LOTRO Legendarium: Six suggestions to improve LOTRO’s business model

    
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First of all, I want to give praise where it’s due: Lord of the Rings Online has done a great job in 2021 shedding its tight-lipped and cryptic nature in exchange of increased communications from its producers. It’s weird now “normal” it feels to have a producer gladly come and chat with us, even if not every question can be fully addressed at present.

It was in one of those recent discussions that Producer Oleg “Raninia” Brodskiy tackled a rather large sore spot in the LOTRO community (and if we’re to be honest, among the MMORPG scene at large), which is the game’s business model. Without going into specific solutions — as none has been decided upon as of yet — Brodskiy said that SSG isn’t really happy with the current model and has been engaging in talks to revise it.

Well, if I ever wanted a column topic to land right into my lap, there it was. Thus, today I’m going to get my two-cents’ worth in as I offer up six suggestions for improving and revamping the current business model for this MMO.

Suggestion #1: Bring back the 2020 special offers

LOTRO banked up a lot of goodwill (which it subsequently blew on server issues and non-communication) last year when it ran a surprising offer that gave away all non-expansion quest packs for free and charged only a minimal LP fee to pick up several of the earlier expansions.

While this was a great move, it felt like a patchwork solution to a long-simmering problem. It’s not something I would suggest for a permanent solution, but until SSG gets there, it would be a terrific idea to bring this promotion back and leave it running.

Suggestion #2: Give most all of the content away for free

The most commonly cited obstacle to getting into LOTRO is the sheer cost of buying all of the game’s content. Even a subscription doesn’t get you everything; you still have to buy the expansions and that one “mini-expansion” before you have access to all of the zones and quests. There are far too many purchases, for starters, and it’s absolutely ridiculous that a studio would expect players in 2021 to pay top dollar for expansions dating back to 2008.

SSG needs to see what most other MMOs do and follow suit. Most other MMOs will outright give away all but the latest expansion for free, removing that financial obstacle entirely and paving the way for new and returning players to get well and truly hooked before they’re even asked to pay for the very latest content.

Suggestion #3: Be careful with battle passes

I think a lot of LOTRO players felt a cold wind rush down their back when they heard that SSG is considering some sort of seasonal or battle pass system. Opinions on this are really strong, but I’m going to stop short of condemning this idea outright. It’s a good renewable source of revenue that has proven to be beneficial to both parties in other games. However, if SSG pursues this path, it would need to be incredibly careful not to overdo the rewards or make the length of time to unlock them so short as to be stressful.

Just be careful. Don’t do it all slap-dash.

Suggestion #4: Revisit free-to-play restrictions

LOTRO seemed awfully generous when it went F2P back a decade or so ago, but nowadays its restrictions are far tighter than what you’d see in other MMOs. Those restrictions only serve to annoy and passively pester players into subscribing, and that does nothing for retention or goodwill.

Not all of these restrictions need to be lifted or changed (such as chat channel access), but a lot of them do. Give free players all their bag space, for pete’s sake. Toss the Warden and Rune-keeper everyone’s way as standard. And as I said earlier, don’t toss up a content paywall until much later in the game experience.

Suggestion #5: Kill lockboxes already

The lockboxes in this game are so very awkward and reviled that I don’t understand why they even exist. They don’t seem to be that common or desired as to really drive up revenue, and I’ve seen exactly zero players demanding more of them. Yes, LOTRO needs to drive revenue, but lockboxes sully a game’s reputation and drive a studio into shady territory when it should be forthright and honest with players.

I don’t have it in me to analyze and brainstorm how lockboxes could be improved. They probably can’t. Just yank them, make a big deal about how your game’s taking a stance against this predatory gambling model, and reap great publicity.

Suggestion #6: Make players crave your subscription

There are a lot of good ways that SSG can widen revenue streams if it’s cutting off old content sales and lockboxes, but there’s almost nothing that beats having a dependable monthly subscription roll into one’s coffers.

SSG knows this, which is why it’s been talking about “increasing the value” of the subscription for a while now. The insta-access to the store and wardrobe is a great way that it’s beefed up the subscription, and it should be looking for additional ways to make subscriptions so beneficial that players are eager to sign up. The trick here is to do this in a way that doesn’t make non-subbers feel penalized and discriminated if they don’t.

Additionally, SSG needs to be beating the drum of its subscription value rather than hoping that people might check it out. Marketing and self-promotion are key here when you have a good thing that others might miss if you don’t point it out to them.

Those are the first six suggestions I have off of the top of my head. What business model improvements would you advise for this game?

