Tag Archives: Standing Stone Games

LOTRO Announces the Before the Shadows Mini-Expansion

The lesson from EverQuest and EverQuest II is that having some new content to sell every year is a money making deal.  Even now EQII is warming up for its annual fall cycle of events leading to this years expansion.  I’ll get to all of that later for both titles.

Since Turbine sold off Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online to Daybreak under the guise of the Standing Stone Games deal, both titles have been trying to get on the regular expansion content train.

And so we have the Before the Shadows mini-expansion coming this fall.

Before the Shadow and after the summer

And which shadow exactly are we speaking off… or where is it in any case?  Well, the blurb for the expansion says:

Reveal the mysteries of the One Ring as you venture through the reedy fens of Swanfleet and the moors of Cardolan.  Journey alongside Boromir to Rivendell, and run afoul of the Witch-King and Nazul in their pursuit of “Baggins” and the peaceful land of the “Shire” as shadow begins to pour forth from the land of Mordor.

So it sounds like we’re getting a bit of a prequel adventure, which is to be expected I suppose.  There is only so far you can go once you’ve thrown down the dark tower… though I don’t think we’ve scourged the Shire yet.  But they’ve added some areas to the Shire, so maybe we’ll get to that at some point.

The actual meat of the expansion is fairly thin:

  • New Regions & New Early Leveling Experience
  • New Skirmish and 6-player Instance
  • New Delving System
  • New Themed Missions Wrapper
  • Go Further with Expedition Supplies
  • Upgrade Your Experience with the Ultimate Fan Bundle
  • 10% VIP Discount

However, the base price for the content alone is just $20, which is a bargain these days.  We’ve finally hit the point where the base price for a big studio title is going to be $70, and that is before you get to the deluxe edition and the season pass and the cash shop.

Of course, if you WANT to spend more on Before the Shadow, if you have money to burn and a desire to support your favorite MMORPG set in Middle-earth, you can throw as much as $100 at your screen with the “recommended” ultimate fan bundle.

Before the Shadow pricing options

That, of course, is another thing Daybreak has been good at.  But I cannot begrudge them their pricing scheme.  Some players want all the possible goodies and if it keeps the game alive and the studio afloat… and it isn’t mandatory or game breaking… then good for them I suppose.

Anyway, you can find more details over at the LOTRO expansion page, which is a reminder that unlike EverQuest, they don’t just roll up that last expansion into the current one’s content.  They still have older stuff for sale.  It doesn’t go all the way back to Mines of Moria.  I think that is all free now.  But If you want to get into Mordor, there is still an expansion for that and a few more after.

Addendum: Also, there is a coupon pack that will get you additional content. It expires Oct. 31, 2022.

Friday Bullet Points about Lord of the Rings Online

Here we are at  Friday and once more it is bullet points on my mind.  But I am going to do future me a favor this time and keep it all focused on a single title.  This time around it is some tidbits about Lord of the Rings Online, ostensibly, according to my post on Monday, one of the five titles that I post about most around here.

  • Remastering Efforts

It has been more than a year and a half since Enad Global 7 acquired Daybreak, which included Standing Stone, and the announcement that the company was looking into doing a console version of Lord of the Rings Online.

That idea seemed like a huge lift back then… and it still does today.  I decided at one point that they would really have to build a new version from the ground up for consoles, and made that one of my predictions for 2022.

But we got word this past week that SSG is working on something of a remaster of the game’s graphics and user interface.  And I applaud that.  The fifteen year old game very much feels its age.  The UI was clunky and icons indistinct back when it launched, and in the age of wide screen monitors, it really looks bad when you try to scale up individual UI components.

The problem here is that it sounds like a superficial make over that will fall far short of what it would need to get the game onto consoles.  But maybe they have other plans for that as they are in a period of staffing up to tackle the challenges of a fifteen year old game that has suffered from no small amount of neglect.

Related:

I hope this ends up with an improved experience.

  • Anor Transfers as the First Legendary Server Shuts Down

The LOTRO Legendary server Anor is reaching the end of its time and will be sailing west at the end of the month.  Launched back in late 2018, it was SSG’s first try at a fresh start, nostalgia focused special server.  Readers of the blog may recall that I dove right in and played through the initial content and into Moria before the experience fell by the wayside.

Oversell much?

While I didn’t keep up with it after Moria, I found the initial content experience quite fun and will probably give it a try again some day… once they get that remaster thing above in gear because I have a wide screen monitor now and the UI looks like garbage on it… distractingly so.

But that is another tale.  For now, Anor is going away and if you want to keep your characters from that server you will be able to transfer them off between now and the end of the year.

A FAQ has been posted, which opens with:

The Legendary World of Anor will be closing to public log-in on August 31st, 2022, with the world formally becoming unavailable for log in after our regular weekly restart on the 31st. Through the end of the year free character and shared item transfers will remain available from Anor to any other non-Legendary game world. After December 31st, 2022, the Anor game world will be closed permanently, and any remaining characters will not be able to be transferred or accessed.

I do wonder at SSG’s in ability to do a server merge, the way that EverQuest does when its special servers reach the end of their lives and everybody ends up on the Vox server.  No doubt another example of the clunky nature of LOTRO‘s development.

I have one character I want to save from Anor, I just have to figure out where I ought to put him.

  • Echoes of a Cease and Desist

Also in the news over the last month or so was the private/pirate LOTRO server Echoes of Angmar, which was attempting to piece together the game as it existed in its early days. (Web site archived here in case it goes missing soon.)

A distant echo of a lost time

Having played the game from beta and through its launch, I am not sure I see the appeal.  Maybe my glasses are lacking in sufficient rose tinting, or maybe I like my nostalgia in a light form with some things, like that map of the Old Forest, available to hand.

But who am I to judge?  I have often said that there is no feature so bad that it isn’t somebody’s favorite thing in a game.

Because it was in the news it attracted the attention of Middle-earth Enterprises, which looks after the works of the late Dr. Tolkien and the related copyrights and licensing agreements.  They sent out a cease and desist letter to the team:

Dear Echoes of Angmar team,

We have noted the Echoes of Angmar game that you have posted and we appreciate and share your enthusiasm for the Tolkien works, and specifically for the developers and creators of the epic MMO, The Lord of the Rings Online. Judging from your website and Discord, you are individuals who possess a boundless enthusiasm for LOTRO, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. We’re here to acknowledge your enthusiasm, and thank you for your fandom. Unfortunately, we, as trademark holders and stewards of the Tolkien works, more often than we’d like, must deliver some potentially difficult news. As your business is using the Tolkien works and trademarks in an unauthorized manner without benefit of a license, we must ask you to cease.

As stewards of the Tolkien works, we take our role very seriously in order to protect the works for all time, on behalf of fans everywhere. As owners of the intellectual property rights, we are charged with protecting those rights both morally and legally. Unfortunately, Echoes of Angmar uses specific content from the books and from our Licensee for The Lord of the Rings Online without the benefit of a license. Honestly, it breaks our hearts to post letters like this one. It is not uncommon for fans to create things reflecting an affection for the Tolkien works. It is thus with a heavy heart that we must ask that you immediately cease all of your unauthorized use of Echoes of Angmar, and all other Tolkien-related IP on all platforms, including Discord, Youtube and on https://www.echoesofangmar.com/.

We welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have on the subject, and wish you all the best in your future duly authorized endeavors.

Kind regards,

Middle-earth Enterprises

I have seen a number of comments about the gentle and even conciliatory tone of this letter, relative to what one sees coming from the likes of Nintendo or Square Enix or Blizzard or Disney when somebody is running loose with their copyrighted material.

