a full icon/bag asset update as well. But if you go look through the LOTRO forums you can find mentions from Turbine and SSG about 4K support for the UI as far back as 2016. I hope we won’t have to wait until 2022 to get that. And we don’t know how overly optimistic or how much optimism was sold to EG7 as part of this deal. We’ll have to keep an eye on them to see where things go once the hard reality of ownership hits them.

    DCUO wasn’t a total surprise for me, if only because at one point Smed said it was the biggest earning free to play game on the PS3/PS4. It was also a title they chose to move to the XBox and Switch, so that seemed like a sign as well. Though that it is as big as it is was still something of a surprise.

    As for EQ vs EQII, I’ve known in my gut that EQ was bigger, largely based on the whole retro server nostalgia thing. EQ has a ton of people who played it and left with fond memories. EQII has never gotten close to EQ‘s installed base and the fond memories are a lot less common. I could, for example, probably convince the instance group to go back and play EQ on another retro server at some point in the future (Ula, Skronk, and I have played on a live server for a bit), but there is no way I could sell EQII. It is a shame, because EQII has a lot of good features, but it has always had to live in the combined shadows of EQ and WoW.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. fatherofdaughters

    I have a soft spot fro Lotro and played all the content up as far as Rohan (2012). I even have a life time sub so every few years I re-download the client and poke around for nostalgia’s sake. Unfortunately these re-visits never go well. I have completely forgotten how to play and my old characters have bags full of loot that means nothing to me while most of their skills have been reset multiple times due to revamps. Even starting a new character is too painful and the simple pleasures of repetitive wolf, orc, boar slaying are not sufficient payback for the massive re-learning curve.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yeebo

    I typed up a monster of a comment. Then realized I had a whole blog post. TDLR some technical and content changes are needed, but nothing the team shouldn’t already have been thinking about before the acquisition.

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  9. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @fatherofdaughters – Generally, when I go back I have to start fresh characters just to figure out how to play and what has changed since I last played.

    @Yeebo – I look forward to your post!

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  10. Whoom

    It’s been about a year since I played LOTRO. The LI system pretty much chased me out the door. I couldn’t bear the thought of 2+ months running the same old repeatable content daily just to get my item up.

    The design is so terrible for LIs it feels like it must have been done by the proverbial 1000 monkeys in a room. But, I know it was just a design done in Moria and has never really been reworked significantly. Yeah, they added the imbuing system so LIs turn from junk to a massive grind at ~100, but the core of the system didn’t really change. It’s such a shame, the overall idea of the system is neat – a weapon (e.g. Anduril) that gets better along the way, but the implementation has always been such a shambles.

    As a software engineer myself, it is kind of hard to watch a game like this bury itself so far in technical debt, that you can’t really ever imagine them digging themselves out. I really doubt I’ll ever launch it again.

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  11. Prog.Gaming

    What are your thoughts on the new Lotr MMO supposedly in the works?

    Sadly I think I was too late in the day to get into LOTRO, but I would be interested to see what a new game would look like. I hope they put a lot of graphical artistry into Old Man Willow otherwise count me out :D

    Like

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