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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Oleg Chebeneev

Good points. #2 in particular.

Stormsong Minstrel
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Stormsong Minstrel

1. All content free for VIPs. Forever. Yes, yes, including mini-expansion, maxi-quest packs etc.
2. Lootboxes gone. Hobbit presents gone.
3. VIp status: increase its value. Right now, it’s mostly about quick ride and mail wherveer you are (“Dear Sauron, plz wait untill I mail first age weapon to a friend…ok, dear, we mayu resume our battle”).
4. Offer vanity stuff for real cash. Exampe: you have typical houise but hey, for only 5$ (no LPs) you may buy one with better interior! And for 10$ you get some extra mini-building to your house! And maybe even for 2$ you may get some flag proudly waiving near your house (Free peoples only, you know – no Mordor propaganda). Explanation: since housing is vanity only, does not give any bonuses to combat./statuses – it could be sold.
5. Dear SSG, first you must sell good news. Like: new anti-bot mechanic that users no longe see reported/ignored bots; lag in Minas Tirith reduced to minimum, even at the cost of some fluffy stuff removed; lag in Pelennor fields removed; useless grind reduced drastically (like crabain slayer of westemnet etc); basic slayer deed awards Lotro points; we are given stories back to Lotro life – do remember Nona and Horn (and the fact we lost them somewhere never to hear of).
6. Go and sail Legendary items to the Valinor or to the Void. It’s more irritating than developers could think. Try to explain player: well, this is your wapon, you need few hundreds of scrolls (which is few months’ work) or spend those moneys on your weapon…not to mention you have two legendary items and one non-so legendary bridle.

Oh, and consider finding new, better developers who actually play the game and understand how simple free player feels.

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Thanos K.

I totally agree with the expansion problem. The cost is too high even if you get some of them on discount.
The amount of time you need to reach endgame is another problem for me, i am sure it takes many months to properly level in this game and mostly solo since you can’t get a group for dungeons or elite quests most of the times. I finally quit after entering mines of Moria, having gained only 52 levels.

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Ardra Diva

I’m sorta struggling to reconcile “give it all away for free” and then, “make them crave a subscription”. =/

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Bruno Brito

It’s more akin to: Don’t nickel-and-dime irrelevant content. Monetize the content you actually wanna sell, and make players want to play. Bad cashshops are proven to actively being a detriment for players wanting to play. People don’t like being forced into anything.

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Vlad Matejka

Naw it makes total sense. Lots of ways to apply it, but think of it this way…give people a free and enjoyable experience. Then offer them stuff that would legitimately enhance the game for them, but you have to pay for it, whether it’s the newest content, QOL perks, or cosmetics.

This works very well for some games, like Warframe for example. Long time LOTRO player, first of all, but I’ve really enjoyed throwing money at Warframe. If you didn’t know, their F2P model makes LOTRO look like a scam. You can do a heck of a lot (practically everything) without giving them money.

LOTRO had a f2p model that back in the day was decent for it’s time. And then rather than catching up they tightened the leash on f2p and subbing has just never had the same feel of worth to it since f2p happened.

I’m not saying they need to do the Warframe model, but they need to make players want to give up money. Everyone in their right mind should want their customers eagerly giving up money to them. It’s a sign lots of players are happy.

Call me daft, but the model works. Warframe is just one success story.

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PanagiotisLial1

Everything on LOTRO starts with delivering what you buy from them. Almost 2 years ago bought Helms Deep and it took them repeated communication back and forth and 29 days to activate it. This year I suggested to my gf to try out along LOTRO – we got a one month sub(which was bought through steam so np with it) and the expansion Trove for her from their website store. We never got the expansion trove activated in her account – despite communicating back and forth and getting (unsure) answers like “should be ok now”. Eventually they stopped responding to tickecks. After 32-33days opened a paypal dispute waiting 4-5 days for them to answer before escalating it.(they didnt bother to answer). After escalating it paypal gives 10 days to merchants for them to respond and explain situation to paypal – they didnt even bother to respond to paypal itself and so at last got at least money back after like close to 50 days after the initial purchase. When they have repeated problems like it how to go play their games? A simple google search can reveal lots people had similar problems, especially if coming from EU.

No matter how good their games will be or even if they make business model more attractive, if they dont fix the buying and activating process or if they cant, handle it to steam like they done with subs, most who have been “burnt” wont retry their game

In contrast for all the bashing Bioware and EA often get, I once did an accidental double buy of Shroud chapter and message them and they refunded the buy in no time and despite it was my fault

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SmiteDoctor

The pay wall to get back into LotRO is a major reason why I have not bothered, I’m only have up to RoR unlocked and the thought having to buy each of these expansions separately is ridiculous.