And it is true, this is a kinder and gentler approach.  And perhaps that will mollify some fans, as no doubt the company has to issue this sort of thing on a reasonably regular basis.  But the results are the same in the end.  Their heart may be heavy, but not heavy enough to balance out the weight of the pocketbook that keeps them all paid.

So it goes.

Related:

Friday Bullet Points about Daybreak, Plans, and Producer’s Letters

Another Friday in July and time for another bullet points post.  I am going to have to go back and check, but July seems to be the most popular month for bullet point posts here.  My guess is based on my having done the “one year ago” section for the month in review post and seeing that I did four of them last July and the fact that this is my fourth one this month.

At least I have been trying to go easy on future me who will have to write that month in review post in a year by keeping them mostly on related topics in a single post.  And this week it is Daybreak.

  • EverQuest Producer’s Letter

There was a producer’s letter for EverQuest and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the team is still sticking to the roadmap format they introduced at the start of the year.

Classic EverQuest

I fully expect companies to do something like that then forget about it in two months and never reference it again.  But here they not only have it front and center, they took the time to put links in the line items so you could go read about the output of a given item.

There honestly wasn’t much in the current producer’s letter that was of interest to me.  Another special rules server is being retired and merged into the Vox server, the designated home for retro refugees.

But coming up in September we’re supposed to get an update to heroic characters… the insta-level option in EverQuest and EverQuest II… so that they will no longer start off at level 85, where they have been for almost a decade at this point.  The update will raise them to start at level 100… which isn’t exactly stellar when the level cap is already 120, but it is something I guess.

Also, there are some hints about the upcoming expansions… which to me mostly confirms that we will be getting the usual annual expansion.  This year will be the 29th in the series.  How many is too many?  I guess we don’t know yet.

  • EverQuest II Producer’s Letter

As with its older sibling, EverQuest II got its own producer’s letter which also stuck to the roadmap from back in January.  There the update was focused on game update 120, called Myths and Monoliths, which is their big mid-year content drop for the current expansion.

The aging second entry, no longer so young compared to the original

There were also some hints about the next expansion, number 19, which we can expect to see by the end of the year if they are sticking to the usual plan… and I don’t see anything to suggest that they are not.

  • LOTRO and Support’s Packs

Lord of the Rings Online also had a producer’s letter, which drew attention to the update 33.1.1 and the adventures of the sons of Elrond, Elladan & Elrohir.

However, their 15th anniversary plans do not include and expansion.  They haven’t been on a solid annual schedule over the life of the game, so I suppose that isn’t a huge surprise.  But they would still like some money from you, so they have introduced Supporter Packs, where you can spend some money on unique cosmetic items along with some LOTRO points.

The packs are $35, $60, and $100, so it is like buying an expansion, just without the content.

I am not the best person to judge the community reaction, but I got the impression “underwhelmed” might be in the ballpark.

Supporter packs, the departure of some staff, and the emergence of a pirate retro server raised the question What is going on? over at Contains Moderate Peril.

  • DDO and Perma-death Again

Dungeons & Dragons Online… I don’t know if they do expansions or producer’s letters frankly.  I haven’t tried to play it in over a decade.  Put I do see news and headlines about it now and then, and it does come under the Daybreak banner, so I might as well add in something about it.

The latest update is the return of the Hardcore League for its sixth season.  This is a perma-death server experience where players compete to complete as much content as possible while staying alive.  Unlike special servers for other Daybreak classic titles, you do not need to be a VIP subscriber in order to join in on the experience.

As an added bonus, season six has some special dangers waiting for players who might have otherwise mastered the routine in the last five runs.

  • PlanetSide 2 goes Under Water

Now I am really out of my depth as what I know about PlanetSide 2 could be written into the margins of a standard trade paperback book without distracting the reader for more than half a page.

But I can read well enough myself to see that they made a big splash with the Surf and Storm update earlier this month which introduced the island continent of Oshur and features under water game play.

Sturm und Drand

Underwater content tends to be one of the few things to disorient me and give me a bit of motion sickness in 3D MMOs, so I am not all that excited about this, but it does indicate that they are carrying on trying new things with the title.  And hey, it might even be stable by the time this post goes live.

  • H1Z1 Has Absolutely Nothing New

I looked to see what was up with DC Universe Online and H1Z1 to see what they had to report and… well, DCUO is an even bigger mystery to me than PlanetSide 2, but I could at least go to the game’s site and see that there were recent news items and updates.

H1Z1 however… the most recent news item on the game’s web site is from October of 2020.

Remember when this was a thing?

So it goes, another bullet point post comes to an end.

Lord of the Rings Online Fifteen Years Down the Road

It is ever so with the things that Men begin: there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise.

-Gimli, Return of the King

It has been fifteen years since the journey to Mordor began in Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online, and it has been a journey of both highs and lows.

The fifteen year celebration

I want to say, up front, that the game is a charming and very special look into the world of Tolkien’s works and unlike any adaptation we have ever been able to experience or will likely see again in my lifetime.  Turbine brought Middle-earth to life in an open world environment that you could spend a lot of time simply exploring.  It is a wonder and has given me much joy.

I will add that as somebody who opted for the lifetime subscription launch back in April of 2007, I have gotten way more than my money’s worth out of that investment, even including the fact that I own every expansion as well.  It was the gaming deal of the century for me and nothing else comes close in value received for that price.

And the game also occupies a special place on the blog, being one of the first games to ship after I started writing here back in September of 2006.  I was writing about it along with Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and pre-Cryptic version of Star Trek Online back in the day, and at least one of those panned out for me I guess.  I had a post about the potential, and potential problems, of the game back in that first month of the blog.

I was posting about beta and the launch and the instance group, which took a couple of runs at Middle-earth when WoW wasn’t popping for us.  I have been back a number of times, the last time being for the LOTRO Legendary server experience, a fresh start/special rules server meant to let people work through the content again in a mass.

All fine stuff… but I didn’t choose that quote at the top because everything has been rainbows and lollipops with LOTRO.  The history of the game has been marred by hubris, bad decisions, poor design, half measures, and a game engine that was awkward, unresponsive, and looked like it was a few years behind the curve on launch day.

I guess the hubris I can understand.  Given the popularity of the source material, the proximity to the theatrical releases of the first three Peter Jackson movies,which finished up just a few years before the game launched and introduced many new people to Middle-earth, and the MMORPG market being at about its peak, LOTRO should have been ten times more successful than it was.

Where else were you going to be able to literally walk around in Middle-earth?

Yahoo Headline 2007

I realize you can’t have everything you want when you launch a new product, and especially a product as complex as an MMORPG.  You got to Middle-earth with the engine you have, not the engine you want.  And you could see how Turbine’s engine had improved from Asheron’s Call to Asheron’s Call 2 to Dungeons & Dragons Online to LOTRO.  But being better than its predecessors didn’t make it feel current and, while the character models have been updated, they still look awkward and wooden and all the more so since launch as most of us have upgraded our monitors.

Google tells me that 1024×768 was half the monitor market in 2007.  Now, unless you but a laptop, a 1080p monitor… which is 1920×1080 resolution… is the minimum standard, and many of us have much larger screens.  I currently have a 3440×1440 monitor, on which the game is barely playable because, while bits of the UI do scale up, most of the text doesn’t.  And even the UI that does scale up looks like garbage at useful sizes on my monitor.

So when Enad Global 7 talks about how their going to put LOTRO on consoles and I am briefly able to set aside the sheer complexity of moving the mess that it the game engine onto a PlayStation 5 or an XBox X, I still stumble over the fact that you really have to support 4K video… 3840×2160 resolution… to be seen as a modern, competitive game.  It makes me think of the speedometer on my Camry, which suggests I could go 140 MPH.  The expense of making that a reality would quickly exceed reason just as the expense of refactoring LOTRO into something that would even look good on a console… let’s leave aside the playability issues… would probably require a greater investment than the company could hope to recoup.

