LOTRO Legendarium: Is LOTRO getting greedy with its fall content update?

    
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LOTRO Legendarium: Is LOTRO getting greedy with its fall content update?

Boars. Beets. Battlestar Galactica. OK, let’s talk about one of those things, at least in a roundabout way, because there’s no escaping the fact that Standing Stone Games stirred up a hornet’s nest this past week. The announcement that Lord of the Rings Online’s fall content update is being rebranded as a “mini-expansion” cocked quite a few eyebrows, but the way the studio is going about pricing it is even stranger. We have to borrow eyebrows to handle the quizzical impact of such statements.

I want to preface our discussion by saying that, so far, I don’t think this is the biggest misstep or the worst decision I’ve ever seen from SSG. I’m not looking to make more drama where it’s not deserved. But I think we can all agree that it’s a very strange move that is being handled poorly in terms of timing, communication, and the studio’s now-standard vagaries.

Let’s start with a little context because it’s key to understanding why this is so strange and controversial. Lord of the Rings Online has had a wild year of extreme highs and lows. The highs include a well-received Great Wedding update and the decision by SSG to give away a whole lot of content, permanently, to players during the COVID crisis. LOTRO endeared itself to many players over the spring and early summer because of this.

But then we also got two rounds of horrible Server Troubles (I have to capitalize those) during late summer that were handled so, so poorly. Even ardent defenders of the studio started to grow weary of trying to defend a company that wasn’t saying much to defend itself or to comfort its playerbase.

What I’m saying is that it wasn’t the best time to slap down this abrupt news that the fall update now cost money and was going to offer very expensive plus-sized editions. To make things even worse, SSG decided that the best mode to broach the subject was its Friday livestream — a stream that most players don’t watch or get their news from. Having your community manager casually make such an important announcement over a stream without any significant post on the website itself created a communications gap. You can tell that this was handled badly by the fact that there needed to be multiple follow-up posts on the forums (and those didn’t even fill in all of the details!).

I know I’m beating a dead horse of a subject here to point out how badly SSG handles its comms, but… c’mon people. This is ridiculous. Streams and forums should be used as follow-ups to a single comprehensive article posted on the website for all to see, not the other way around.

OK, let’s move on to talk about the announcement itself. The War of the Three Peaks is now LOTRO’s first “mini-expansion,” which I consider a marketing term for “content update that we want to people to pay us for.” It’s not clear at all why SSG decided to position it this way without any prior indication that this would be the case, but I can speculate until or unless the studio actually wants to open up and talk about it.

My stance is that it’s all about money. SSG needs a rich influx of money this year, and its next expansion — Gundabad — won’t arrive until 2021. So it’s either this or a whole lot of hobby horse reskins coming to the store. Does this mean SSG is desperate? Did it see an opportunity to make money on content in a year when it hasn’t sold any other new content?

There’s another possibility: that Daybreak is very much calling the shots here. SSG is allergic to talking about how much its publisher and likely owner controls its games and business, but from all evidence that I’ve seen over the past few years, I’m guessing that it’s a lot. The pricing models are exactly the same sort of thing that Daybreak does for its EverQuest games, for example, and so SSG might be in a position where it has to do what its publisher says but is restrained from actually mentioning that any of this is coming from a higher up place.

Here’s the thing: At the end of the day, I don’t really see this as that big a deal. It looks like it’ll be a meaty content update with a new system (missions), and that’s probably worth $20, especially in a year when we’ve gotten so much for free. The more expensive editions, whatever they may contain (and I’m betting that boar mounts will only be found in these), are not worth my consideration unless they include a plane ticket to New Zealand for a Middle-earth tour, but you spend your money the way you like.

I can also tell you that my excitement level for this update is really low. The trailer was bland, and the “Dwarves vs. Orcs” theme isn’t quite a selling point, at least for me. SSG has its work cut out for it to make the case that players should be there on Day One.

The fact that SSG is denying players the ability to buy the update with LOTRO Points at the start is the most aggravating factor for me. This is a punitive measure designed to squeeze dollars out of subscribers and lifetime members, full stop. It’s definitely not needed for this situation, and I would not blame you if you decided to sit this out until SSG grudgingly allowed for its purchase with LP.

