Category Archives: Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO and the Great Server Merge

Way back in January we had the Lord of the Rings Online Producer’s Letter outlining the plans for the game in 2015.

Opposing the orcs and wargs of misfortune?

Opposing the orcs and wargs of misfortune?

I was personally somewhat underwhelmed by the plan for 2015, especially when compare with the Dungeons & Dragons Online Producer’s Letter, which seemed to be much more upbeat and full of promise.

Still, you take what you can get.   At the time Turbine was still pouring resources into the now failed Infinite Crisis MOBA.

Those “glass half-full” fans of Middle-earth can expect more attention to their game now that Turbine is past that and has no current prospects beyond doing iOS companion games for other people’s releases.

Anyway, back in January one of the promises was to deal with server populations.  Turbine wanted to get everybody onto more populated servers.  The pan will involved closing some servers as well as hardware upgrades and location changes for remaining servers.  This was described as a “large and complicated process.”  The basic gist was that some (or most) servers would be closed and players would be allowed to transfer to the remaining active servers, which was sort-of how Rift handled their server closures back when they were in their first post-launch contraction.

Of course, the team at Trion was clear up front that such transfers would be free while Turbine spent more than a week failing to clarify the transfer situation, dodging repeated direct questions about that fundamental issue while devoting time to addressing what I would uncharitably characterize as trivia by comparison.

Turbine eventually did indicate that the server transfers would not have an associated cost.  But you have to wonder, given how long it took them to answer that very simple “yes/no” question what they had in mind at the start.

There is a dev post about the transfers listing out the details.  It looks like ALL transfers will be free from whenever they start through October 1st, and after that the no-cost option will be limited to getting yourself, your kinship, and your characters off of a closed server.  That seems reasonable enough.  That just left us wondering which servers would be closed.

We now have an answer to that question.

US Servers Being Closed

  • Darrowdelf
  • Elendilmir
  • Firefoot
  • Imladris
  • Meneldor
  • Nimrodel
  • Riddermark
  • Silverlode
  • Vilya
  • Windfola

EU Servers Being Closed   

  • Anduin
  • Eldar
  • Estel
  • Gilrain
  • Maiar
  • Morthond
  • Snowbourn
  • Vanyar
  • Withywindle

That is the majority of the LOTRO servers, though as we read earlier this year via an insider leak, there was a great deal of optimism on how many people would play the game when it went free to play.

That leaves the following servers up and available as transfer targets:

Remaining US Servers

  • Arkenstone
  • Brandywine
  • Crickhollow
  • Gladden
  • Landroval

Remaining EU Servers

  • Belegaer
  • Evernight
  • Gwaihir
  • Laurelin
  • Sirannon

That leaves me in an odd situation.  I have characters on four servers, and three of them are getting closed. (Actually, I am in kinships on four servers, there might me a couple more characters scattered about.)  The gut reaction, I suppose, should be, “Yay! I can consolidate!”  Only I am pretty sure I would use up all the character slots available on the remaining server if I attempted to bring over every character from Firefoot, Nimrodel, and Silverlode.

And then there is the target issue.  While I have listed the four remaining US based servers, Brandywine, which I call home as well, has a special note:

Brandywine will be unavailable for incoming transfers for a time until population and load can be re-evaluated on new hardware

I am a bit surprised that Brandywine is the special case.  I thought Landroval was the cool kids server where all the special events happened.

Anyway, that is where we stand.  It looks like Turbine has done a lot of work to make transfers accessible.  Now we will have to see how things shake out once they turn transfers on and let people move.  I might let others rush in while I wait and watch for a bit.

What Future for Turbine after Infinite Crisis?

Unfortunately, as the MOBA market matured around us as we were building the game, we simply couldn’t find enough of an audience.

Floon, Infinite Crisis Art Director, quoted at Massively OP

InfiniteCrisisIt is one of those times when I hate to be right.  I was dubious that Turbine had the gravitas to get into the MOBA genre at this late date, and it turns out that they do not.  Turbine announced yesterday that they would be shutting down their entry into the MOBA market, the perhaps all-to-aptly named Infinite Crisis.  The statement on their site was terse.