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

I think everything up to and including at least Moria should be totally free at this point.

IDK. I’m bad to ask about this game. I popped back in about a month ago and it’s not an easy game to look at anymore.

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Michael18

Make players crave your subscription

They have to be careful here, because they always said buying all the zones is a viable alternative to subbing.

I get that they have to keep the sub attractive and that the path of zone purchases will never be 100% on par with subbing, but the gap must not become too large or people like me will feel betrayed.

BTW: the motivation for taking the route of zone purchases and unlocks, for me, was not to save money (I think there would not have been a huge difference in cost). It’s just that I no longer like to have a clock ticking whenever I play or having to feel bad when stepping away from the game for 3 weeks due to real life reasons.

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HunterRayder93

Points 1 and 2 according to me share the same basic problem, making free all the new content except the latest expansion for SSG may not be a good business maneuver… but it must be said that this would attract more players and the game would be more accessible for everyone…as “Bruno Brito” said in the comments, starting to play LOTRO for a new player is not a small investment and this implies the investment of a lot of money to get to the latest content, for example I have not yet bought MinasMorgul Wo3P, Willowood and the latest Blod of Azong quest pack, roughly 80 euros (counting only the base price of the expansion + the mini expansion and the 2 missing questpacks, I don’t count the area before Wo3P because that one I got it free with the promotion of the year last) about or less, which is a huge amount to be able to return to play, honestly for me and this is already only an obstacle to return to play LOTRO.The same thing for me, however, should also be done for DDO, DDO and I think the same basic problem… a new player is almost forced to leave the game because he has to buy all the quest packs to play, but let’s say that… as many have pointed out to me in the time when I was playing DDO that it is not necessary to buy all the packs, just buy the most fashionable ones and that more or less everyone plays … even if I must admit that… the DDO discourse and a bit complex and I think it should be discussed in another article in my opinion.

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Bruno Brito

I think LoTRO’s cashshop ( and DCUO/DDO cashshop for that matter ) were mostly detriments to get in the game. I don’t think LoTRO is THAT bad, if you like heavy grinding, but it IS bad.

What they need is to stop making “mini-xpacs” and to actually update the game to be better in 2021, and also keep putting decent-sized paid content. Keep good xpacs coming and the money will come with it. But nickel-and-dime everything just because you’re scared to risk better moves is pretty bad business acumen.

EG7 shows signs of wanting to improve the games, so we shall see.

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starbuck1771

The grind is a double edged sword. It is meant to be a time sink to keep people playing but at the same time frustrates players.

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Bruno Brito

Yep. There’s no ammount of immersion that will make me grind 120 spiders in the Lone-lands.

Fuck that.

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starbuck1771

I do it but just to get the LP and titles. I have been playing the game off and on for almost 16 years when I was in the Alpha for Shadows of Angmar.

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Bruno Brito

Dude, it’s the lonelands. I can’t. I was playing a Minstrel, it was masochism.

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starbuck1771

The secret it to save your acceleration scrolls until you need them. It would turn 120 into 60 for 90 minutes. If you use the 90 minutes scroll it turns every kill into two for your slayer deeds.

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Bruno Brito

I did that. I had not enough acc scrolls for the zone. It’s a issue with the class itself being godawful at grinding.

When people say “LoTRO is really easy”, i think they only play Hunters or Champions. Minstrels have issues aggroing more than 2 mobs already, and their TTK is dogpoop.

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starbuck1771

I have no problem playing Minstrel but as I said I have been with the game longer then really anyone else. Minstrel is basically a advanced support class that works better in groups. That’s why I always recommend people read the class information before selecting it. It tells you the difficulty of playing each class.

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Bruno Brito

I’m aware of what a Minstrel is. At the same time, i’m also aware that people who ask for blanket difficulty increases don’t understand that Classes, as you said, are affected differently.

The Minstrel leveling spec levels terribly. It’s as simple as that. And i’m not saying it’s hard. I’m saying it’s monotonous, it deals bad damage and it doesn’t two shot anything like Hunters do.

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teppic

I can’t imagine they make much from selling old content because the game has very few new players, it’s mostly long-term players who stick around now buying new stuff, new expansions and paying VIP (and for other microtransactions). Of course a big reason the game has so few new players is because the monetisation model is so bad for anyone new.

They could make all the content free (e.g. like Neverwinter and many other free to play games), or they could make the latest expansion include all prior content (e.g. SWTOR), but basically anything would be better than what they have now.