The following thread appeared on the official LOTRO forum yesterday about an experimental new store item that is currently available in the update 9 beta build. The item in question is a cosmetic mount in the guise of a child’s Hobby Horse. The price has been provisionally set at 5000 Turbine Points (approximately $50). The post features a rather peremptory worded statement in which Turbine seeks feedback regarding the item.
Some of you may have noticed a new item in your store on Bullroarer: the Hobby Horse.
The store wizards would like your feedback (well-thought out, non-crazypants) on this item.
1. The price is not a joke. That is the proposed price for this item.
2. Would you be willing to purchase this item?
3. What sort of features might entice you to purchase an item at this price point?
4. Any rants about how evil Turbine is for making store items, even those that are entirely optional and up simply for the fun of those who are willing to pay for them, will be disregarded. This item is an experiment item. We simply want your feedback on the type of item presented and what might be added to it or done to it to make it a better item. We are not forcing you to buy it. No one is forcing you to buy it. It’s something to be there and be fun for those who may want it.
Constructive commenting and questions ONLY
We know store items cause heated discussion. We know some long time players find them problematic. Please try to be level-headed. We appreciate the passion you all have about LOTRO.
Raina. Beta Coordinator
Now I personally have no problem with the item in question. The Hobby Horse is a cosmetic item that is optional and will appeal to those who like to collect fluff items It also may be of interest to role players, especially in light of the fact that there is a open air theatre opposite The Prancing Pony in Bree, coming in Update 9. What I think is interesting about this situation is that it is perhaps a milestone in the lifespan of the game and more importantly customer relations between Turbine and the wider community. I also think it is a sends a very clear message about the future of the game. Whether players will heed that message is another thing altogether.
The price point that has been provisionally set at $50. This is more than the price of the Riders of Rohan expansion. So far the feedback on the thread has been that players will not pay this amount, so it is more than likely to be reduced. I have no doubt that the Hobby Horse will make it to the final release of Update 9 and why shouldn’t it? The problem seems to be that Turbine have now reached a point where they are prepared to offer any item and simply haggle until they find the least unpopular price. The very wording of their statement shows they are not in the least bit interested in debating the rights or wrongs of their actions. In fact I see it as a tacit admission that they are acting in a profligate manner.
Let us not forget that Turbine have cut staff recently and have also shed localiszation for DDO (LOTRO is bound to follow), while at the same time bring in some new senior “talent”. When you consider the background of those who have recently come aboard it is not difficult to surmise why they were employed. I get the impression that Riders of Rohan has not been the runaway success it was hoped to be, in so far as how many units were sold. Thus there is a requirement to get the games finances back on track and the primary means to do that is via the store.
Now there are no end of useful suggestions to be found on the LOTRO forums, with regard to what items players would be interested in paying for. Unfortunately many would require a great deal of development work. A simple buff, boost or novelty item is far easier for Turbine to knock out and market. They could also just sell armour, jewellery and weapons and simply embrace the “pay to win” label that they have always fought against. However it is a very fine line that they tread and if they make a mistake then a percentage of players will vote with their feet and further reduce revenue. Or will they? The player base has also shown that despite protest, many still buy the very items that have enraged the community. Remember the enhanced barter wallet? It is this duality that is Turbine’s ace in the hole.
If you step back from this particular issue and look at the bigger picture, you will see a five year old MMO struggling to maintain a very transient player base. Yes there is a hardcore LOTRO player base but that group alone cannot keep the game afloat financially. In fact in business terms, unless they regularly buy points and use the store, then life time account holders are really of little economic value. I would not be in the least bit surprised if the bean counters over at Warner Bros. have set very strict quarterly financial targets for all their gaming titles. If these are not met then the plug may simply get pulled, with no ifs or buts. You may wake up one morning to find a simple press release with a road map to closure. Therefore, my advice is to enjoy LOTRO while you still can.