After much deliberation, we regret to announce the official shutdown of Infinite Crisis. We will end development efforts today and will close the service on August 14, 2015.

The announcement was made all the more poignant as it came on the same day that Blizzard’s champion for the MOBA arena, Heroes of the Storm, officially went live. (And now I don’t have to do a post about that, having mentioned it here.  At least until I earn the pet from it.)

I hate to be right because, while I had no real interest in the game, its abject failure leaves me wondering where Turbine goes now?  As they invested their time and resources in Infinitie Crisis, they left Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 on auto-pilot, neither charging to play the titles nor paying much attention to them.  So I doubt there is any more revenue to be had on that front.

Which leaves only two staples in the Turbine bag, Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online.

Not that either title is dead, but at least on the LOTRO front it feels like the game is well past its prime.  The producer’s letter for the title early this year felt short on enthusiasm for me.  Expansions were out the door, server merges were going to be a fact of life, and talk of a new data center could be a bright spin on further resource consolidation for all we know.  And then there was the insider insight in to the turmoil at Turbine that no doubt sank a few optimistic spins on how things were going at the studio.

The more recent producer’s letter spun more of the same items (monster play maps, server merges, data centers, a new store) and, while it brought tales of “major content initiatives” for 2015, complete with hints about Minas Tirith, details were sparse.  Dare we speculate on what a “surprising take on the siege of Gondor” will look like from Turbine?

Meanwhile the game has been monetized to about the maximum extent they can likely manage.  The once promising F2P model that Turbine offered, where you could earn the RMT currency in-game, has expanded and consumed all, like the very darkness of Mordor, so that there is a “buy now” button of one sort or another on nearly every dialog in game.

Then there is DDO, whose 2015 producer’s letter was much more upbeat, and which felt better adapted to the F2P market to start with, never having been a “worldly” game but rather more akin to the adventure module model like table top Dungeons & Dragons.  Still, as much post-F2P conversion success as Turbine can claim for the title, a lot of that has to do with how badly it fell over after launch.  Everything is up when you have hit rock bottom.

Those two titles, in whatever shape you wish to claim they are in, look to be all Turbine has for now.  Their investment in a MOBA has yielded naught and in order for them to start working on something new they will have to continue, to a certain extent, to neglect the products that are paying all the bills.

This is practically an every day Silicon Valley dilemma, where a start up gets success on one product, does well enough, but can never get that second success as the first eventually fades.  During that stage there can be a huge amount of tension between groups. One group will want to continue to focus on, enhance, and nurture the first product.  Another group will insist that the main focus must be on finding that second product, because they know the first can’t last forever.

I’ve seen some comments out there from people who, if not cheering the demise of Infinite Crisis, are happily assuming that its fall will mean more resources for LOTRO or DDO.  I suppose Turbine could go that route, hunker down and focus on current products and hope for the best.  However, that seems unlikely, as is spells eventual death for the organization.

To survive in the long term, Turbine will need a “next” product.  But what will it be?  They have shot their bolt with Asheron’s Call by making it free.  Likewise, they played the nostalgia card with Asheron’s Call 2, only to give up and make that one free as well.  Infinite Crisis is behind them.  I don’t know what else they can do with DDO, and LOTRO is likely too mired in F2P for Turbine to play any sort of premium retro-server sort of games, like Daybreak is doing with EverQuest and the Ragefire and Lockjaw servers, in order to boost revenue.

So it feels like they have to make something new.  But in which direction will they go and do they have the resources to go very far?  I have to imagine that, after Infinite Crisis, which was purported to be eating $4 million a month in expenses, their corporate masters at WB may be unlikely to write a check to fund any big new ventures.

Yes, they have an iOS app under way in the form of Batman: Arkham Underworld.   But that sounds almost like contract work, doing a knock-off version of another title just to collect a bit of reflected glory, and is unlikely to save the farm. 