Is this move greedy? Yes and no. Its announcement could have been handled in a much better way that wouldn’t make SSG look this shady, but unfortunately, that’s now par for the course with this studio.

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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Koshelkin

They want to make some from the players they lured by giving away basically all the content for free. That’s ok in my book. It might be just the 100$ price tag on the most expensive version, and that’s for a “mini-expansion”. No one needs to buy that if he wants to enjoy the content but SSG might just have been better off if they made just a 40-50$ “deluxe” version and put the rest of the items in the shop.

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Fred Douglas

They’ve always been greedy, but this time its greed in the context of their servers barely working.

mosselyn
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mosselyn

I don’t mind a little corporate “greed”. They need to make money. However, I think the timing for this is awful. It doesn’t feel great on the heels the Server Troubles or (unpopular opinion) the wedding update. The wedding was well done, but that was pretty much the entire update. One and done in maybe 30 minutes.

I’ve been a subscriber for about 10 years, but I’m really considering quitting for the first time in 10 years. The game feels like it’s struggling so, so hard. I feel for the devs, I really do.

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Joss

I like your fair consideration of the studio agenda, Justin. I am undicided in this case. As LTA-Player I have nothing paid in 2020 and under the line a studio needs money for the crew. It is not much of content for 20 bucks, but 20 bucks are not much to pay in a year. If I would play LotRO these days then I would pay it with real money. The server issues are a big problem in general but for me not in view of mini updates are 20 bucks worthy or not. If it is greedy or not, I could decide this question only if I have numbers of the company business figures. Cause LotRO is one of these games which I wanna play in the following ten years.

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treehuggerhannah

I’m certainly side-eyeing it. For something described as a “mini” expansion, that seems really steep, especially in light of what other games typically charge… and especially when the game has had so much downtime and so many issues.

I would raise my eyebrows a bit if GW2 or ESO were charging that much for “mini” content, and those games are consistently functional.

I could be convinced about this, though. If it turns out to be a sizable amount of content, I could become okay with it.

On the surface, though? It sounds nuts to think they can reasonably charge that much for less than even a full expansion.

I wish they had released a content description as well as a price – then it might seem more sensible.

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Stormwaltz

I bought the ultimate editions of Mordor and Minas Morgul despite my highest level active character being in the 30s – I’m literally years away from being able to play that content. I’m a grandparented Lifetime Sub, and I like being able to give back to SSG for the decade+ of entertainment they’ve given me.

Keep that context in mind when I say they’re going to have to work hard to convince me to purchase anything beyond the most basic edition of Gundabad.

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Roger Edwards

I suspect that the recent server outages, along with a reticence among some players to subscribe to a game that is “flakey”, has left a gaping hole in SSG financial targets, set by their corporate masters (take a wild guess who they might be). So there is a chance that this decision to turn an update into a “mini expansion” may have been forced upon them by the bean counters. I will take a long, hard look at Update 28 when it hits the public test server and if it isn’t anything special then I’ll refrain from buying it until it is discounted or available for purchase with LOTRO points. There’s a chance that this decision may backfire on SSG quite badly.

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rk70534

I was thinking of subscribing before the server issues, but at one point having a week where I couldn’t stay connected longer than half an hour cooled me on that. The bar of using money on the game was quickly higher than it had seemed earlier.

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Aluminum Man

As long as this game has been around you’d think they would be better at this by now.

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teppic

There’s no information on what this new “system” is for the missions. It seems likely it’ll be just instanced dailies. Kill a few mobs and click a few items, repeat.

From what we’ve seen so far all the new stuff is reused assets, in many cases quite obviously just copied over from older zones.

You can argue it’s worth $20 (I don’t, look at entire indie games that come out for this amount), but not giving it to VIPs who have had no content for months, or people who’ve paid out for the fake in game currency to buy content is inexcusable.

As for the higher cost editions. Well, fans of the game without knowing anything about it and having only a couple of shots in the trailer showing reused assets to go on, were asking if they could pre order the $100 edition. It’s obvious why SSG does this, they have a lot of people more than willing to be milked.

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Ironwu

At this time, with their garbage can performance issues, ANY charge to the customers (including the monthly sub charge) is basically theft.

They need to fix their infrastructure before charging more for this stuff.

Just my 2c as a former subscriber.