For any MMORPG fan, the future often weighs heavily upon the mind. We get excited about what secrets might be in development. We wonder about how the game will grow. We worry about the long-term viability. In short (sorry, Hobbits), we have one foot planted in the present and one tentatively stepping out to tomorrow.Lord of the Rings Online right now seems more uncertain than ever. I don’t mean that in a foreboding way, either. We’ve completed the main story of the books, with only some epilogue and appendix material left to provide solid guidance before the developers go off the rails (eagle mounts, whee!). The game has competition on the way and has to remain profitable and attractive to both its core and expanded audience.
With a big content update on the way and talk of more things to come down the road, I thought it’d be a good time to squint and see what we might discern about the future of this MMO as it pushes deeper into its second decade of operation.
A future class
One of the most exciting and unexpected developments for LOTRO happened this past week with the word that Standing Stone Games is considering creating a new class for the game. Even if this is just the studio feeling out the audience excitement for such a prospect, it’s actually pretty major news when you consider how very few classes have been added post-launch (three in 11 years). LOTRO is obviously restricted by its IP but also guided by it, so players have started to speculate furiously over what this new class might be.
Spurred by Cordovan’s comments, there have been several possibilities that have been floated by the community. These include the Ranger (Dunedain), Shaman, Sorcerer, some kind of hand-to-hand fighter, Priest, Black Numenorean, Marshall, Rohirrim, and Tinkerer, among others.
I was surprised to see some quick pushback from some against the idea of adding a new class. The most commonly used reasons for such opposition were that the game’s current systems and classes needed to be brought up to par and that there was no obvious need or hole for a new class.
I can kind of see where these are coming from, but even so, LOTRO is almost an anomaly among long-running MMOs in how few new classes and races it’s put out over the years. I would say that it is far past time that we got something new and fun to play with in the game. In addition, this is the sort of feature that draws attention back to the game and adds much-needed hype and excitement for new, returning, and existing players. Current players have been there and done that with so much, so why not give them an excuse to start all over again with a fresh approach?
A future business model
While I am not direly concerned about LOTRO ending due to the upcoming second Lord of the Rings MMO, I do keep an eye out on the financial aspect of the game. MMOs live and die on population and profit, and if LOTRO isn’t making and sustaining enough, then it could find itself in trouble. This is especially true considering that SSG is a small indie studio that’s handling two aging MMOs and have to figure out how to pay the bills.
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again here: I think it’s high time that the studio reevaluates its business model and makes some marked improvements. What was once a lauded free-to-play model is now unnecessarily complicated and off-putting to new players trying to navigate the intricacies of the store and what content they can and can’t access. My first suggestion would be to make the entirety of the game’s content — zones, dungeons, expansions, quests — free to bring it up to par with contemporary MMOs. This whole parcel unlocking thing is too unwieldy and annoying considering how big the game is.
My second suggestion would be to reevaluate how lockboxes are being handled. This right here is where SSG sees its greatest profit stream — and it’s where greed and bad decisions are being played out. We need to stop with the selling of stat gear in lockboxes, period. I don’t care if you can earn the gear in game elsewhere, it diminishes the efforts of players who pursue that gear and creates a lot of unnecessary tension and resentment int he community.
If you have to have lockboxes, why not make them — as many other MMOs have — 100% convenience and cosmetic items? This community outright thrives on playing fashion and house decoration, so instead of chucking raid gear into lockboxes, what about awesome-looking outfits, special instruments, neat pets, and unique house decor that can then be bought, sold, and traded among the community?
A future direction
It’s actually a pretty exciting time to be a Lord of the Rings Online player. We have a lot coming down the pipeline, including the imminent Iron Hills mini-expansion, Bingo Boffin’s fall questline, and a return to Mordor with Minas Morgul. Past that, we’re definitely getting the much-requested Scouring of the Shire and then will start heading out into new directions (Harad, anyone?).
I am also heartened by the knowledge that the dev team is working to tweak and streamline current content, from the Hobbit visual upgrade to the legendary item overhaul. The continuation of the new epic storyline is a stabilizing factor that keeps us on a course through this world, and I am truly glad to see it continued. The storytelling is one of the highlights of this game and has provided for many hours of wonderful memories.
What do you think about the future direction of LOTRO? What interests you, what concerns you, and what is your wish list for the upcoming years? Let me know in the comments!