Then there is the Game of Thrones based game, which sounds a bit like an RTS from the minimal description in that Eurogamer article from a couple months back.  But that is way out in the future.  Both entail working with somebody else’s IP… again… as well as sending the company further from its MMORPG roots.

If you were running Turbine, what would you do?  Is it time for them to give up on MMOs?

LOTRO – The War of the Ring as an Eight Year Long Quagmire

Lord of the Rings Online officially went live eight years ago today.  I had been in the late beta, but made sure to note the first day that it was officially a going concern back in 2007.

Yahoo Headline 2007

Yahoo Headline 2007

Of course, one of the ongoing jokes about the game is how long it has take it to move through the story relative to how long the events in the books were reported to take.  Even allowed a generous spread of dates, say from when Gandalf warns Frodo to get out of the Shire (April 11, 3018 TA, or five months before Frodo gets off his ass and goes… hobbits…) through to when Sam Gamgee arrives back from the Grey Havens (October 6, 3021 TA) after Frodo and Bilbo depart Middle-earth, still only comes up to three and a half years.  The old LOTRO news site A Casual Stroll to Mordor came by its name honestly,

It wasn’t so bad at first.  The game only took about a year longer to get to The Mines of Moria than it took the fellowship to get through to the other side, though that still put the expansion out longer than it took to Frodo to throw down Sauron, celebrate with the new king, meander back to The Shire, fight the last battle, and start complaining about his PTSD.

But here we are, eight years in, and still in The Two Towers, with Minas Tirith still over the horizon.  I like to try to imagine the story playing out over a longer stretch, the war of the ring as an ongoing quagmire, though it requires both sides to move at a pretty lethargic pace.  Vast armies slow to form then lumbering about at a snails pace as Frodo… I don’t know what Frodo is up to.  He and Sam seem to have found something to do.

Anyway, Turbine’s vision of Middle-earth is still here to explore.  Things do not look promising, at least if you were holding out hope against hope of seeing Mount Doom or the gates of Mordor.  The look forward into 2015 seemed rather modest, and then we had all those tales of woe about Turbine itself leak.  But we are also unlikely to see as ambitious an attempt to recreate Middle-earth any time soon, so enjoy it while we have it.

 

March in Review

The Site

My RSS feed isn’t quite the problem it was at one point, but I have noticed that the direct feed from the site seems to propagate more slowly that the Feedburner feed.  This is doubly bizarre as the Feedburner feed works from the direct feed, so there is some sort of voodoo going on there.  And then, for some reason, Blogger seems to have it in for my feed again as it is once again updating very slowly in some (but not all) blogroll side bars on that platform.  The mysteries of Google.

I took the VirginWorlds feed off the side bar for now as the site seems to be in a state of neglect.  It isn’t updating feeds correctly and some of the longstanding feeds have been taken over by new sites that are not related to MMO gaming.  I dropped Brent a note, but I think he may be busy with other aspects of his life.

Meanwhile, on the WP.com front, they are now pushing the new editor and stats page rather aggressively.  I can no longer edit a post from the main page without using the Fisher-Price “Babby’s First Text Editor” option, as they remove the “classic editor” link from it.  At least the classic editor is still available from within the admin page for posts, so I just have to go that route now to fix my inevitable typo.  And the new stats page is now the default, though you can can still get to the old one via a link down at the bottom.  I don’t mind progress… WP.com has improved things over the years… but this is one of those lessons in why re-writing things from scratch is often a bad ideal; you lose functionality that was added to the old code base over time.

Also, what is with this pop-up I get from WP.com every day?

Howdy yourself!

Howdy yourself!

I just click the ‘x’ to dismiss it most days, but yesterday I decided to click the up arrow just to see what I would get, and that also dismissed it.  I suspect they are not that interested in being helpful.

One Year Ago

I was thinking about the word “free” and how it really brings up negative connotations.  Basically, “free” is usually a scam, so why should we expect “Free to Play” games to viewed as anything else?

A year back my other blog, EVE Online Pictures, qualified for inclusion as an EVE Online fan site.  We’ll see if that gets renewed this year.  Meanwhile CCP lost money through “derecognizing” an asset which would turn out to be the demise of World of Darkness as a project for them.  CCP was also taking a stab at cosmetic options for ships.

