The Average LOTRO Player
Despite my claims to be a casual gamer, I tend to go all-in when a title takes my interest. Therefore, I will make it my business to read and learn about the various mechanics and systems in a game. I also like to be active in the wider community, so I write and podcast about the games I enjoy. Social media is an invaluable way to keep up-to-date with both developers and publishers. Forums and websites also play an integral role in keeping a player informed, by providing guides, press releases and a platform for sharing opinions. In recent years, many games have looked to Reddit as an additional way of communicating with their player base and fostering a community.
When I started playing LOTRO in late 2008 the focal point for information and interaction between players and the development team was the official forums. Then in 2010 there was a brief time where the unofficial forums became essential reading. There were also a great many guides available online providing a wealth of information about armour, crafting and other facets of the MMO. In many respects, at the time of its free to play conversion, LOTRO was one of the most well documented MMOs around. Seven years on, the official forums can still answer most questions a new player may ask. You Tube also provides an alternative repository of information.
When you consider all these options, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the average LOTRO player is well informed. The latest news is even emblazoned on the game launcher. Yet something happened recently in kin chat that made me realise that this is not the case and that the official forum and twitter are more of a haven for active and vocal gamers. They are not really a true cross section of a games player base. The developers have said this many times in the past. The forums, the fansites and other sub-communities are populated by players affiliated to specific niche groups, such as raiders, role players, or ardent solo completionists. Yet my kinship on Laurelin is filled with people who do not fall into these categories.
With regard to the incident I mentioned, someone in kin chat referenced how they were looking forward to High Elves being added to the game. A point that was met with surprise by many other kinship members who were logged in. Needless to say, an interesting discussion followed. To cut a long story short, I would estimate that about two thirds of our kin are oblivious to the finer points of the last producers letter. Furthermore, most of them never go to either forums, read the developer diaries or do any sort of proactive research into the game. Fan blogs and guides are effectively ignored. The Bullroarer test server is also an unknown quantity to many that I talk to. Overall I believe the majority of our kinship on Laurelin, just play the game and have no major interest in everything else.
I’m of the opinion that there is nothing unique about our kinship and its approach to LOTRO. I’m persuaded to think that a lot of LOTRO players are of a similar mindset. Therefore, this beggars the question is there such a thing as an average LOTRO player? This is not a term that I mean in a pejorative way. It’s just that for all the ardent raiders and high achievement players, there are many others that are just content to play through the game in their own way and at their own pace. They work things out as they go along and take their pleasure along the way. So, I’ve been trying to collate ideas regarding the average LOTRO player to try to form a sort of profile, based around common attributes and habits. Here are a few bullet points of some that I’ve considered.
- LOTRO players are not always gamers per se. Most of my kinmates only play LOTRO and are simply not interested in any other games. They do not own high end gaming PCs or have fast broadband connections.
- By far the biggest selling point of LOTRO for such players is the IP. They are first and foremost Tolkien fans. The most common refrain I hear is that the game provides an opportunity to play as a Hobbit, Elf or Dwarf in Middle-earth. There is no alternative MMO or game that offers the same experience.
- Many of the players in our kinship, or those I have spoken to outside of it, have never participated in a raid of any kind, despite the opportunities to do so. The idea either does not interest them, they simply do not have the time or they are not disposed towards the perceived social pressures of such activities.
- For every member of my kin who has multiple alts at level cap, there is another who has a list of alts that have been abandoned or who are still work in progress. Again, this is mainly due to time commitments or the fact that some folk just like to roll new alts for fun, rather than to pursue a structured levelling path.
- The officers in kinships I’ve been involved with tend to be those who play a lot and to the highest level. It is these people who are often the most informed about the game and the kin looks to them for the dissemination of news. In our kin, if you want to know anything about anything, you ask a handful of senior players.
I spend a lot of time talking to other LOTRO players, both in and out of the game. From what I have discerned a large amount of the player base are satisfied with what the game has to offer. Infact they always have been. Despite the calls from the raiding and PVP communities for more content that favours their needs, many players are happy to play casually and just "potter" about LOTRO. They’re not fussed about statistical changes, the Flora barter system, grinding for essences or the complexities of imbuing your legendary items. The game as it stands provides them with exactly what they want. A Middle-earth themed environment for them to explore and hangout in. This seems especially true of the RP players. Bree appears to serves all their needs.
Furthermore, many players are not in any way aggrieved by the alleged “iniquities” of the LOTRO store. When the total cost of everything they have ever spent on LOTRO is averaged out, many still feel that it is an extremely cheap form of entertainment, compared to other real world activities such as going to the movies, or out for a meal. Overall LOTRO is looked upon as a pleasant means of relaxation, in a virtual environment that most find agreeable. It is common for players in my kin to come home from work, cook some food and then spend time in LOTRO unwinding from the pressures of the day and enjoying the company of their fellow kinmates. The importance of the social ties associated with the game cannot be stressed enough. Gear grinds or the tedium of crafting are actually considered positive things by many of the players I know. Some folk like structured goals.
So, after considering these points, I'd say that there are lots of players that are content with LOTRO and who have little concern or even knowledge of the various changes that are coming this year. The major alterations that caused furor on the official forums over LOTRO’s lifespan, such as the move away from raids to epic battles and the introduction of the class skills tree, have had little impact upon such players. As long as they can continue to do the things that keep them happy, then all is right in their virtual world. Such players will continue to play and pay LOTRO until the servers close. They do not have any major beefs with the development team or community manager because they simply do not move in the same circles.
There are many subsets of LOTRO players but I get the feeling that this relatively low profile group of quiet and content players are by far the largest. When the fancy take’s them they will use the store because it is not an ideological anathema to them. It offers fun and useful items that enhances their play. That should make them a very important demographic to developers Standing Stone Games. In the meantime, the official forums although a useful portal are in danger of slowly becoming an insular private members club, busy preaching to the converted. Although many good points are raised and debated there as well on such site as Massively OP, they never really never travel beyond their virtual confines.
So, the average player that I have described is potentially the majority group that is now bank rolling LOTRO. If that is the case, then all SSG needs to do is to keep producing content that meets their requirements. That means that the trend towards streamlining and refining LOTRO, rather than adding to its complexity, seems to be the way to go. Now naturally, there will be a percentage of players and ex-players who will state that it is this very process that is "killing the game". Ultimately it comes down to a question of taste of what you want in a MMO. However, if I am right in my summation about the average LOTRO player, I think it proves why the MMO is facing its tenth-year anniversary, where so many others have gone to the wall. It is this groups loyal support and quite pursuit of their own style of game play that is LOTRO’s foundation