Normally, I would be opening this column with my enthusiastic explorations of the brand-new content update for Lord of the Rings Online. After all, we only get a few of these every year, and so any such patch day is a big deal. Normally, I’d be sharing my first impressions and analyzing where the game is going from here.a fair bit of LOTRO’s community, if the forums and Reddit are any indication. What should be a day to celebrate new quests and a new zone and a brand-new system has turned into a day to ask myself, “Do I even want to capitulate to an inattentive studio and pay money for this?”
The answer, at least for me, is “no.” And I’m a guy who gladly covers this game as part of his job.
Folks, I am seriously concerned about Standing Stone Games right now. From where I’m standing, the studio has grown so dysfunctional that it is trying to strong-arm subscribers into paying money for content that they should be given, declining to communicate when it is needed the most, and engaging in questionable marketing practices that point to a cash grab at all costs.
Let’s dispense with the BS here: Only SSG thinks that Update 28 is a “mini-expansion.” It’s not an expansion in any way, shape, or form, and it is disingenuous to the extreme to promote it as such. It is no different in content than a standard patch. In fact, the only reason to suddenly announce — after failing to say anything about this in the producer’s letter earlier this year — that the fall update would be a “mini-expansion” was to circumvent VIP members’ benefits. VIP accounts get all non-expansion content in the game as part of their package, but hey! Loophole! Just call this a “mini-expansion” and deny anyone the ability to buy it with LOTRO Points, and now you are forcing everyone to pay!
It’s clearly obvious that money is driving all of the decisions here. Sure, businesses like SSG and its presumed parent company Daybreak need to make a profit, but usually that is tempered by a desire to maintain good relations with the community, uphold one’s reputation, and stay true to past practices and promises. That’s the best way to keep the community eager to pour their money into a game.
This time around, we got a studio that didn’t show any signs of wanting to talk about this “mini-expansion” prior to its launch, but it had no qualms in expending a lot of effort to whip up a very professional-looking sales page for it. Players are no fools; they know when studios start looking at them more as wallets than as customers, and we’re definitely feeling that in this era of “here’s a $100 special edition of a glorified content update that you could buy.”
What’s weird is that you’d think that if a studio wanted to make as many sales as possible, it would be drumming up excitement about this patch in advance… but it didn’t. It was downright bizarre, but sadly, not out of character for modern SSG. The studio didn’t talk about the new raids, or the mission system, or even the details about what would be in the special editions that it wanted you to buy. Either silence or terse, non-helpful answers awaited players asking about these.
I found it actually sad a day or so after the update arrived when MadeOfLions — one of the very few SSG employees who engages players with depth and candor on the forums — came out to talk up the mission system, and players were falling over themselves with joy that someone, anyone would talk to them. Nevermind that all of that should’ve been in a highly visible developer diary prior to the launch; we’re just happy that someone finally was talking with us.
And let’s not overlook that this rollout was buggy and flawed, with some issues so severe that people couldn’t access the game at all.
Seriously, I don’t even know with this company any more. If LOTRO were a horrible game pumping out sub-par content updates, then I’d have no trouble walking away. But it’s not — if anything, the stories and lands that this small team has created over the past few years have been among some of the game’s best. But when marketing and communications seem determined to negate that quality advantage, it creates disgruntled players who have to make regular gut checks about whether this game is worth the sting from being treated so poorly by its operators.
Maybe this isn’t that big a deal. Maybe it’s a tempest in a teacup, as they say. But I’m just so dang tired of all of this. It’s far from the first time.
In any case, I’ll be glad to talk about Update 28 — if and when I can buy it with LOTRO Points. For now, however, it’s pretty clear that the game wants my money more than my presence, and that means it’s going to get neither.