I picked my 15 most influential video games, and got some other people to pick theirs as well.

WalMart was going to get into the used video game market.  Did that ever go anywhere?  I don’t shop at Wally World.

Something called MyDream wanted to be a Minecraft killer or some such.

It was the end of the line for Free Realms and Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures as SOE chief John Smedley vowed never to make kids games again.  While over in EverQuest the 15 year anniversary included the introduction of instant level 85 characters.  I gave that a try and got lost immediately.

Facebook bought Occulus Rift.  Where is your VR now?

Brad McQuaid was a month past his unsuccessful Pantheon Kickstarter and I was wondering what the plan was.

In a set of short items, I also noted that EverQuest Next Landmark became simply Landmark, two of the founders of Runic games left the studio to try their luck elsewhere, while King, the makers of Candy Crush Saga, went public and are now one of the most shorted stocks on the market! (They were mentioned on the Planet Money podcast about shorting.)

The ongoing “Blizzard isn’t giving you…” series continued. while Diablo III: Reaper of Souls went live, an event which included the end of the auction house.  I had gone back to the game to try some of the changes.

Also on the Blizzard front, they managed to find a hook to get me to play Hearthstone… or at least a couple rounds of it.

I was also musing about WoW and when the expansion would launch and the stat squish and guild levels and pseudo-server merges and my insta-90 choice and Warlords of Draenor being $50… which was at least better than it being $60.  While, actually in the game the instance group took on Zul’Aman.

We formed something I ended up calling the “strategy group,” if only to distinguish it from the “instance group” which started out playing some Age of Empires II.

And I wrote another installment of my ongoing TorilMUD series, this time about the Faerie Forest.

Five Years Ago

With the March 2010 month in review I was able to announce that the site had passed the one million page view mark.  A minor milestone.

FarmVilleWe all tried it as research for Shut Up We’re Talking #60.  We didn’t inhale.

I ran through GDC and had dinner.

I was waxing nostalgic for some flavor of Rome.

EA was saying very stupid things about how many subscribers Star Wars: The Old Republic would need.  It is never too early to set the bar for failure.  Also they were threatening to taint 38 Studios.

I was also wondering about greater challenges in MMOs.  Must all paths be equally easy?

I held an April Fools contest, which got a few entries.

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver launched and, after some delay,  I was picking that initial Pokemon.

I was still invested in Star Trek Online… I was trying…. well, they were giving us lifetime subscribers some perks.

In EVE Online I hit 50 million skill points.  I also had my first Tengu.

World of Tanks was staring to announce some of their progression trees, starting with the Russian and American sets.  Those have changed a lot since then.

The instance group was beginning to embrace the Dungeon Finder.  However, we found we still had to do a chunk of external legwork to prepare for our Sunken Temple run.  I also got a chopper along the way, on my birthday no less.

And, finally, that whole Derek Smart/Alganon thing was just kicking off.

New Linking Sites

The following blogs have linked this site in their blogrolls, for which they have my thanks.

Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in March

  1. Progression Server Progress in EverQuest
  2. Quote of the Day – A Treasure Trove of Turbine Turmoil
  3. WoW Tokens – PLEX with Price Supports
  4. Tech 3 Destroyers and Other Tidbits from EVE Vegas Keynote
  5. Considering Star Wars Galaxies Emulation? Better Grab a Disk!
  6. Reviewing My Kickstarter History
  7. A Return to Writing about the Blogesphere
  8. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  9. Hitting 50 Yet Again
  10. A Sad Day for Sims
  11. Scylla Overshadowed
  12. Has Rift Only Been Around for Four Years?

Search Terms of the Month

eq2 is crap
[That is not an uncommon opinion]

how far away.is everquest next from launch
[How far away is the Moon from Tuesday?]

toontown axis
[of evil?]

qctffivhlbbgi
[Grundoon? Is that you?]

do you need help pitching a tent
[It is largely a mental exercise at my age]

EVE Online

I was bitching earlier in the month about being required to click on participation links, which can be annoying when there isn’t a war or a deployment in progress.  Then war were declared and that problem went away pretty quickly.  I have gone well beyond the minimum quota.  The war itself has been okay, though being in Reavers I have found myself a bit jealous that I haven’t been in-system for some of the cap fleet engagements.

