If you haven’t been tracking this, you should be aware that Lord of the Rings Online has been running the new “Tournament of the Twins” server through the paces on the test server over the past week or so, which means that it may be coming to us very quick.
In today’s column, I’m going to try to look at both sides of this question, and I encourage you to share your own opinions in the comments below!
Looking at the sunny side
It’s clear that Standing Stone Games feels more emboldened to experiment with its games and their formats as of late. Part of that may just be marketing efforts to keep its MMOs in the spotlight and draw in new players, although I have a strong suspicion that Daybreak is influencing the studio here — especially if you look at how experiment-happy that studio is with its EverQuest games.
Experiments and gimmicks aren’t always bad things; in fact, I am in favor of them if they’re done with minimal interruption to the regular live game. MMORPGs are supposed to grow and evolve, and I’ve always been a huge proponent of varied rulesets. Looking at the past couple years, SSG has experienced varying degrees of success and popularity with LOTRO’s legendary servers and DDO’s hardcore challenge leagues. New and different things are embraced by players who are a little tired of the same-old, same-old, and these specialized experiences can serve to get new and veteran players invested.
Lord of the Rings Online has also had a very strange relationship with PvP, as in, the game pretty much doesn’t have it in the way that most MMOs do. There haven’t been PvP servers, and outside of two special zones, no player vs. player conflict really happens. It’s clear that PvMP (monster play) is an extremely niche activity in the game itself, so maybe it is high time to see if a more conventional PvP format might fit the game.
Finally, I want to say in support of this that it’s a smart move to make this server both time- and level-limited. It wouldn’t work if the entire game was thrown wide open and people who power-leveled to 130 would run amok across low-level zones. Putting an end date on the server allows SSG to evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and what might be worth doing if this type of server is resumed in the future.
Looking at the gloomy side
I guess I’ll start by saying this: Just about no one was asking for this type of server. LOTRO is not a PvP game at its heart, and I’m just not sure that enough demand is there to create a populated server that can keep the thrills of PvP and competition alive after the day one crowd disperses. And those who should care, the PvMP crowd, are seething because they see this as yet another sign that their beloved portion of the game has been neglected in favor of something else entirely.
I’m also somewhat concerned at how all of this will be balanced between classes that were never designed or adjusted to fight against each other. I don’t even think SSG is quite sure, as evidenced by several comments on the forums that sound like developers thinking through these issues out loud and not coming to concrete conclusions. SSG clearly has no idea how all of this is going to go over, which is why it’s keeping the “time limited” element as a safety measure. If it goes bad or has a paltry population, the plug can always be pulled in a hurry. And it might come to that.
One consistent argument that the community keeps bringing up whenever new servers are mentioned is that, if anything, LOTRO needs to consolidate servers, not add new ones. The fear among some is that by adding these gimmicky shards, population will be drawn away from the regular live servers and negatively impact everyone there. We like our worlds hopping and active.
We’re also going to hear from the Lore Police, wee-ohh wee-ohh, and I am not going to fight them on this. The Free Peoples of Middle-earth forgoing their Quest to fight the Enemy just to smack each other around for Elrond’s kids? I have a hard time thinking that Tolkien would give his stamp of approval on this.
My final concern is that SSG seems to be rushing this experiment without the level of communication that we should be seeing. The producer’s letter, patch notes, and forum discussions have helped a bit to see the outline of this server, but a lot of specifics — including rewards and if characters created on that server can be transferred to regular servers once the time is up — are still a mystery.
In any case, this will be interesting to see, although I will not be on the ground in that server to witness it first-hand. I have zero desire to fight for the glory of Elves, for one thing, nor to find that my view of other players as welcome and helpful has been flipped upside-down.
LOTRO for free? Not quite… but close!
You know what is an objectively good idea, though? The much-needed shift in LOTRO’s business model that SSG announced this past week. In summary: The “everything is unlocked” promotion is continuing through August 31st (so level up while you can!), SSG is giving everyone with an account a code to unlock ALL non-expansion zone quest packs, and all pre-Mordor expansions will subsequently be discounted to a paltry 99 LP apiece. Plus, the subscription package is getting better with a portable vendor that can provide a lot of town services plus some nice buffs.
This absolutely made my week to hear, and I’m a lifetime subber who doesn’t have to worry about unlocking zones or expansions right now. I’m happy because it’s a good thing for the game entire. This promotion was a great idea to open LOTRO up to everyone without the financial barriers that were previously present, and now it looks like a lot of this will keep going. Now if you’re coming to the game fresh this summer, you’ll only need to spend five bucks to buy the majority of expansions, and you’ve got most of the game unlocked already. That’s awesome.
It was high time that SSG stopped trying to sell these older expansions for as much as it had been, and I think the studio is seeing that the more it gives away in one column, the more it gains through new and continued subscriptions in another. Pushing subs through added benefit (including the sub-only servers) is a smarter way than nickle-and-diming players or content gating them.