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.
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?