And then there is the UI, the iconography, the responsiveness on controls, and a host of other little things that wear on you as you play if you’ve, for example, played WoW where Rob Pardo once spoke about how much effort went into making sure button presses had not lag.  A problem since launch and one that has sometimes gotten worse rather than better.

The world though, that remains a bright spot in the game.  I can forgive a myriad of sins because the world is a critical feature of the game to me and, while avatars look rough and the UI is less than ideal, locations are often beautiful.

If, of course, you can get to them.

When it comes down to it, I have not been many places in LOTRO.  I may own all of the expansions, but I have dead ended in Mirkwood largely due to it being a barrier of dullness comparable with its reputation in the books.  I have been through the base game half a dozen times at least… and many more times up to 40 or so… and through Moria a couple of times, but Mirkwood is just so uninteresting that even the promise of what lies beyond it cannot sustain me.

I did boost a character into Rohan, only to find that the character boost leaves you nonviable against the mobs you’re sent to face immediately unless you visit the cash shop and invest in your legendary weapon.

The legendary weapon system is another roadblock in the game, a non-optional requirement to care for a needy baby of an item that you constantly have to take back to camp and deal with.

My hope was that the studio would create a special rules server that would let you just do the main book story line quests to advance through the game, letting players tour the world.  That seems to be the only way I’ll get past Mirkwood.

But the game is still there, fifteen years down the road and is owned by a company that says they have plans to improve it.  One of the side effects of the console plan, if that is even viable, should be to make the game better on PC as well.  Or so one would hope.

It has been a bumpy ride this last 15 years, but as I said at the top, I have enjoyed most of the time I have spent in the game.  I’ve logged in to collect my anniversary goodies, though my bags and bank are so full of stuff from anniversaries and expansions at this point I am not sure I should keep redeeming stuff. (I still have unopened gift boxes from the 12th and 13th anniversaries… I must have skipped logging in for the 14th.)

I’d go play the 1-50 game again if were practical on my current monitor.  We will see what the future brings and live in hope of a better tomorrow for Middle-earth.

Addendum: In an effort to prove some points above SSG has given me a corgi, jumping on the MMORPG corgi bandwagon, which is also perhaps the most awkward looking corgi model I have seen in a game.

Chestnut Corgi chonk

He isn’t horrible, but he isn’t good either, and it feels like another attempt to copy more successful titles.

Immersion in Middle-Earth

I set myself an ambitious goal.  I was all up in arms about immersion once again and, having had that blinding flash of the obvious association between immersion and enjoyment of certain titles, figures I could explore some past titles to see if that could pinpoint what makes for an immersive experience for me.

The danger here is that what is immersive can easily be confused with things I just like… and thus things that prevent or break immersion must be things I simply don’t like… and so the whole thing might just devolve into things I have praised or groused about in the past.

And “confused” probably draws too dark of a line between likes and immersion.  They are at a minimum fellow travelers.  But I know I can find cases where things I do not always enjoy and up in the mix of immersion as well.  The rather nebulous concept of “grind” fits in there.  Grinding mobs for a quest or just for xp can be bad… except when it is not.  Sometimes it is just what you need, and easy repetitive task that lets you fall into the rhythm of the game and your character.

Anyway, with all that and more in mind I thought I might take a stab at what I consider up front to be an easier title with which to pin down my immersion factors.

And the winner is Lord of the Rings Online.

Straight out of the gate the lore of the game is something I had been immersed in for nearly 30 years before it launched.  I was Book of Lost Tales and other bits and pieces published by Christopher Tolkien deep into it.  I used to knock out The Hobbit on a Sunday afternoon if I had nothing else going on and would re-read the main trilogy every two or three years.

So I was already sold on the idea… though that can be a hazard if the company doesn’t deliver.  But Turbine did deliver.  LOTRO might not be the most unique or well built MMORPG, but it looked and felt like Third Age Middle-earth to me.  The landscape, the buildings, even the stars at night are all amazing.

As well, the integration of the player into the story was done very well.  That was something I was worried about before playing the game.  One of my early posts on the blog, less than two weeks after I started, was a bit of fretting about how Turbine would handle LOTRO and lore.

But parallel path of the player through the tale, where you are handling important side tasks and occasionally crossing paths with the fellowship, is done with such care that it has never caused me much concern.

Knowing the lore and being predisposed to go along with it helped me get in the zone with the game.  There were certainly problems, especially early on.  The usual problems of running back and forth too much or perhaps spending too much time on the bear/boar/wolf circuit were pain points.  And the UI itself, with odd and sometimes indecipherable icons for skills and attacks… again, I have a post about some of that… were among my gripes.  But at least you got a lot of bag space up front, so inventory management wasn’t an immediate struggle.

Even the kind of goofy take on crafting, where you pick a vocation that gets you a basket of three trade skills plus the related harvesting was at least a slightly different take on things, though it could become something of an unpleasant grind on its own after not too long into the game.

So I found fun and interest and immersion to some degree on our first pass through, and immersion seemed to grown as I returned to LOTRO various times over the years.  I have mentioned before that having knowledge of the game when you come back to start from scratch helps things along and makes me feel more the champion of the free peoples.

To this end there are a string of zones that I enjoy running through again and again.  The starter zones not so much… I’m not really a fan of the Shire, quaint though it be… but once I am headed towards Bree I am very much engaged in the game and the story and the tale of my character.  Bree and the Old Forest and Midgewater Marshes and the Lone Lands and Evendim are my happy path, where I fall under the spell of the game, where I can feel myself get lost in the experience.

Things taper off a bit for me in the Trollshaws and in the Misty Mountains, and I have never been much on either Forochel or Angmar, the former being weighed down by so much running back and forth while the latter is just a bit too grim for my tastes.  But I still can carry on and find the zone through those and on into Moria.

And then somewhere, between Moria and Mirkwood my immersion fades and the game feels like a labor, the story doesn’t capture me and all the quests become like a weight dragging me down.

Mirkwood might explain it.  It is a dark and uninspired area into which you get thrown.  I’ve been through Moria well enough a few times now, but Mirkwood is truly an impenetrable forest in my way.

So I roll up any number of characters and get to level 40 and can be quite pleased.  I can push on and still enjoy myself.  But there is a limit beyond which there is no joy, no immersion, just grind.

It is tempting to blame Siege of Mirkwood, it being a blameworthy expansion, but even Mines of Moria, the epic underground adventure, begins to wear on me.  There is a temptation in me to revert to my “no good expansions” stance.  It is handy to reach for the idea that the initial crafted experience, the base world of any MMORPG, is a solid experience and only besmirched by trying to tack on a sequel.

I’ve played that tune any number of times, and it does have a ring of truth to it at times, especially with titles like Rift.  Changes in philosophy, new features piled on the game, attempts to be both true to the game and yet provide a new experience… to both player and developer, the latter who may chafe even more that the former at having to do the same old thing over and over again… must necessarily dilute from the original focus.

Expect, of course, I can find exceptions to the rule.  For every Storm Legion departure from the core tenets of a title there is a Ruins of Kunark that is a much needed seasoning that enhances an already delicious meal.

But as much as I might like to blame the torpor of Mirkwood and the darkness of Moria, I’ve boosted some characters past those locations.  I have tried my shot at Rohan a couple of times as well and failed, and I am told that Riders of Rohan was not a bad experience.

And here is where I risk sounding as though I am simply going to blame the failure of immersion on a feature I have complained about in the past.  Yes, I am going to lay this on legendary items.

I know, I know, the elevator speech for legendary items is pretty awesome.  I know I went in as a true believer when it came time.  You pick up a weapon that will grow with you, the potential of which you will unlock as you adventure with it.

