Tag Archives: Turbine

We’re on the Road to Mordor

The story doesn’t end where we remember and your journey isn’t over! Adventure deep into the lost stories, dark reaches, and challenging enemies that shroud the lands around Mount Doom, and beyond.

-Mordor Expansion text

Just over a year ago, back in early July 2016, WB was telling us that Turbine, after the failure of Infinite Crisis, was transitioning into a mobile app development studio and the future of Lord of the Rings Online seemed in doubt.

Bleak times in the war of the ring.  I was suggesting people play the game while they still had the chance.

Then in December of last year came the announcement of Standing Stone Games, a new studio that would be spun off from Turbine.  Asheron’s Call was being shut down, and there was some relationship with Daybreak, but LOTRO and DDO were to be the focus of the new entity.  The games seemed to have more of a future than one might have expected a few months earlier.

Still, you never know what is going to happen.  Hope is one thing, reality is another.

But we finally have something solid on which to ground hope.  After much talk, Standing Stone Games has put up the pre-order page for the Mordor expansion for Lord of the Rings Online.

We’re going to Mordor!

Mordor, we have an eye on you!

In my view this is a big deal for two reasons.

First, we’re going to fucking Mordor.  This I want to see.  You can fault Turbine for many, many flaws in LOTRO, but for all of that the place has always looked and felt like Middle-earth to me.  So to continue that out to the far end of the tale, to bring us to Sauron’s dark land, to visualize the location and bring it to us so that we may wander it is simply awesome.

Explore the landscape of Gorgoroth to find hidden treasures, scourges on the land, and get rewarded for your exploration! Only the mightiest should journey that far into the dark places.

Mordor Expansion text

Of course, I do wonder how it will actually play.  How will SSG bring us to this dark and hostile land?  What will we do there?  Will we be standing around watching Frodo and Gollum at Mount Doom?  Will Mordor be like Mirkwood and Moria, with a plethora of chatty NPC quest givers hanging around the place?

But I pretty much started off the whole LOTRO idea more than a decade back with similar questions.  We shall see.

Second, SSG is actually selling us some new content.

Not that the teams at Turbine and now SSG haven’t been adding new content over the last few years.  The game has brought us to the very front step of Mordor already.

At the Black Gate with the cool kids

But actually selling us some content at least implies that it has more value and, of course, selling an expansion generates revenue for the company.  Expansions are one of the few sure fire ways to get a game’s dedicated followers to pony up some cash.  Also, expansions to me are a sign of success.  As long as a team has the resources to create expansions and an audience big enough to buy them and make the venture financially viable, any suggestion as to the demise of the game seem quite premature.

Whatever you want to say about EverQuest and EverQuest II, Daybreak cranks out an expansion every autumn for them.  And every time Blizzard gets around to releasing an expansion for World of Warcraft, it sells like crazy and subscriptions jump.

So being able to get your act together and sell an expansion is a sign that you are still in the game, so to speak.

And so you can pre-order the Mordor expansion today.

For $40 you get the Standard Edition about which SSG says:

  • Mordor Expansion
  • 300+ New Quests
  • Hundreds of new Deeds
  • New Allegiance System
  • New instance cluster with raid* and more!**
  • Aria of the Valar – a level boost to Mordor!

I am big on that last item.  Despite owning all the past expansions, I am still way back in Rohan wondering what to do.  There is faint chance that I will make it to Mordor from there ever.  Boosting me straight into Mordor is my last, best hope.

Look, could you just point me towards Mordor and maybe lend me a horse? You seem to have a lot of them.

If you have a bit more loose change in your pocket though, for $80 you can get the Collector’s Edition, which has everything in the Standard Edition plus the following:

  • High Elf Race
  • Character Slot
  • Exclusive Alliance Cosmetics:  armor, cloak, & kite
  • Exclusive Title “Walked Into Mordor”
  • Exclusive Alliance Mount

A new race doesn’t do much for me.  A character slot is nice however, as are the cosmetics, while a mount is cool too.  That title though.  One does not simply hand out Mordor titles.

And if you are totally into LOTRO and feeling whale-ish, for $130 you can have the Ultimate Fan Bundle, which gets you everything in the Collector’s Edition plus:

  • Exclusive Mordor Cosmetics: armor, cloak, & eagle kite
  • Exclusive Mordor Mount
  • Exclusive Title “The Ultimate”
  • Equippable XP Accelerator for all characters!
  • Exclusive Housing Teleport for all characters!
  • Three Relics for all characters
  • Two Essence Reclamation Scrolls for all characters!
  • Ten Extra Shared Storage Slots
  • A code for a month of VIP Access

There are definitely some tasty bits in that stew.  However, the price is well beyond my tolerance.  With these choices I am much more likely to go with the Standard Edition than the other two.

And then there is the question of “when?”  The Mordor expansion site says that the target launch date is July 31, 2017 and that it will ship no later than August 31, 2017.

Not much time left to wait!  You can find info about the expansion packages here.

So who is set for Mordor?

Addendum: SSG has added a Mordor expansion FAQ.

High Noon for Asheron’s Call

We learned last month, the money making MMOs at Turbine have been split off to be run by a new company called Standing Stone Game.  That meant Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeon & Dragons Online would both be leaving Turbine.  That left Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 in the lurch.

asherons_call_full_logo

Staying with Turbine rather than being spun off with the new MMO running entity Standing Stone Games seemed to indicate a short future for the two titles, something quickly confirmed in a statement from Turbine:

It is with a heavy heart that we must announce the end of our support for Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2, and will close both services on January 31st, 2017.

