LOTRO Legendarium: Future classes, business models, and direction

    
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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.

The future of 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!

Every two weeks, the LOTRO Legendarium goes on an adventure (horrid things, those) through the wondrous, terrifying, inspiring, and, well, legendary online world of Middle-earth. Justin has been playing LOTRO since its launch in 2007! If you have a topic for the column, send it to him at justin@massivelyop.com.

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Humble DG

LoTRO does not need a new class. It’s need a serious combat upgrade. The game is slow in comparison to today’s games. By upgrading the combat system, they would increase the speed at which players engage, which would be a nice additional. Then, a serious consideration on the number of skills and way to reduce obsolete or skills that are hardly ever used.

As a lifetime sub, I’ve played off and on again through the years, but the combat speed is what kills me now. I’m not looking for arcade mode, but it’s just too slow right now.

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Bango on Laurelin

The class they added 3 years ago is still in “live beta” so perhaps they should fix that before giving us another poorly thought through half-finished embarrassment.

As for the business model – when are they going to stop nickel and diming subscribers and give each subbed account access to all pre-Mordor content whilst the sub is active? The sub needs to be more generous in value, even if that means lifetime accounts don’t enjoy that added benefit.

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johnd212

I couldn’t disagree more with you about their business model. While I agree it can be off putting to some what it does do is push off the noise that often comes from a true FTP model. I can’t stand logging into FTP games that are full of 12 year old sounding people just running around griefing everyone. As a lifetime member I wish I had the option of subscribing to help support my game. I can tell you there are a lot of long time players that would gladly do a golden sub each month of $10 or $20 just to give more funds to a game we love. I asked them about that and was told just to keep buying things from the shop. The issue is I don’t need things from the shop and just want them to “take my money” to support such a wonderful rich game.

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Bango on Laurelin

Nothing stopping you creating a 2nd or 3rd accounts and subbing them. Or buying points and never spending them. That you don’t tells me that you’re probably not that serious.

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Castagere Shaikura

If the business model was like GW2’s i would be playing LOTRO. Every time i go into an area where i can’t quest unless i buy that area’s quest pack pisses me off and i uninstall the game. And i own all the expansion pack except the last one. Its not enough that i bought the expansions from these greedy asses.

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Louie

Completely agree. At this point the base game should be entirely free at the very least. Instead with the system they have set up you have to subscribe, then purchase expansions, and then subscribe again, and then purchase expansions, it’s pretty ridiculous.

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Thomas

I wish this game would:

  • undergo a graphic overhaul/update (especially the character models)
  • change its business model to one more closely resembling that for DDO (in contrast to the OP, I am a big believer in purchase/unlock content as you go, so long as unlocks are account-wide)
  • move in a more solo-friendly, GW1-ish story direction (for the core story)
  • Since none of these things is likely to happen with the existing game, I am not concerned about the story material here “running out,” since I think LotRO has probably run its course anyway. I am fine with new stories and games set within this IP, but I really think LotRO has just “aged out” and that any new Rings-based games need to be built from the ground up using a new and fresher game paradigm.

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    outbound_flight

    When I first started playing, there were a number of things that I was really hoping Turbine would do to ensure the longevity of the game. Server mergers were one (and ended up doing wonders for the community), refining their F2P model was another. Now that SSG is in charge, I thought they would’ve seen the benefit of a less confusing model by now, but I haven’t seen any moves on their part to indicate that they will.

    I greatly disagree that they need to make everything free. I don’t see a real advantage there. I would love to see some commonsense changes like: expanding the F2P model to include all pre-Moria content; allowing access to expansion content with a subscription rather than a purchase; condensing all of their content (quest packs and expansions) into 2 or 3 direct purchases for folks who like the B2P option (Eregion, Rhovanion, Gondor), and then rolling newer content into bundles after some time.

    I’m generally optimistic that the idea of a new LOTR MMO will encourage folks to check out LOTRO. I love the game, it’s one of my favorites, but SSG like Turbine before them have never operated like they actively want to draw in new players. Having one of the most confusing/cluttered F2P models on the market for several years now without really discussing changes has been really mind-boggling.

    Shoot, I’m surprised they haven’t even attempted to do some kind of unified subscription for both LOTRO and DDO.

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    2Ton Gamer

    To me they have already squandered their opportunity to cash in on a better business model. When they broke away from Turbine and announced Mordor was coming, that was when they should have reevaluated the business model because they got so much free publicity from it. They were finally heading to Mordor! What bigger news can they put out there now? “We’re going to places vaguely mentioned in appendices!” – does not have the same ring to it. The game is too expensive and not newcomer friendly, that we can agree on.

    As for a new class. No, just no. I love new classes brought into games. The Beorning was released in a bad state and still as of this post has not been fixed yet. If they had a decent sized staff that could handle class balance in a yearly fashion I would be all for a new class. As it is now, they can only manage to change 3-4 every 3-6 months. That’s not good enough when you are releasing new level caps each year. Sorry, don’t mean to be THAT guy, but it’s not fair to people who have been waiting for their classes to be useful, to invite more calamity.

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    Adam Russell

    They really should have known that you dont just walk into Mordor!

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    Matthew Yetter

    I’m right there with you on the lockbox issue. They’re everywhere and they’re annoying. And with more and more countries ruling that they’re a form of gambling, I think that SSG is going to have no choice but to reevaluate them in a big way or risk being locked out of an increasing number of markets.

    To me, though — and this is something I’ve said for years — the bigger problem is the ways in which LotRO’s systems deliberately create inconvenience so that they can turn around and sell you convenience. It’s a flawed business model because it then requires that new players stare at the game through grime covered windows and like enough of what they can glimpse through them to want to pay to clean things up.

    In a way, I’m reminded of the scene in Ready Player One where Sorrento proudly informs the board that they’ve determined that they can fill the player’s view with something like 93% advertisements before inducing seizures. It almost feels like SSG is being run by Sorrento.

    It’s also totally unnecessary. GW2 proves that a game can thrive on a free business model that pretty much only charges for cosmetics and major expansions. I can never manage to play GW2 for very long just because I don’t find the game itself that great. But if LotRO had their business model I would probably practically live in Middle Earth, rather than just coming back for nostalgic visits.

    And that’s coming from a lifetime subscriber.

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    Maggie May

    Did someone say Hobbit visual upgrade ? …. Yay!!!! I just came back after a break of three years. Looking forward to lvling my new Hobbit hunter and taking my main Hobbit burg through the Bingo quests. This game is like comfort food for me, I am totally enjoying the music in the Shire, the silly Hobbits and even the dead easy quests (at this point). And, because my old puter groans and stutters in a modern game, the graphics actually look pretty good. Better than trying to play a game where everything is turned down to low rez. I also realized I wanted to see more of the world, I don’t trust that this will last forever. Seen too many games closing to trust the press releases.

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    Paragon Lost

    While a new class sounds interesting. My personal desire would be for a revamp of the Legendary Item system mechanics first. How they’re improved, where and what you can do to improve them etc. It’s a total pain in the backside system, more so if you like to experience more than one class to the cap.