LOTRO: Community Nostalgia
Next Thursday LOTRO officially starts its 11th anniversary celebrations. It’s an opportunity for “fun and larks” with a wealth of special in-game events to play or grind through, depending on your perspective. Standing Stones Games will no doubt espouse the MMOs achievements and if we’re lucky they may even elaborate further upon the games long term road map. However, anniversaries are also a time for reflection and I would like to take some time to explore several wider aspects of LOTRO and its community that are no longer with us. A lot has happened in eleven years and things are naturally not the same. Change is inevitable and not always bad, but some of the things that have gone from the LOTRO-verse are sorely missed. Others may be not so, but I would still argue that their presence at the time were born of an engaged and motivate playerbase.
First off, let us start with what was “the definitive” LOTRO podcast and fansite. A Casual Stroll to Mordor was in many was a microcosm of the LOTRO community. It was consistently well written, informative and above all welcoming. It transcended its initial remit to inform and entertain and became a focal point in the games community and an invaluable resource. The husband and wife hosts, Goldenstar and Merric were the antithesis of elite MMO gamers and their down to earth style and enthusiasm made their content extremely accessible. They were also great ambassadors for the game yet even at the height of their success and popularity, there was never a whiff of ego or smugness about them. Furthermore, they used their popularity to help others who wanted to blog or podcast about LOTRO. A Casual Stroll to Mordor was always happy to cross promote and get people involved.
Yet time and tide wait for no man and after four industrious years, Merric and Goldenstar decided to wind things down. Producing content and maintaining standards is hard work and takes its toll, so it was inevitable that both the website and podcast would come to an end sooner or later. Perhaps the biggest losers at the time were then developers Turbine, who relied heavily on both the podcast and blog to disseminate news and promote the game. It was often commented upon within the LOTRO community at the time that A Casual Stroll to Mordor did a better job than Turbines own marketing and promotion teams. I personally consider A Casual Stroll to Mordor to be a text book example of how to do fan generated content right. There are still good sites and contributor out there that are doing a commendable job in supporting LOTRO, but Merric and Goldenstar were part of a perfect storm of factors that mean that they got it 100% right.
The next facet of the LOTRO community that has waned and that I wish to reference, is far less benign one. At the time is was a somewhat problematic “thing” and caused a great deal of consternation within the LOTRO community and for Turbine. Namely, the rivalry and culture war between the Official LOTRO Forums and the LOTROCommunity AKA The Unofficial LOTRO Forums. Initially the unofficial forums were a means to replace the Codemaster forums, after the merging of the US and EU LOTRO servers. Yet the free to play transition, along with the service consolidation were proceeded by difficult times for LOTRO. The game began to move further in to territory that not all players liked, and it is fair to say that Turbine struggled to manage it community relations at the time. Moderation on the official forums was heavy handed and the unofficial forums quickly provided and alternative platform for discussing and critiquing the state of the game.
Eventually this divide descended into a longstanding flame war between both camps and there developed a very polarised “them and us” mentality in certain quarters of the LOTRO community. There were also a small minority of people who used this situation to indulge their desire to troll and hence there was a lot of mud slinging which to this day, some folk still harbour a grudge over. However, despite the bad aspects of this situation, the alternative forums did provide some well researched and articulated commentary at a time when the game needed it. There was a passion there born of a love of a game that to some had lost its direction. Furthermore, some of the unofficial forum members went on to serve on the player council because irrespective of their views. But again, the ebb and flow of time and one’s passions has seen the unofficial forums fall into decline. Some still post there but its intermittent and no longer especially relevant.
Finally, as its been referenced, let us take some time to reflect upon the LOTRO player council. I make no bones about the fact that I thought it was a bad idea at them time and therefore wasn’t surprised by how it subsequently proved to be a bumpy ride both for those who participated and for Turbine yet again. The problem stemmed from false expectations regarding what the player council was able to do. The problem was then compounded by Turbine being vague and then later inconsistent about what they were after. Ultimately, they wanted free market research, where the community and some of those on the council thought they were providing representation and lobbying. And all of this happened during a time when the LOTRO culture wars were still raging. Overall although some members felt that they had contributed towards the MMOs development, I’m not aware of any significant influence or change that the council facilitated.
After eleven years LOTRO is still ticking over and retains a stoic and loyal fan base. There are still blogs and podcasts about the MMO and it maintains a hardcore group of Twitch streamers. The community is still welcoming and engaged but it runs in a noticeably lower gear. Although there are still disputes on the main forums there is nowhere near the level of zealotry within its community divides. LOTRO is far more sedate and civil these days. But in a curious way I miss all of the above that is now absent from the LOTRO-verse. Even the council which was a misplaced experiment belied an active and strongly motivated community. If LOTRO manages to sustain itself for another five years, I wonder what people will look back and reflect upon from this period in the games lifecycle?