That is truly the stuff of legends.  Arthur and Excalibur.  Aragorn and Anduril.  Even Bilbo and Sting are pairings many of us wished to emulate in our D&D campaigns or online adventures.  Strider doesn’t hand off his family sword to the nearest shop keeper the moment he finds something a bit shinier or with a slightly better stat.  No, he and the weapon are one and they fight together.

Unfortunately, Turbine screwed that idea up pretty badly and then proceeded to double down on it repeatedly… since late 2008.  Seriously, that is when Mines of Moria launched and as a feature it has just gotten worse and worse.

Let’s start with the basic problem, the immersion killed for me, which is that your legendary item is a needy baby constantly crying for attention.  At times it feels like you can’t get through half a dozen mobs before an alert pops up that it has leveled up and you have new points to apply.   And then there is the need to go back to camp to reforge it, which doesn’t happen as often, but still comes about way more frequently than it ought to.

And then, add on top of the constant nag that is your legendary, you then end up abandoning it down the road for the inevitable upgrade from a new expansion or update.  We are Aragorn abandoning Anduril every ten levels rather than every other level.

I used to think that maybe the whole thing was just a bad idea, that we shouldn’t level up weapons, that it is a flawed mechanic that should be avoided.  Then Blizzard did the legendary weapon thing with the Legion expansion and it was freaking brilliant.  And they even had a bunch of the same things I hated with LOTRO legendaries, like having to go back to town to upgrade it, but somehow made it work.  It was great.  Legion might be the last great WoW expansion.

And Blizzard had the good sense to not try to drag that on into the next expansion.  I mean, I was sad to leave Ashbringer behind and I missed the skills it enabled and the looks you could unlock with it, but it was probably for the best. (I’d seriously consider a WoW Legion Classic server I guess, just to do that again.)

So there it is.  Legendary items.

I mean sure, there are other things.  The monetization can pull me out of the game.  Having a “buy your way through this with some mithril coins!” mechanic does not jibe well with immersion.  But the mithril coin thing doesn’t show up constantly when I am out in the field questing.

I can get through escorting Sara Oakheart and running up and down the lengths of Forochel and people with crappy non-RP names and avoid a good chunk of the monetization by playing on the Legedary servers.  But even when I boosted past Mirkwood into Rohan the first thing in my face was the freaking legendary weapon and the need to do whatever.

There are literally a lot of things that people complain about when it comes to LOTRO that I can overlook like the stiff character models, the indecipherable iconography, the skirmishes, the dull housing, and how grindy crafting becomes as you move forward in levels.  But legendary items… that just kills it for me.

And I am not the only one complaining about them.  I remained amazed that first Turbine and then SSG not only kept rolling on with a system like that for more than a dozen years, but have only now conceded that maybe they ought to look into giving it a rework.

Anyway, after that reconnaissance by text of LOTRO, what are the take aways?  What makes for good immersion and what fails me on that front?

Immersion pluses

  • Familiar lore
  • Good adaptation of the lore to the game
  • Feeling of place within the game
  • Mechanics are familiar but not identical to other fantasy MMORPGs
  • Familiarity with the game
  • Well done landscape that feels like Middle-earth

Immersion minuses

  • Legendary items (primary)
  • Monetization (somewhat avoidable)
  • Poor content mid-game (Mirkwood)
  • Poor iconography
  • Lack of large monitor support (my 34″ monitor specifically)

In the end, LOTRO remains a game I have been happy enough to go back and play multiple times… at least the original content.  It is a game where I have often found immersion, traveling through the game, both as confidently as a ranger and as lost as a neophyte, depending on where I am.  (I don’t get lot in the Old Forest anymore.)

So this post was a bit of a gimme.  I already had strong feelings about what draws me to the game and what has pushed me away.  With this post I have set something of a baseline.  The question is, where do I go next?  Do I pick another fantasy title and compare immersion points, or do I try another direction and see if a very different game shares points of intersection?

Is LOTRO Effectively in Maintenance Mode?

I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread

-Bilbo Baggins

There was a lot of optimism when EG7 announced their plans to purchase Daybreak Games.  It was a heady moment for many of us when EG7 gave us a bunch of data about the various titles.

Enad Global 7

There was also statements from EG7 about investing in titles like Lord of the Rings Online, including what seemed like crazy talk about a console version.  It felt like good things could be coming.

Almost five months down the road the, now that the afterglow of the announcements has passed, some of us are now getting a little impatient to see what changes, if any, the coming of the new Swedish overlords actually bring.  As with other such transactions, you only get so much goodwill time before the old problems become your problems.

Unfortunately, the message coming from the LOTRO team seems to be the usual litany of deferral and excuses.  Last week the community got a Q&A with the executive producer and to say it was a disappointment would be something of an understatement.  All sorts of things people have been asking after for years like a scalable UI or wide screen support to make the game playable on larger monitors are nowhere in sight.  They mostly seem to be on about bugs and whatever new content they can scrape together.

Most disturbing to me was the response about legendary items, a horribly grindy feature that should have been left behind in Moria:

We want players to have things to do while they are leveling. I know that some players are ‘Oh, this is too grindy and sometimes we overdo it,’ but ‘grindy’ doesn’t scare me as much as ‘I don’t have enough to do.’ I don’t have enough to do is worse because players want to play the game but they don’t really have goals to pursue.

This betrays such a basic misunderstanding of what makes people stick with these sorts of games that I despair for any future for the game, even if EG7 decides to throw some money at it.  This is all of the worst conspiracies about MMO devs confirmed, that they make things purposely grindy to keep us with the game longer.  Have you met your players?  We do stuff just because we can.  We don’t need enforced mandatory grind, we’ll make our own thank you.

I honestly thought we were past that somewhat when WoW launched as was relatively easy to level up in compared to the industry as a whole and yet people still found things to do in the game.  I guess not.

The legendary items thing really strikes home for me.  Despite my enjoyment of Lord of the Rings Online over the years… I bought a lifetime subscription back at launch and own every expansion… I have never made it very far past Moria in the game.  Part of the reason is that Siege of Mirkwood is just an uninspired expansion where Turbine was clearly just mailing it in while they threw resources at some of their fruitless projects.  But it has been mostly due to the constant need to attend to the legendary weapon… and not the one legendary weapon I got back before Moria, but whichever drop I happened to get that was an upgrade.

Yet somehow they are worried that if they dumped legendaries that players wouldn’t be able to depend on drops to keep up with DPS… though we pretty much have to depend on drops for that anyway.  I guess maybe I should be happy they aren’t planning to make them more grindy, which was pretty much the message back in January, but adjusting the “suck” setting back 10% still means things suck.  And they’re talking about challenge modes that will make grinding your legendary even more of a requirement.  They seem 100% locked into “grind makes the game” as a philosophy.

Leaving aside my personal investment in the demise of legendaries, the whole tone of the Q&A was as depressing as any of the worst periods of the Turbine or Daybreak eras.  Even the positive bits, like the new bit of content, The Further Adventures of Bilbo Baggins, turned out to be hollow, being made up of reused assets and mechanics.

A development team that was going to get an infusion of resources to help it along would surely be able to offer a more convincing vision for the future.  Instead I am beginning to wonder if EG7 isn’t simply perusing the Gamigo business model of buying up tired titles and milking the last bits of life out of them before shutting them down.  I previously dared to speculate as to what LOTRO needed.  Now I wonder what the game can even hope to get.

It should be a good moment for the game.  It is celebrating its 14th anniversary and a major potential competitor, the Amazon funded Middle-earth MMO, has been cancelled. (Though the LOTR series under development is still on, so there may still be a renewed interest in all things Middle-earth.)  Instead, the game is starting to feel like Bilbo at the top of the post, stretched too thin for the resources they have with no relief in sight.

