Probably the biggest question any Lord of the Rings Online player has to ask him or herself is whether to go subscription or free-to-play while making a way through Middle-earth. It’s not as simple as you might suspect, as LOTRO’s business model is a little on the convoluted side. Also, it really depends on your needs, finances, and current place in the game itself.
Assuming that you’re coming into the game fresh, there’s one reality you need to face: Unless you’re an extreme masochist with a whole lot of spare time on your hand, you’re going to be spending money on LOTRO. Playing completely free is hobbled by content gating that takes an incredible amount of grinding to earn, and even then, you’ll find yourself hitting limitations left and right.
So players have to figure out how they want to spend their money. While some choose to purchase unlocks and content a la carte as needed, others figure that a one-subscription-to-rule-them-all is a much simpler solution. Just pony up for that monthly sub and bam, you’ve got access to the whole game. Right?
Before we get into that, let’s quickly cover what a VIP membership gets you. First, it unlocks (while active) all non-expansion quest packs for zones, all non-expansion instances, and all non-expansion skirmishes. That’s a chunk of content, but it isn’t everything. Next, you get a 500 LOTRO Point stipend (which can be saved up to use on expansions, among other things), rest experience, lots of account unlocks, a free mount quest, no chat restrictions, a weekly gold Hobbit present, and a whole lot of other quality-of-life goodies. LOTRO Wiki has the full break-down if you want to dig into specifics.
The subscription doesn’t cover everything, unfortunately. As I said, all expansions are locked, even for VIPs, until they are purchased through the LOTRO Market or the LOTRO Store. Back at the start of 2021, Standing Stone Games offered a new expansion bundle for $60 that would get you every expansion through Mordor.
If you’re starting out or haven’t taken the leap to buy most of these packs, it’s a pretty good deal. One somewhat pricey purchase and you’ve got yourself a wide-open road to leveling and adventuring that won’t hit a price wall until you get to Minas Morgul much, much later. I think it’s a pretty good deal, although I think an even better one would be for LOTRO to copy the industry standard by making every expansion but the newest one free. But let’s be honest: That’s not happening.
Last fall’s War of the Three Peaks “mini-expansion” (yes, SSG, I’m going to be putting this forever in quotes until your marketing division drops this horrid term) threw a mighty wrench into the VIP membership package. For the first time in LOTRO’s history, a quest pack wasn’t given out to VIPs for free; these players had to buy it with cash or else wait months to purchase it with LOTRO Points.
It was, as we’ve talked about before, a very shameless cash grab that twisted the arms of VIPs. It tried to make a quick buck, but in the process, the move decreased the value of the subscription. Now you were getting less than you would have previously, and players who were paying a monthly fee found a new reason to reconsider whether that subscription was worth it.
SSG knows full well what it did and how this impacted the perception of VIP memberships, which is why you’re hearing a lot of talk from Rob Ciccolini about increasing the “value” of these subs in other ways. We’ve already seen one of those, which is the admittedly excellent ability to get access a vendor/wardrobe/bank/legendary forge from anywhere in the game world and also to take repair costs down to nil.
If SSG insists on persisting with the “mini-expansion” model (and I fear that it will, as Dungeons and Dragons Online is getting its own version this coming summer), then it really has to sweeten the VIP package in other ways to keep it an attractive prospect. At this point, I don’t know what else could be added that isn’t game-breaking in some way. Perhaps a larger LP stipend? Eagle mounts? A weekly parade through Bree where VIP members can sit on floats and be admired by the unwashed masses?
The problem as I see it is that a subscription shouldn’t be an “and” model for players. As in, I shouldn’t feel that I have to subscribe and buy expansions, or subscribe and buy quest packs. It should be one or the other – because both is what we call “double-dipping,” and that’s a value killer.
What are your thoughts on the value of VIP membership? Is it worth it to you?