Then there was this epic troll that got people worked up for about 30 minutes.  The EVE Onion got scooped on that one!  Also, deductive subscription numbers for Tranquility based on various tidbits that CCP has left laying about.

Lord of the Rings Online

I haven’t started playing it again, but earlier this month when I logged in to ensure I would get my monthly lifetime subscriber Turbine Points stipend (and to keep Gaff from usurping the leadership of our kin yet again) I ended up buying the Riders of Rohan expansion because it was on sale (1,747 points) and I had close to 11K Turbine Points socked away.  I am not sure what that will mean to anybody, including myself, except that all my characters got a new title.  Woot.

World of Warcraft

World of Garrisons continues on.  Seriously, having five characters in Draenor means daily garrison maintenance eats up a lot of my daily play time.  If only I could force myself to NOT do that, but the OCD gamer in me requires it.  The instance group has been out a couple of times doing things, and I have been spending some time working back through all of the zones to make sure I have finished up every single quest line, lest there be a follower I missed.  And I have spent a little bit of time with my Orc hunter, though he is still a project for later.

Coming Up

Tomorrow is just another day, right?

Anyway, after that, it looks like a lot of the same things on my agenda.

Yes, I got my copy of Pillars of Eternity like nearly everybody else.  And I have played a bit.  But, my garrison… and the war… must play MMOs!

Okay, I did start in on a run through one classic game from my past.  I’ll get around to posing about that at some point this month.

It looks like WoW Tokens will go live this month.  That will be interesting to watch.  How much gold will Blizzard sell you for $20?  And how will that compare to how much gold you will need to pay to get 30 days of play time?  I still suspect that those numbers will be different.

The five week expansion schedule for EVE Online means that there won’t be an expansion in April.  That is fine.  I barely noticed that last one… well, except for an issue I will get to later. [Okay, the next expansion is April 28. I need to consult a calendar before I hit “publish” I guess.]

Quote of the Day – A Treasure Trove of Turbine Turmoil

LOTRO’s launches in Japan and Korea were so disappointing they were immediately and quite effectively brushed under the carpet and never spoken of again.

-Aylwen, LOTROCommunity forums

Well, if you were looking to kick Turbine while they were down, Massively Overpowered linked to some forum posts earlier that will both set the “down” scenario and give you plenty of targets to kick.

In fact, if there is some Turbine issue you want to pick at, you’ll probably find it.  Infinite Crisis as an ill-conceived disaster that is hemorrhaging money?  Check!  Self-destructive rivalries between groups?  Check!  F2P conversions that did not meet expectations despite the external hype? Check!  Cheaping out on expansions?  Check!  Blizzard induced paranoia?  Check!  Leadership problems and rampant self-deception?  Check!  Neglect from corporate overlords?  Check!

It is like Ikea!

Bad marketing ideas? Well, we had proof of that already, didn’t we?

I picked the quote at the top because that was an event I couldn’t even recall.

And while the author of these posts, a former Turbine employee, says he is not disgruntled, this does feel like an EA Louse-level event for Turbine, and I haven’t even gone through half of it yet.

And What of Another Middle-earth?

Turbine hasn’t been much of a standard bearer for the hopes of the future in MMOs over the last few years, or even for the hopes of their own long term success.  Their next game is a MOBA, being launched into a market where there is already a very dominate leader in League of Legends, and which doesn’t even seem likely to beat Blizzard’s MOBA to release.

Can’t even beat Blizzard?  Asheron wept!

In what looked like a sign of something happening, they brought back Asheron’s Call 2 back at the end of 2012, only to have both it and the original Asheron’s Call dropped into the MMO hospice care that is the free zone.  How many other free, can’t pay money even if you wanted to, MMOs are there out in the world?  There is Planet Side.  There WAS EverQuest: Macintosh Edition, but then the plug got pulled on that.  And what else is there?  And how long can we expect that situation to last?