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.

A Timeline of SOE and Daybreak Games

We are entering a new era for the games of Daybreak which made me think it might be a good time to review the story so far.  We’re around the 25 year mark for when the seeds of the company were planted and, with the Enad Global 7 purchase, the time seems ripe.

  • The House that EverQuest Built

First there was EverQuest.

Firiona and friends at launch, 1999

At some point around 1996 John Smedley, working at Sony, managed to get Brad McQuaid, Steve Clover, Bill Trost, and a host of others together to create a 3D online multiplayer fantasy game loosely (or not so loosely in places) based off of Sojourn MUD / TorilMUD.

Launched on March 16, 1999, a variety of Sony organizational names were connected to the game at different times including Sony Interactive Studios America, Verant Interactive, 989 Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment America, Sony Pictures, and Sony Online Entertainment.  My original disk and manual both display the 989 Studios logo prominently and names a couple others in the fine print.  As I mentioned in my 20 year anniversary reflections post about EverQuest, one magazine referred to the company running the game as Sony, Verant, and 989 in different parts of the same issue.  It was a confusing time.

Clarity came eventually though when EverQuest exceeded all expectations for success.  That was a bit of a surprise.  March of 1999 pre-dates the age of influencers and social media.  The internet wasn’t seen as a serious news source, though Matt Drudge breaking the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal had at least made a few start paying attention.  But a lot of us were still getting our gaming news via glossy monthly magazines where full page ads at the covers were the best way to gain attention.

I don’t recall any such ads for the game back in early 1999.  I only knew about the game because almost everybody then active on TorilMUD got invited to beta, usually by Brad McQuaid’s Aradune character in game.  I declined the beta invite, but came for the opening.

Not only were ads scarce, there wasn’t a lot of background to draw attention to the game.  Compare that to what most see as its direct competitor of the era, Ultima Online.  The Ultima franchise had been rolling along for more that 15 years when UO launched in late 1997.  The series spawned a studio, Origin Systems, that created other well known games.  And then there was Lord British, who ended up living in a castle and going into space on the proceeds of his Ultima empire.  UO had the fame, reputation, and lineage that EQ lacked.

And yet, at their respective peaks, EQ would have more than double UO’s subscribers.

EQ seemed to spread by word of mouth.  After buying it at Fry’s on my way home from work on launch day, I came into the office and told a bunch of people about it.  They all went out and bought copies and we ended up playing together.  And they told people and I told more people and others who played told people and soon the people I was telling already knew about it and there was a song “Has anybody seem my corpse?” being passed around and the whole thing had become something of a minor social phenomena.

And its success cemented the idea of online gaming at Sony so that the plethora of names was eventually pared down to Sony Online Entertainment.  25 years down the road from Smed collecting a team to get the ball rolling, this is all still the house that EverQuest built.

  • A Timeline of Events

This is not an exhaustive list, and I am not going to try to piece together things that came before March 16, 1999 or betas for various games.  Early access though, that is another story. I am also going to try not to editorialize, which won’t be easy for me.  If I have missed anything important, drop me a note or a comment and I’ll update the post.

