Tag Archives: Tolkien Enterprises

And What of Middle-earth?

Here we are in 2014 and the news coming out of Turbine is… odd.

It was previously announced that there was to be no new expansion for LOTRO in 2014, a change up from their annual ritual of hawking extra pre-order goodies and special cosmetic gear for the Super Special Collector’s Edition of whatever bit of Middle-earth is being targeted.  While the effort behind an expansion no doubt eat up a lot staff hours, those are people on staff.  Turbine isn’t doing binge and purge staffing for projects that I have heard, so there are people on payroll to do the work.   So why not set them to churning out another beautiful cash cow depicting the fields of Pelennor or the Paths of the Dead or the Dead Marshes?  Drop in a few nifty cloaks, a special mount, and another experience boosting pocket item for those who buy in big, and Robert is thus reaffirmed as your mother’s brother or some such.  Basically, the same expansion plan we have every year.

Not that there are not some issues with business as usual.  There is the ever higher pile of levels and Turbine clinging onto the “you must buy every expansion” attitude that I think even EverQuest started to shed this many expansions in by offering “catch-up” bundles of all previous expansions.  Even Blizzard is doing that with their WoW Battlechest at this point (you could have had everything through Cataclysm for $5.00 over the holidays), while SOE went to a model of “the latest expansion gets you all previous expansions and the base game” back when they were a subscription only model, and moved to selling only the last two expansions and offering up everything else for free after the F2P conversion.

That whole thing is getting in the way of Turbine selling you an insta-leveled character, as they seem reluctant throw in an expansion or two with the deal, which leaves them stuck at boosting you to level 50 in a game already at level 95.  I suspect Turbine will see the light on this at some point, but it does call out how the baggage of so many expansions can restrict their options.

But there will be no expansion this year, so compounding the levels/expansions issue has been deferred.  So they must be working on something else then.  What could it be?

Pengail Attacks!

Making Pengail hate goblins eve more?

According to a recent LOTRO event, summed up at Contains Moderate Peril, no new dungeons or raids are planned.  Nor will housing see much attention nor kinships nor any such related items.  There was a mention of a potential revamp of one of the base game regions, though no region had been picked at this time.  There is still some tuning being done on the big skill and specialization revamp that came with the Helm’s Deep expansion.  But this event, taken with the producer’s letter from last month, certainly makes it feel as if Turbine doesn’t have much planned for LOTRO in 2014.

All of which makes me wonder if we are hitting a point of decision when it comes to the game.  As I noted way back in 2008, Turbine and Tolkien Enterprises signed a deal that gave Turbine rights to the property out through 2014.

And here we are in 2014.  How did that happen so fast?

So Turbine has been sitting on those rights for over seven years now.  But now we are at a renewal point.  Turbine has an option to extend to 2017, but the details around what rights Tolkien Enterprises might have at this juncture are unknown.  I suspect they have some ability to deny the extension, for a price, which would certainly leave Turbine in the lurch if that came to pass.  For money makers Turbine pretty much has LOTRO and Dungeons & Dragons Online, another licensed IP.  Meanwhile, Tolkien Enterprises, with part three of the movie series ostensibly based on the book The Hobbit coming out in December, might very well be wondering if their interests might be better served by selling whatever exclusive rights Turbine has been granted to some other studio.

Not that Tolkien Enterprises isn’t making money off of Turbine.  LOTRO has been successful enough when measured against a backdrop where EverQuest is the top dog, peaking at 550K subscriptions.  But few care about where EQ peaked in 2003 since World of Warcraft passed the 12 million subscriber mark post-Cataclysm.  Even the Turbine team is pretty blunt on that point when asked about subscriber numbers, with Sapience saying,

Unless we can say we have 10 million players and are bigger than WoW, what’s the point?

Life in the shadow.

So, do I think LOTRO is doomed to shut down this year?  It doesn’t seem highly likely.  Unless Tolkien Enterprises has another paying customer lined up and ready to go, LOTRO is still a revenue stream.  But I am going to guess that there are some negotiations going on as to the future of the license.  This in turn might mean some uncertainty for Turbine who, quite rightly, might not want to invest time and effort into a game whose future is in doubt.  Since the resources for projects are shared across teams, it might be better for them to bet on something with a more secure future.

But what will a quiet year of minor changes mean for LOTRO?  What will drive revenue if there is no expansion and few changes?

And do you think we will still be able to play the game in 2015?

Addendum: Contains Moderate Peril has a statement from Turbine about having an agreement that goes out until 2017.  “The license was renewed” was the phrase used, but some think there is some wiggle room in that, and it still doesn’t explain Turbine’s seeming mild interest in LOTRO for 2014.

What is in the Future for LOTRO?

Lord of the Rings Online is in the midst of its six year anniversary celebrations.

Six Years of Middle-earth

Six Years of Middle-earth

Six years ago Vanguard was sputtering along, with Brad McQuaid speaking up about all the problems as I was speculating on how they might get out of their mess. (And two of those came to pass.)  I was past level 50 in EverQuest II with a fae, the new race that came along with the Echoes of Faydwer expansion. I was also playing with our brand new Wii.  And Potshot and I were becoming immersed in Lord of the Rings Online for the first time, an MMO that was getting some buzz.