I mean, Asheron’s Call had several competitors from back during its launch, and some of those are still around and making some money.  Ultima Online is being supported by Broadsword (along with Dark Age of Camelot), so it must be a producing asset for EA, since they shut stuff down as soon as the money dries up.  EverQuest is still getting new expansions and being milked by SOE.  And did you see where Lineage was on NCsoft’s revenue chart?

But AC and AC2… they are free and unsupported and, call me a pessimist, I think they will probably go away as soon as something breaks the client or somebody finds a vulnerability in their server code that requires an expensive update.

Which leaves the two money makers, Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeon’s & Dragons Online.

I would have called LOTRO the company flagship product up until the 2015 producer’s letters went out.  The DDO letter was full of exciting, new, and somewhat specific things, while the LOTRO version was much more vague and included bullet points about fixing bugs and closing servers.

Paralyzed with dread

How I felt about the Producer’s Letter at first read

Yes, those are things that need to be done.  But bugs are something they should be working on in any case.  And, while closing servers will doubtless benefit the remaining population of the game, it is a pretty clear reminder that the remaining population is running well below the peak they hit at the free to play conversion, when they put some new servers online.  I will be interested to see if the soon-to-be closed servers are made up mostly of those “new” servers or not.

Then there is Turbine itself, which generally opts to say nothing until it absolutely has to, and then comes out with something vague or ambiguous that only gets people riled up.  I mean, how many clarifications have there been to the LOTRO producer’s letter at this point?  And, in all of that, it took them more than a week to come out and say that transfers off of closed servers would be free.

That seemed like a key bit of information, and its absence from the producer’s letter felt like a huge oversight, while failing to respond to the immediate questions on that front was almost baffling, given how many other things got clarifications before Vyvyanne finally got around to that.  And yet, to judge by the reactions of those close to the game, this is better communication than they are used to.

I could go on.  There are plenty of other missteps I could catalog.  We haven’t even gotten into the game itself!

But I am sure the fans of the game are already starting to steam and consider me a hater.

Take a deep breath.

This is more of a Jeremy Clarkson piece.  If you watch Top Gear regularly, you may have noticed his style when he wants to praise a vehicle.  First he has to tear it down, listing out all the things going against it before getting to the “but,” where he tosses that aside and talks about the good things, the bits that ignite his passion.  Let’s head for that.

With all of those negatives, you might be wondering what the end game, so to speak, for LOTRO really is?  We are two years away from the expiration of the contract with Tolkien Enterprises that was announced back in 2008.  The original was good through 2014 with a pre-set extension to 2017.  Turbine announced in 2014, at the very last minute and only after many questions on the topic, that things were good until 2017.

But as we sit here today, you might reasonably ask if 2017 will be it, the end of the road for the game.  Doubly so as we have seen what happens to MMOs based around licensed IPs in the past.  That additional overhead, along with the plans and pretenses of the license holders, shut down The Matrix Online, Warhammer Online, and Star Wars Galaxies.

However, I think Lord of the Rings Online is going to make it past 2017 and be around for a while longer.  I don’t know if we will ever make it to Mordor, or if the game mechanics will become more of a mess, or if the cash shop will grow to consume all within its shadow, but there are two reason I think it won’t be done in 2017.  Well, three actually.

The first is that Turbine doesn’t have a lot of options, so they pretty much have to stick with LOTRO, which means that they will want to renew the contract.  Not much of an endorsement of the game itself, but that looks like the reality of the situation.  Turbine will be motivated to keep things going.

The second isn’t much of an endorsement either.

We are in something of a “post MMO” age.  MMOs were once a thing that, when you used that term, you knew what somebody meant.  The term has evolved in usage to the point that MMO means any online multiplayer game that can group together a few players.  Look at what gets lumped into the term these days.