  • 1999
    • Mar 16 – EverQuest launches with a base monthly subscription is $9.89 a month; servers are quickly overloaded and a long series of new servers kicks off
    • Jul 28 – MMORTS Sovereign announced
  • 2000
    • Apr 24 – The Ruins of Kunark, the first EverQuest expansion, launches
    • Oct 5 – SOE acquires Infantry
    • Dec 5 – The Scars of Velious, EQ expansion #2
  • 2001
    • Apr 17 – Cosmic Rift launches
    • Dec 4 – The Shadows of Luclin, EQ expansion #3
  • 2002
    • Apr 25 -The subscription rate for EverQuest increased to $12.95
    • Oct 29 – The Planes of Power, EQ expansion #4
  • 2003
    • Feb 11 – Sovereign MMORTS officially cancelled
    • Feb 11 – EverQuest Online Adventures launches on PlayStation 2
    • Feb 25 – The Legacy of Ykesha, EQ expansion #5
    • May 20 – PlanetSide launches
    • Jun 24 – EverQuest Macintosh Edition launches
    • Jun 26 – Star Wars Galaxies launches
    • Sep 9 – Lost Dungeons of Norrath, EQ expansion #6
    • Nov – Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga launches
    • Nov 17 – EverQuest Online Adventures: Frontiers expansion launches
    • Dec 1 – Lords of EverQuest, a single player Windows RTS, launches
  • 2004
    • Feb 10 – Gates of Discord, EQ expansion #7
    • Feb 10 – Champions of Norrath launches on PlayStation 2
    • Mar – EverQuest subscribers hit a peak of 550K
    • Sep 14 – Omens of War, EQ expansion #8
    • Oct 27 – SWG Jump to Lightspeed expansion
    • Nov 8 – EverQuest II launches
    • Nov 12 – A second round of EQII servers are launched to absorb the surge of new players
    • Nov – SOE introduces the Station Access plan that gives players a combined subscription to EQ, EQII, and Planetside for $22 a month
    • Nov – EQII subscribers who opt for Station Access get two extra character slots on their account and access to the EQII Players stats page
    • Dec – EQII is down for almost two days as an update breaks the live servers
  • 2005
    • Jan – SOE Announces SWG is being added to Station Access
    • Feb 7 – Champions: Return to Arms is launched on PlayStation 2
    • Feb 8 – EQ server consolidation starts with the four PvP servers being combined into the single Zek server
    • Feb 15 – Dragons of Norrath, EQ expansion #9
    • Feb 17 – SOE temporarily adds the /pizza command to EverQuest II as a cross promotion with Pizza Hut allowing players to order a pizza from within the game
    • Mar 21 – The Bloodline Chronicles, the first EQII adventure pack launches
    • Mar 22 – Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, a PSP title, launches
    • Apr – SOE begins a series of EQ server merges to bolster the populations, which runs on until the end of June
    • Apr – EverQuest II – East, developed for China, Taiwan, and South Korea, launches
    • May 5 – SWG Rage of the Wookies expansion launches
    • Jun 28 – The Splitpaw Saga, the second EQII adventure pack launches
    • Jul 20 – EQII gets new servers, Shadowhaven, The Bazaar, and The Vox PvP under the Station Exchange program, which allows players to sell in-game items for real world money; players are allowed to transfer characters there from other live servers
    • Aug 15 – SOE takes over operation of The Matrix Online
    • Sep 13 – Depths of Darkhollow, EQ expansion #10
    • Sep 13 – Desert of Flames, the first EQII expansion
    • Nov 1 – SWG Trials of Obi-wan expansion launches
    • Nov 8 – SWG New Game Enhancements update lands, changing character progression
    • Nov 9 – The “SOGA” character models from EverQuest II – East become an available option in EverQuest II
  • 2006
    • Jan – SOE announces they will be merging 10 low population EQII servers into 10 medium population servers because players are “too spread out” on the low population servers.
    • Feb 17 – Shadowhaven Station Exchange server is merged into The Bazaar server
    • Feb 21 – Prophecy of RoEQ expansion #11
    • Feb 21 – Kingdom of Sky, EQII expansion #2
    • Mar 28 – Untold Legends: The Warrior’s Code, a PSP title, launches
    • Mar 29 – EverQuest II – East is shut down, with all Chinese accounts transferred to the Mistmoore server, all Taiwanese accounts to the Najena server, and all Korean accounts to the Unrest server
    • Jun – EQ launches the first progression servers for the game, The Combine and The Sleeper, which let players play though all of the game expansions in order
    • Jun 14 – The Fallen Dynasty, the third EQII adventure pack launches
    • Sep 19, The Serpent’s Spine, EQ expansion #12
    • Nov 13 – Echoes of Faydwer, EQII expansion #3
    • Nov 15 – Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, a PSP title, launches
  • 2007
    • Jan 30 – Vanguard: Saga of Heroes launches with SOE as publisher
    • Feb 13 – The Buried Sea, EQ expansion #13
    • May 9 – Legends of Norrath collectible card game is launched, running within EQ and EQII
    • May 15 – SOE takes over operations for Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
    • Mar 21 – The Sleeper EQ progression server is merged into The Combine server
    • Apr 30 – The EQII Darathar– UK PvP, Gorenaire– FR PvP, and Talendor– DE PvP servers are merged into the Venekor – RP PvP server
    • Jul 11 – The Agency is announced
    • Jul 19 – EQuinox, the official print magazine of EverQuest II is announced with issue #1 featuring Rise of Kunark information and beta access
    • Oct – Station Access pricing peaks at $30 a month for subscription access to all SOE titles including The Matrix Online and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
    • Nov 13 – Secrets of Faydwer, EQ expansion #14
    • Nov 13 – Rise of Kunark – EQII expansion #4
    • Dec – SOE is caught after moving the level 60 Unholy Trinity guild off of the test server to a live server, an action against stated company policy and not something ever made available to the average player, causing a fierce reaction from players
    • Dec – A false rumor spreads that Zapak Digital Entertainment is planning to purchase SOE and its games for $300 million, an amount close to what the company will sell for in December of 2020
  • 2008
    • Jan 22 – Pirates of the Burning Sea launches with SOE as publisher
    • Feb 14 – EQuinox issue #2 is announced, featuring Legends of Norrath cards
    • Apr 16 – LiveGamer is brought in to run financial transaction for the Station Exchange RMT servers The Bazaar and The Vox PvP
    • ~Sep – EQuinox issue #3 is cancelled and the magazine idea is scrapped
    • Oct 21 – Seeds of Destruction, EQ expansion #15
    • Oct 24 – The EQII Venekor– RP PvP is merged into the Nagefen, the final remaining PvP server
    • Nov 18 – The Shadow Odyssey, EQII expansion #5
    • Dec – SOE introduces Station Cash, a virtual currency, and an in-game cash shop in EQ and EQII
  • 2009
    • Jan 23 – SOE games become available on Steam starting with EverQuest and EverQuest II
    • Apr 28 – Free Realms launches
    • Jul 31 – The Matrix Online is shut down
    • Dec 15 – Underfoot, EQ expansion #16
  • 2010
    • Feb 16 – Sentinal’s Fate, EQII expansion #6
    • Mar 4 – The Combine EQ progression server is merged into the Druzzil Ro live server, ending the first retro server run for the company
    • Apr – SOE tries a new EQII Passport subscription plan where for just $5.00 a month you can play for three consecutive days during a single month
    • May 5 – SOE announces The Agency: Covert Ops, a free to play title on Facebook
    • Jun 10 – Tanarus, a title that predated EverQuest was shut down
    • Jun 22 – EQ server merges come again, paring down the server count by ten as low population servers are merged into more populated ones
    • Jul – EverQuest II Extended, a free to play version of EQII launches
    • Aug – Plans for EverQuest Next announced at FanFest
    • Sep 15 – Star Wars: The Clone Wars Adventures launches
    • Oct 12 – House of Thule, EQ expansion #17
  • 2011
    • Jan 11 – DC Universe Online launches on Windows and PlayStation 3
    • Feb 15 – The Fippy Darkpaw EQ time locked progression server launches, with the Vulak’Aerr server being added soon thereafter to handle the crush of players (I have a whole timeline for those servers)
    • Feb 22 – Destiny of Velious, EQII expansion #7
    • Mar 31 – The Agency is officially cancelled
    • Apr – Flying mounts introduced into EQII
    • May – SOE games are down for almost two weeks as part of the PlayStation Network security breach in which personal data from a reported 24.6 million accounts were compromised
    • Jun – At E3 SOE announced that pricing for Station Access, now called SOE All Access, would drop from $30 to $20 a month, but extra character slots for EQ, EQII, and Vanguard would no longer be part of the plan
    • Aug – SOE finally gets a unified server status page
    • Nov 1 – DC Universe Online goes free to play
    • Nov 15 – Veil of Alaris, EQ expansion #18
    • Dec 6 – Age of Discovery, EQII expansion #8, which also ushers in the free to play era of the game as EverQuest II Extended is folded into the live server list
    • Dec 15 – Star Wars Galaxies is shut down
    • Dec 18 – The Vox PvP Station Exchange server for EQII is merged into the Nagefen server
    • Dec 21 – The Bazaar Station Exchange server for EQII is merged into the Freeport server ending the Station Exchange program
  • 2012
    • Feb – SOE announces it is selling its EU customer accounts to a German media company, ProSiebenSat.1
    • Mar 16 – EverQuest goes free to play
    • Mar 29 – EverQuest Online Adventures shuts down on PlayStation 2
    • Mar 29 – Infantry is shut down
    • Mar 29 – Cosmic Rift is shut down
    • Mar 29 – Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga is shut down
    • Aug 7 – Vanguard: Saga of Heroes goes free to play (a week earlier than planned)
    • Aug 7 – SOEmote is introduced to EverQuest II
    • Sep – SOE introduces Player Studio for EQII, which allows players to create cosmetic items to sell in the in-game cash shop, for which they will be paid a cut of the sale
    • Nov – SOE introduces Krono for EQ and EQII, an in-game item that can be redeemed for 30 days of subscription time, which users can purchase for real world cash and sell at the broker to other players for in-game currency
    • Nov 13 – Chains of Eternity, EQII expansion #9
    • Nov 20 – PlanetSide 2 launches
    • Nov 28 – Rain of Fear, EQ expansion #19
  • 2013
    • Jan 30 – SOE publishes the import Wizardry Online as a F2P title
    • Jan 31 – Pirates of the Burning Sea ceases to be published by SOE
    • Aug – A new vision/plan for EverQuest Next is announced at FanFest, which includes the involvement of Storybricks
    • Aug – The FanFest presentation mentions a dev tool EverQuest Next called Landmark
    • Sep 23 – SOE publishes the import Dragon’s Prophet as a F2P title
    • Oct 8 – Call of the Forsaken, EQ expansion #20
    • Nov 12 – Tears of Veeshan, EQII expansion #10
    • Nov 13 – SOE starts selling early access packs to EverQuest Next Landmark
    • Nov 15 – DC Universe Online launches on PlayStation 4
    • Nov 18 – EverQuest Macintosh Edition is shut down
  • 2014
    • Jan – Station Access/SOE All Access pricing drops to $15 a month, the price of a single game subscription, but keeps the 500 Station Case stipend after the forums erupt when Smed suggests they may remove that benefit
    • Jan 24 – SOE announced they will be shutting down Free Realms, Star Wars: The Clone Wars Adventures, Wizardry Online, and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, which is seen as the reason they have cut the price of SOE All Access
    • Mar – EverQuest Next Landmark becomes just Landmark
    • Mar 31 – Free Realms is shut down
    • Mar 31 – Star Wars: The Clone Wars Adventures is shut down
    • Apr 10 – H1Z1 is announced, a zombie horror title oddly dedicated to SWG players
    • Jun 18 – The ProSiebenSat.1 experiment ends and all EU accounts are transitioned back to SOE
    • Jul 31 – Wizardry Online is shut down
    • Jul 31 – Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is shut down
    • Oct 28 – The Darkened Sea, EQ expansion #21
    • Nov 11 – Altar of Malice, EQII expansion #11
  • 2015
    • Jan 15 – H1Z1 releases as early access
    • Jan 22 – The class action suit for the PlayStation/SOE security breach of May 2011 is resolved, awarding the lawyers $2.75 million and each affected player 450 station cash… but only for US players and only if you filled out a form and could prove you were affected
    • Feb 2 – Sony announces it has sold SOE to Columbus Nova and the organization will be known as Daybreak Game Company going forward
    • Apr 28 – The Rum Cellar, the fourth EQII adventure pack launches
    • Apr 30 – Daybreak acknowledged and blessed the existence of the Project 1999 EQ retro server being developed by a private group, with the P1999 team and the Daybreak EQ team coordinating updates so as not to overlap each other
    • May 22 – EQ opens the Ragefire progression server, the start of a regular run of special servers that help boost the game’s popularity by pulling back many lapsed players
    • Jul 24 – Daybreak announces that long time studio head John Smedley is leaving the company, Russel Shanks steps up to take over his role
    • Jul 24 – EQII launches the Stormhold progression server and Deathtoll PvP server, the first retro servers for the game
    • Aug 21 – EQII announces the Drunder server, where rule breakers will be sent to play and no customer support will be available
    • Oct – Nine of the lower population EQII servers, including the final PvP server Nagefen, are merged down to three PvE servers, all with new names (Maj’dul, Halls of Fate, and Skyfire), while the Antonia Bayle server remains unto itself
    • Nov 16 – Dragon’s Prophet is shut down
    • Nov 17 – Terrors of Thalumbra, EQII expansion #12
    • Nov 18 – The Broken Mirror, EQ expansion #22
  • 2016
    • Feb 8 – H1Z1 King of the Kill the battle royale game and H1Z1 Just Survive, the co-op zombie horror game, are split into two products, both remain in early access
    • Mar 8 – The EQII Deathtoll PvP retro server is shut down
    • Mar 11 – EverQuest Next officially cancelled, leaving Landmark the remaining active part of that project.
    • Apr 29 – DC Universe Online launches on XBox One
    • Jun 10 – Landmark leaves early access and goes live
    • Jul 1 – PlanetSide is shut down
    • Aug 17 – Legends of Norrath is shut down
    • Nov 15 – Kunark Ascending, EQII expansion #13
    • Nov 16 – Empires of Kunark, EQ expansion #23
    • Dec 19 – Daybreak acquires Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeon & Dragons Online from Warner, setting them up under the name Standing Stone Games, never mentioning in public that they are the actual owners
  • 2017
    • Feb 21 – Landmark is shut down
    • Jul 31 – LOTRO launches the Mordor expansion
    • Sep 22 – The Vulak’Aerr EQ time locked progression server is merged into the Fippy Darkpaw server
    • Oct – H1Z1 King of the Kill renamed H1Z1 again due to a desire to release the game in China, where having “kill” in a game name is frowned upon by government censors
    • Nov 28 – Planes of Prophecy, EQII expansion #14
    • Dec 12 – Ring of Scale, EQ expansion #24
  • 2018
    • Feb 28 – H1Z1 leaves early access and goes live
    • Apr 24 – In response to a question about Russian sanctions Daybreak issues a statement declaring it was never owned by Columbus Nova, in open contradiction to three years of information, and was always solely owned by Jason Epstein
    • Apr 24 – Daybreak removes all references to Columbus Nova from its web site and attempts to edit the Wikipedia page about the company to hide any Columbus Nova connection
    • Aug 7 – H1Z1 launches on PlayStation 4
    • Sep 4 – The EQII progression server Stormhold is merged into the Antonia Bayle server, ending its run
    • Sep 6 – Daybreak announces a deal with NantWorks to create NantMobile G which will take over H1Z1 on PC with a plan to revitalize it, starting by rebranding it as Z1 Battle Royale
    • Sep 6 – NantMobile G project also proposes mobile versions of Z1 Battle Royale and EverQuest
    • Oct 24 – H1Z1 Just Survive is shut down
    • Nov 13 – Chaos Descending, EQII expansion #15
    • Dec 11 – The Burning Lands, EQ expansion #25
    • Dec 14 – Planetside Arena is announced, an attempt to bring battle royale to PlanetSide 2, with pre-orders for early access for sale
    • Dec 18 – Daybreak offers 4,000 lifetime subscriptions for sale at $299 each
    • Dec 24 – Daybreak announces that they have sold out the 4,000 lifetime subscriptions
    • Dec 28 – Daybreak puts 6,000 more life time subscriptions up for sale through Dec. 31st
  • 2019
    • Feb 18 – PlanetSide Arena launch is delayed until summer, allegedly to have a simultaneous launch on PlayStation 4, all pre-orders are refunded
    • Jul 11 – After over a year being offline, Daybreak announces that Player Studio for EQII has been shut down
    • Apr 6 – NantMobile G hands Z1 Battle Royale back to Daybreak having failed to revitalize the game, after which little is heard about the PC version
    • Aug 6 – DC Universe Online launches on Nintendo Switch
    • Aug 30 – A PlanetSide Arena roadmap is released with plans for early access soon, with an official launch in 2020, PC only
    • Sep 19 – PlanetSide Arena arrives in early access just barely making the declared “summer” launch plan
    • Oct 21 – A PlanetSide producer’s letter states that PlanetSide Arena is a stepping stone towards PlanetSide 3
    • Nov 5 – LOTRO launches the Minas Morgul expansion
    • Dec 14 – Daybreak announces that PlanetSide Arena will be shut down in January
    • Dec 17 – Blood of Luclin, EQII expansion #16
    • Dec 18 – Torment of Velious, EQ expansion #26
  • 2020
    • Jan 10 – PlanetSide Arena is shut down
    • Jan 21 – Daybreak announces a series of sub-studios, with Darkpaw Games responsible for EverQuest and EverQuest II, Dimensional Ink handling DC Universe Online, and Rogue Planet Games handling PlanetSide 2
    • May 20 – The Fippy Darkpaw EQ time locked progression server ends its nine year run as it is merged into the Vox live server
    • Oct 20 – LOTRO launches the War of Three Peaks expansion
    • Dec 1 – Enad Global 7 (EG7) announces plans to acquire Daybreak
    • Dec 2 – EG7 presents an unprecedented array of previously private information about Daybreak to its board, shareholders, and the general public proving, if nothing else, that the company made money
    • Dec 8 – Claws of Veeshan, EQ expansion #27
    • Dec 15 – Reign of Shadows, EQII expansion #17
    • Dec 23 – EG7 completes the acquisition of Daybreak Game Company

