Back in December 2008, I bought a “compilation pack” that contained both the The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadow of Angmar base game, along with the newly released Mines of Moria expansion. I paid £20 for the lot. After the obligatory free months access, I then became a regular subscriber right up until about summer 2012. Since then I’ve subscribed and played whenever new content is released, meaning that for about six months of the year, I’m paying for the “luxury” of playing LOTRO. I’ve also purchased all the expansions over the years. Because I enjoy the game, I am not averse to buying additional LOTRO points when my monthly stipend doesn’t cover the cost of the items I want. I never availed myself of the opportunity to become a lifetime account holder, which is something I regret. It certainly would have been very good value for money, considering that LOTRO is over a decade old.
Although F2P games offer the benefit of reaching a wider market, I do believe that the business model is troublesome and causes more problems than it solves. Lootboxes similarly can break a game, as content is retrofitted to accommodate monetisation, rather than serve the exclusive needs of the customer. The monetisation per se of the gaming industry remains a perennial debate and one that is not going to be solved anytime soon to every one’s satisfaction. It is certainly a matter that is causing Standing Stone Games to tie themselves in knot at present. Lootboxes have been present in LOTRO for a while but they were never integral to progression through the game until the release of the Mordor expansion. Let it suffice to say that there has been a great deal of player push back against this decision and that SSG have been trying to address this matter in Update 23, which is due for release soon. However, the current proposals are complex and are very much a work in progress. They also seem to be causing a great deal of consternation among players.
I won’t attempt to summarise the latest “plan” at present as it’s being continuously “revised”. If you’re feeling stoic, then read the current thread on the official forums and you’ll see how difficult this matter is to sort out. However, I think the overall problem comes down to a fundamental difference in outlook over the financing of LOTRO, between the players, the publishers and lastly the developers SSG. LOTRO has a mature playerbase. A hardcore of thirty to fifty plus year olds, who all cut their teeth in an era where game monetisation was clear. You bought a game and paid for any additional expansions. In the MMO world, you bought the base game and subscribed. It was a simple “quid pro quo”. You paid money and got content. However, microtransactions, in-game currencies, season passes, paid DLC, lootboxes and “live services” have evolved over the last decade or so and have migrated from the mobile games market, over to console and PC gaming. Younger players who have grown up with mobile games has become “acclimatised” to such business practices. LOTRO players by and large don’t care for them.
And therein lies the rub for SSG or more to the point, their financial backers Daybreak Game Company. I suspect that there are financial targets set for LOTRO each quarter and that these are proving “challenging”. Because of the dedicated nature of many core LOTRO players it would appear that there are significant whales in the community. Yet it is the nature of the current games industry to seek whatever revenue that can possibly be generated and that the fate of a game will often come down to whether or not it yields the financial projections. Hence it become extremely difficult for SSG to find the right balance. Simply removing loot boxes and the LOTRO store from the game is not going to happen. The game is just too heavily dependent upon that business model. Some players have suggested cutting out the “middle man” of loot boxes and keys and just have a store where you buy everything that is offered. Sadly, whatever course of action is taken, it is bound to please one group and offend another. However, gating content or progression in LOTRO behind some kind of pay mechanic could well prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. But I’m sure SSG knows this, so it will be interesting to see what compromise they arrive at by the time Update 23 launches.