LOTRO Legendarium: Lord of the Rings Online must extract itself from its currency quagmire


Lord of the Rings Online began 2022 on a most curious note: an abrupt and not-very-well-explained announcement of significant changes to the game’s biggest currencies. In the day or so that this announcement rippled across the community, there was dismay and anger over what was seen as a push to buy more lockboxes and restrict player choice.

After briefly defending the initiative, SSG shelved the changes (for now), giving a rattled community a bit of a win. Aside from being another example of the studio’s trend of miscommunication, this incident highlighted how LOTRO’s currency system is a shaky Jenga tower of ideas, concepts, and weird executions. Frankly, the game has a currency quagmire, and perhaps this is the year to properly address it.

Problem #1: There are too many currencies

Any veteran LOTRO player knows that his or her wallet harbors a list of currencies longer than the receipt that I get for buying a single item of mouthwash at CVS. It’s almost comically long, with multiple sections and individual line items for every zone, festival, and even taxidermy-ready critters that we’ve hoovered up over the years.

I find it particularly egregious that every zone gets slapped with its own barter currency that is hard to use because there’s also a reputation gate for the vendors. So when you first meet the vendor, you can’t buy anything, and by the time you’re done with the zone, you kind of don’t care (or don’t remember) and just move on. So piles and piles of tokens accrue without being useful.

Solution: Nix reputation gating for zone vendors. Seriously. There’s really no harm letting people buy what they want right out of the gate, provided that they have the tokens. And maybe consolidate tokens down into regional tiers (one for all of Rohan, one for all of Gondor, etc.) while letting us convert them as we can already do with festival currencies.

Problem #2: Gold is near-worthless

At the very start of a player’s journey in LOTRO, gold does have its uses. A person can buy a house, snap up some initially helpful items from vendors, and unlock a handful of UI options (such as more bank space). But it isn’t long before you realize that gold can’t buy that much of anything you really need. The UI stops letting you buy unlocks with gold (preferring premium currency purchases instead), and aside from maintenance fees for your house and trading between players in the auction house, gold becomes quite worthless.

That really chafes, not just in LOTRO but every MMO. Gold should be the currency standard, not some side currency that gets supplanted by a series of newer currencies.

Solution: Create some useful money sinks in the game using only gold. Let us buy mithril coins with gold, perhaps, more types of houses, or older raid gear that’s out of date but might have cosmetic appeal.

Problem #3: Embers, motes, and figments are badly implemented

While the announcement and structure of SSG’s currency changes were badly done and quite suspect, I’ll agree that some sort of revamp does need to be done to the game’s trio of important gear currencies — figments, motes, and embers. As it stands, these don’t function as well or clearly as they should.

In fact, I suspect that there are plenty of LOTRO players who don’t know about these currencies or understand how they’re acquired and used. When SSG made that announcement back in January, I had a friend shamefully admit that they didn’t even know that embers were a thing. I said that wasn’t anything to be embarrassed about because LOTRO does an absolutely terrible job explaining anything about this. And even when you do do your research, you find out that it’s still confusing how you get these and where and what you use them.

Solution: If SSG is going to make these the most important currencies of the game, then there needs to be a vastly better system of in-game documentation that includes a guide to where you can go to get each and where you can spend them. There also should be a variety of paths to gain embers to give higher-level players a choice how they want to pursue endgame gear. Let us play the game the way we want to play it, and structure rewards accordingly instead of hemming players into a more limited path of progression.

Listen, I’m no economist, but even I can see that LOTRO’s bartering and currency systems are in dire need of reorganization and rethinking. SSG has an opportunity to greatly improve the game in this area, but it needs to include the community in the discussion and come up with solutions that are fair, well-explained, and useful.

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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