And that brings us up into the new year.  We shall see what 2021 and beyond holds for the company

  • Sources

The joy of me blogging the way I do is that I have a blog post that corresponds to most every item on the above list that happened in the last decade.  I considered linking to each and every one, but decided against it.  You can use the search box at the top of the page if you want to find posts here about things like EQII Passport.

Before 2010 I was more chaotic in my blogging and, of course, before September 2006 there was no blog, so nothing to reference.  Fortunately, I had done a post about SOE and its MMORPGs back in 2016 where I had recorded the status of their games, and had researched a bunch of other items in the past.  This blog isn’t all just about Blackrock Depths and World War Bee.

And, where that failed, Wikipedia remains a wonderful source.  There are well maintained pages about most of the games and lists of all the expansions for both EverQuest and EverQuest II that helped me quite a bit.  And over at Daybreak there is even a server merge page for EverQuest and another for EverQuest II servers deep in their site.  There are some errors, but the dates seem solid.

As for what to include, I am obviously biased towards the games I play or played.  I did try to include every paid expansion for games, as those were generally pretty easy to find.  Game content updates are more obscure, though somebody has charted all of the episode drops for DC Universe Online on that Wikipedia page.  I just wasn’t that dedicated to the post.  I started getting into special servers, but decided once they became an annual thing in 2015, I declared them as such and moved on.