SuperData 2014 YTD Numbers

SuperData names some MMOs…

I see World of Warcraft there.  That is what I would call an MMO.  But League of Legends?  World of Tanks?  Counter-Strike?  Freakin’ Hearthstone?

Anyway, in this post MMO age, where even the term has lost meaning, where the market is saturated, where there has been a couple of big winners and a host of followers scrambling for crumbs, the idea that Tolkien Enterprises is going to have a better offer from somebody who wants to make a Middle-earth MMO seems unlikely.

Yahoo Headlines

Back when MMOs were a thing…

Sure, there are people out there who would want to do it, developers and designers who would love to sink their teeth into Tolkien’s world and “do it right” or at least “do it better” than Turbine has managed.  And I am sure you could find a small crowd of fans who would cheer for such a game being announced.

But is anybody going to invest in such a venture?  Who is going to lay down the cash to fund a new MMO version of Middle-earth for 2018 or beyond?  And what would such a game even be like?  Sprawling, open world MMOs are not on an uptick currently.

Somebody will suggest that at least a new version of Middle-earth would “do free to play right.”

The problem is that LOTRO is doing free to play right.  There is no version of free to play that succeeds without a cash shop stocked with things players will actually buy and in your face reminders to buy those things.

It is like Ikea!

It is like Ikea!

So I do not think anybody is going to show up on the doorstep of Tolkien Enterprises with a wheelbarrow of cash and a desire to make the next Middle-earth MMO any time soon.  Certainly not in 2017.  The investment in such a project is too high, the returns too uncertain.  So Turbine, with the WB lawyers at the table, has a pretty strong case in the “Hey, at least we’re giving you some money on a regular basis!”  That is something.

Estimated Top Subscription MMO Revenue 2013

Estimated Top Subscription MMO Revenue 2013… see, money!

Also, Turbine has been pretty good to the lore… though with Tolkien Enterprises licensing LEGO Lord of the Rings, you have to ask where lore ranks in the grand scheme of things… so I do not think there is any strong desire on the part of the heirs of Dr. Tolkien to get the license out of Turbine’s hands.

Basically, LOTRO wins by default.  Not a huge endorsement, but it is something.

And LOTRO does have something else going for it.

For all of its foibles and missteps and questionable game mechanics and awkward character models and cash shop transgressions, Turbine has created a beautiful and unlikely to be duplicated any time soon vision of Middle-earth in the late third age.

This is Turbine’s ace when it comes to the Middle-earth license.  This is the big win, the payoff for playing the game, being able to travel through the places that made the story, being able to see The Shire, climb Weathertop, explore Moria, see Rivendell, cross the Midgewater Marsh, travel across the Lone Lands and the Trollshaws.

In fact, once of my many annoyances with the game is that their insta-level option only boosts you to level 50 and into Moria (2008 content), rather than putting you closer to the latest content and the bulk of the dedicate player base.  If I were going to buy a boost, I’d do it to see parts of the world I haven’t been to yet.  But I’ve already been to, and through, Moria.  It is great, but why would I pay to get yet another character there?

Anybody who comes after Turbine will have to compete with the world that was created for LOTRO.  Who is going to invest in such a landscape with so many off-the-beaten-track locations to explore in the age of the lobby MMO?  That we got such a world was an artifact at the time, when MMOs were seen as never-miss money machines that had to have virtual world aspects to them.  Who is going to want to have that hanging over their heads as they try to launch a new Middle-earth based MMO?

The Annuminas waterfront

The Annuminas waterfront

You cannot launch a new game without a constant stream of comparisons to World of Warcraft, how are people going to react to anything less than the vision of Middle-earth that Turbine has provided?

Then again, somebody tried to remake The Manchurian Candidate, so who knows what goes through people’s minds at times.

But I do not think, the way the industry stands right now, that anybody can get together both financing and a desire to remake (and be compared to) Turbine’s vision of Middle-earth.

Barring Turbine making some colossal blunder that wrecks the game and drives away its loyal following, I think it will find a way past the contract talks around 2017 and into at least a few more years online.  Or such was my view over the weekend.

You adventure in the Middle-earth you have, not the Middle-earth you may want.

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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