Yahoo Headlines

Yahoo Headlines

The timing was about right for us, as the instance group was on something of a hiatus as Earl moved from one coast to another and set up shop in the big city.  The four of us who jumped in started what would become a recurring pattern of play in Middle-earth.

At some point, somebody would be unable to play for an extended time and the remaining four of us would roll up fresh characters on a new server.  Generally classes and such had changed enough that we really needed the fresh start to build up characters.  We would get up to about level 30 or so in the Lone Lands, and then taper off as the fifth person in the group joined back up, leaving us out of sync in Middle-earth.

And so our adventures would end, never having reached Rivendell as we headed back to Azeroth or Telara.

And even those occasional wanderings in LOTRO appear to be at an end for our group, as it has been vetoed for further play by one of the group members.  So far only LOTRO and EverQuest II are on the explicit veto list.

The group only ever made it into the end phase of the Lone Lands, while I only ever made it part way into Moria.  And that may be the furthest any of us ever get.

And while part of that is because of our past experience, another aspect is the future of LOTRO itself.

A little over five years ago there was the announcement that Turbine and Tolkien Enterprises had signed an agreement to extend the licensing for the game out to 2014.  That seemed way out in the future… but now it is next year.  And what will happen then?  There was an option on the agreement to extend the deal to 2017, but I imagine that both parties have veto power on that.  Things have changed since 2008.

Since that agreement was signed, Turbine was been acquired and folded into Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.

And I am not sure how that will affect things.

On the one hand, Warner has other license agreements with Tolkien Enterprises which have lead to some lucrative and fun games, such as LEGO Lord of the Rings.

On the other hand, the Tolkien estate has also felt the need to sue Warner for misuse of the Tolkien IP.  And since Warner are no doubt be the ones doing the negotiating for LOTRO now, you have to wonder if that bad blood will color things.

It seems likely that the game is good until 2017, but all of that still makes you wonder.  Especially when Turbine suddenly decided to pull Asheron’s Call 2 out of cold storage late last year.  Is that a sign that they are worried, that they have nothing else viable in the works, or that they just have plenty of free time on their hands?

How much longer do you think we have for LOTRO?

It is like Star Wars Galaxies or The Matrix Online in that, as a licensed IP, when it ceases to be profitable… or of interest to the licensing entity… it will go away, never to be seen again.

LOTRO Good Until 2014… or 2017!

One news tidbit that came up last week was that Turbine has reached an agreement with Tolkien Enterprises to extend the licensing agreement for Lord of the Rings Online out until 2014, with an option to further extend the agreement out to 2017.

I was a bit surprised to find that Turbine was only good with the LotR IP for 3 to 4 years after launch. On the other hand, this might have been Tolkien Enterprises protecting itself in case things went poorly. Turbine, though, has done an admirable job of bringing Middle-earth to life and making a popular MMO.

This still brings me back to the question of how long an MMO is expected to last on the market.

Ultima Online will pass the 11 year mark this September. EverQuest will hit 9 years of age in a couple of weeks. Both games remain extremely popular, at least when viewed through their (pessimistic in hindsight) pre-release subscription targets.

Games that last that long, that have that much staying power, are rare indeed. But games that do hang on for a decade or more tend to have one thing in common: A loyal community.

Community keeps games like EverQuest alive. Heck, community has kept the MUD I started playing nearly 15 years ago alive.

On the last SOE podcast they effectively (if not literally) said that a game like EverQuest will remain available as long as there are enough people left playing to justify keeping a server going.

EverQuest has enough of a community still, nearly nine years later, to justified continued expansions of the game. This is why I keep getting on the accessibility kick for EverQuest. With revenue enough to justify expansions, now is the time to lay the groundwork to allow new people to pick up the game. More important than graphic updates for old world zones are things like a WASD keyboard layout and intuitive camera controls, at least to my mind.

On its current trajectory, EverQuest will be around for quite a few more years.

SOE has an advantage in that it owns the intellectual property that makes up the world of Norrath. They can trim back EverQuest to match revenues until there is a single server and a skeleton crew to keep it functioning.

But what happens when somebody else owns the intellectual property that makes up the world around which an MMO is built?

The licensing party, the owner of the intellectual property, has a different set of priorities. They not only have their own revenue targets, and in many cases, a competing set of choices by which to reach them, but they also have the responsibility to keep the property active, alive, and seen in a positive light.

Those goals may not line up with running an MMO down to the last server. Being associated with a dying, out of date game is probably not any an IP managers list of goals. And then there is the constant siren song any popular IP has of new project offers.

So there is a refinement to the oft asked question, “How long will a popular MMO stay up?”

What is the threshold for bringing down an MMO based on a popular IP? How much of a community is required to keep a game like Lord of the Rings Online (or Star Wars Galaxies) viable? Is a company better off rolling their own IP rather than going with an already established one?

This is probably why Brenlo gets asked about Star Wars Galaxies shutting down as often as he does.