Daybreak to be Acquired by Enad Global 7

Enad Global 7 (EG7) announced in a press release earlier today that would be purchasing Daybreak Game Company for $300 million in a structured payout deal. ($260 million up front, $100 million in shares and $160 million in cash, plus another $40 million in cash if Daybreak makes its projected 2020 numbers.)  A bunch of news items have popped up about this today and I will link to them and other reactions at the end of the post.

Enad Global 7

That will get them the following games according to the press release:

  • EverQuest
  • EverQuest II
  • H1Z1
  • PlanetSide 2
  • DC Universe Online
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Dungeons & Dragons Online

Not mentioned was Cold Iron Studios, which Daybreak was said to have acquired back in August.  But maybe that was Jason Epstein or Columbus Nova who actually bought it.

And I am not really kidding with that.  The nearly six year history of Daybreak has not been characterized by a close relationship with the truth when it came to the business, so a surprise twist or a revision of history would be right in line with past behavior.  Even now we’re just finally getting confirmation that Standing Stone Games was owned by Daybreak… or Jason… or Columbus Nova… after being told that Daybreak was merely going to be SSG’s “publisher.”  So I guess EG7 is buying Standing Stone Games as well.

The press release is also interesting as it lists out some of the Daybreak financials that were part of its due diligence.  We could barely find numbers about the company when it was part of Sony and never saw a thing since it was Daybreak.  For example, Daybreak has 178 million registered users of its games.  I’m sure they’re not all active, but that database alone has some value.

Anyway, the first question to leap to mind for me was, “Who the hell is EG7?”

The press release echoes the info on their web site which says:

EG7 is a group of companies within the gaming industry that develops, markets, publishes and distributes PC, console and mobile games to the global gaming market. The company employs 170+ game developers and develops its own original IP:s, as well as act as consultants to other publishers around the world through its game development divisions Toadman Studios, Big Blue Bubble and Antimatter Games. In addition, the group’s marketing department Petrol has contributed to the release of 1,500+ titles, of which many are world famous brands such as Call of Duty, Destiny, Dark Souls and Rage. The group’s publishing and distribution department Sold Out holds expertise in both physical and digital publishing and has previously worked with Team 17, Rebellion and Frontier Developments. The Group is headquartered in Stockholm with approximately 270 employees in 10 offices worldwide.

So, a Swedish company, something confirmed over at Bloomberg, without much more to add, though their summary is much more succinct:

Enad Global 7 AB operates as a game development studio. The Company develops, markets, publishes, and distributes PC, console, and mobile games. Enad Global 7 serves customers worldwide.

The company, founded in 2013, says it is a game developer and has very recently purchased a few small studios, but its biggest claim to fame seems to be that its marketing department has helped out with some famous brands, likely just for the Swedish market if I were to make a guess. (Though their online presence is pretty week. They discovered Twitter just this year.)  And now they’ll have a bag of MMORPGs to play with.

As for what it will mean for the games and employees of Daybreak, that remains to be seen.  The press release has the usual rosy optimism in its quotes, as all such press releases do.

I am thrilled to be welcoming Daybreak into the EG7 family today. Daybreak is a studio I have the utmost admiration for, not only for their games but the teams behind those games and services. Together we have bold and exciting plans for the future, and I look forward to making those dreams a reality for gamers all over the world.

Robin Flodin, CEO and Co-founder of EG7

This could be a boon for the company, or they could get the Gamigo treatment like Trion did when they were acquired.  Or EG7 might just want the data for the 178 million registered Daybreak users for marketing purposes… that actually gets a mention in the press release. (Bad news for them, at least three of those users are just me.)

But that will all come later.

We’re still in the phase where the deal isn’t done yet and both sides of the transaction are invested in keeping to the status quo going.  Expansions for EverQuest and EverQuest II will launch this month (Dec. 8th and 15th respectively, the latter being announced today along with the acquisition).  Updates will keep coming out.  Nobody is going to lose their job just yet.

But the deal is expected to close by December 31, 2020, so the real situation likely won’t become apparent until next year.  Some people will no doubt be redundant and get laid off.  Plans may change.  And maybe the individual studios that Daybreak created earlier this year will end up being used to distinguish the groups.  But come the new year Daybreak, announced back in February of 2015, will likely cease to be a thing.

Related posts (Those with info beyond the press release marked*):

Is it Minas Morgul Yet?

It is kind of a busy Tuesday.  On to my third post of the day.

Back in September when Standing Stone Games announced the Minas Morgul expansion the target date for launch was October 29th.  That was last Tuesday, and it clearly did not come to pass.  Unfortunately I put the target date in the title of the post I linked there.  Oh well.

Perhaps I should have been more cautious.  SSG certainly left themselves something of an out in the fine print, declaring October 29 as the target, but allowing that given any delay you’d certainly have your expansion and goodies by no later than November 30.  A month wide launch window there gave them five target Tuesday in which to go live.

Anyway, while they missed their initial planned date, the word from SSG is that the Minas Morgul expansion will go live today.

As always, the expansion promises more things, more levels, more quests, more dungeons, more raids, and even a new race and an additional character slot per server.  That is the base package, but as I covered in that previous post, there extra special versions of the expansion, with extra special prices, available with even more goodies.

SSG has a page dedicated to the options for the expansion as well as a FAQ.

Tipped off by a comment on the October in Review post, I see that the FAQ has a brand new restriction at the top in regards to purchasing the expansion with LOTRO Points, the in game currency.

CAN I PURCHASE THE EXPANSION WITH LOTRO POINTS?
The Minas Morgul expansion will be available for Store Points in March 2020 and will be priced as follows:

-Base Edition (includes the Minas Morgul Region & Instances only): 2495 Points
-Stout-axe Dwarf: 1000 Points

That is a bit of a “screw you” to those sitting on a pile of said points.  Money talks and virtual currency walks, or something like that.  I am reminded, once again, of one of my early concerns around virtual currencies, which is best summed up by a scene from The Simpsons episode Itchy & Scratchy Land:

Homer: One adult and four children.
Woman: Would you like to buy some Itchy and Scratchy Money?
Homer: What’s that?
Woman: Well it’s money that’s made just for the park.  It works just like regular money, but it’s, er…”fun”.
Bart: Do it, Dad.
Homer: Well, OK, if it’s fun…let’s see, uh…I’ll take $1100 worth.

This exchange is followed immediately by this visual.

Where can I spend my LOTRO Points?

So here we are again.  If you were holding on to your LOTRO Points in hopes of buying the expansion, you get to wait until March.  Also, due to the rather opaque nature involved in selling LOTRO Points, where different price points get you varying amounts of currency in return in an attempt to get you to buy more.

Current LOTRO Point pricing

Given that chart, a LOTRO point varies in range from 1.3 cents per to .86 cents per point, making the cost of the equivalent to the base expansion (content plus new race) somewhere between $28 and $45, compared to the $40 price if you pay in real world money.

Of course, if you’re like me and you’re getting a month 500 LOTRO Point stipend due to being a subscriber (lifetime, in my case), you may feel that you accumulated currency has very little value.  And since SSG won’t let you spend it on what you want, it probably feels like it has even less value at the moment.

This isn’t a big deal to me.  I plan to sink some of my LOTRO Points into the expansion when it becomes available in the cash shop, but the likelihood of my ever actually getting into the content is pretty small.  I bought the Mordor expansion the same way and barely got anywhere with that.

But if you are a long term player and subscriber who had earmarked their saved up LOTRO Points for the expansion, I feel you pain.  SSG would like cash please.  It is at moments like this where I wonder how involved with SSG’s operations their “publisher,” Daybreak Games, are.