This decision did not come easy, and we know this is disappointing for many of you. This game is a labor of love, and it’s not easy for us to bring it to an end.

We have had a phenomenally long run; one of the longest in the world of MMORPGs, and that in and of itself is a spectacular feat. We are proud of our legacy, and the entire Asheron’s Call team has been honored to adventure with you for nearly twenty years. We thank you very much for being a part of it.

It’s been an amazing run. You’ve done Asheron Realaidain proud.

Between now and January 31st, 2017, the game will remain available to play, completely free, for any player currently with an account. New account creation will be disabled.

Yet hope springs eternal… only to be stomped on.  In an earlier time of greater optimism at Turbine, there was talk about letting players be able to setup private Asheron’s Call servers, a promise that immediately led to, “Hey, maybe we’ll get something!”  And then Turbine came back and said no, private servers would not be a thing.

We had hoped to be able to hand off our servers to the community, so our most loyal players could continue their journey through Dereth. Unfortunately, this is something we were unable to do.

So that was that.  Turbine further clarified the end time for Asheron’s Call, saying that the game would go dark at noon Eastern Standard Time on January 31, 2017.  If this post went live as scheduled, that was two minutes earlier, so the game should be down by the time you read this.  Hopefully, if you were a fan, you got in your final look at the world and didn’t get hampered by the last minute attempt to ruin the closing.

MMORPGs are strange beasts, and their passing are always sad and strange.  The social nature and persistent world aspects of them make them different from games where you play for a session and then everything resets.  As we have gone on about, and demonstrated ad nauseum, people get invested in MMORPGs.  And Asheron’s Call, being one of the “Big Three” late 90s MMORPGs that, along with Ultima Online and EverQuest, popularized the genre, all the more so.  It was a “first” MMORPG for people in the pre-World of Warcraft era, with its own special features, quirks, and lessons.

It is hard for me to imagine the day that EverQuest goes dark.  All those memories… mostly good, since we forget or repress the bad over time… that I could no longer pretend were just a patch update and a login away.  I don’t play anymore, but I could… and that I could makes a big difference.  So I feel for those who are losing their first MMORPG today.

That said, I do wonder at hope continuing to spring up.  Some are pinning hopes that there will be an announcement of some sort about Asheron’s Call tomorrow.  As the somewhat detached outsider, it is tough for me to see the hook one can hang that idea from.

Asheron’s Call was one of the big three, but it was the smallest of the bunch, topping out at half of UO’s numbers and a quarter of EQ’s subscription peak, so it doesn’t have the legacy of success that the other two had.  Furthermore, in the pantheon of Turbine titles, Lord of the Rings Online is their big success.  For Origin and SOE, their first MMORPGs remain their most popular, while Turbine has long neglected AC in favor of the two games that went with Standing Stone.  And then of course, there is Turbine, a shell of its former self, and WB, a media company from which one can expect no favors.

So while I don’t want to stomp on anybody’s dreams, I haven’t seen anything that would make me think there will be a post-closing announcement.  But we shall see tomorrow I suppose.

But whatever happens tomorrow or in the future, today we mark the end of what once was.

LOTRO Headed for the Grey Havens?

Turbine is transitioning into a free-to-play, mobile development studio…

-Warner Bros. PR statement to Massively OP

Well fuck.  It has not been a good… erm… few years for Turbine.

Yahoo Headline 2007

We were so optimistic back in 2007

There was this moment of optimism a while back.  They were going to bring back Asheron’s Call 2, they were going to let you run your own Asheron’s Call server, the Lord of the Rings Online contract situation was good for a couple more years and we seemed on the way to Mordor, Dungeons & Dragons Online was chugging along, upbeat and getting new stuff, and they were going to take on the hot new MOBA market with Infinite Crisis.

And then plans started falling apart.  Infinite Crisis was cancelled, the Asheron twins were put on life support with what seemed to be a DNR notice, and the company was left with two somewhat long in the tooth free to play MMOs to carry things forward.  LOTRO has already called out raidersDirty laundry was being aired.  And even LOTRO’s plans seemed subdued, with server merges and fixing long standing bugs being key part of one producer’s letter.  Even the upside bit, the upgraded servers, turned into a problem for a while.

But things seemed to be settling down.  The servers became usable, new content was being added to the game, and a new baseline routine seemed to have been reached.  And now this.

Of course, Warner is telling people to remain calm:

The Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons online games will continue to operate as they do now.

But they HAVE to say that.  Those two games are the only income generating assets Turbine has now, and to say anything else might adversely impact that income stream.  And it is likely true for the short term.  But what happens next?

Warner could let the two games run on as before, with even less support and unlikely to get much in the way of substantial updates.  Given their new focus, that does not seem like sticking to the plan.

Warner could close the games down or, in the case of LOTRO, let the contact with Tolkien Enterprises run out in 2017 and not renew.  Both LOTRO and DDO, being licensed properties, likely have monthly minimum payments required to go to the rights holders, so an immediate shut down would leave Warner with bills to pay.  But at contract renewal it might be the time to walk away.

Or Warner could sell off the MMO part of Turbine to somebody like Perfect World Entertainment, where the LOTRO and DDO might each get a longer, if somewhat different, life going forward.  That would keep things going, provided that either game is a viable, money making venture that Warner can hand off to another company.  Anything with the name “Asheron” in the title seems to be doomed no matter what route Warner takes.

Anyway, it feels very much like we are waiting for the other shoe to drop on this one, that Warner has a long term decision to make… or announce if they have already made it… that will affect the fate of those two titles.

Play the games while you have the chance, as the future is more uncertain than usual and nobody is likely to make a game like LOTRO again.

Others on the topic:

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?

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.