LOTRO Legendarium: Why people bounce off Lord of the Rings Online

Sad elk in snow.

Any time that you are deeply invested in an MMORPG, it’s perhaps one of the most disheartening and frustrating experiences to watch your friends or loved ones give it a try as well — only to find that it’s really not to their taste. At that point, you can either try to double-down as a recruiter and help them through whatever barrier is keeping them from clicking with the game, or you can just let it go and cry silently at your keyboard.

Bouncing off MMOs when a person first tries them is a very real thing in this space, and it’s certainly not limited to one title. There’s always that delicate period of onboarding where new players might decide that this isn’t up their alley, worth their time learning the ropes, or similar enough to what they’ve played before.

I’ve seen this happen often enough with both friends and colleagues as they give Lord of the Rings Online a go, only to pull the eject lever early on and never look back. So what makes people bounce off this game, and how could SSG possibly address those sticking points?

Problem #1: The change of pace

LOTRO is often billed as a “WoW clone,” which is fair in some respects, but that comes with expectations that this MMO functions just the same as Blizzard’s MMO. The thing is, it really doesn’t. If MMOARPGs are flat-out sprinting through content, action MMOs jogging, and even World of Warcraft power-walking, LOTRO is at the back strolling.

The whole pace of this game is different. No, combat doesn’t take forever to resolve, nor is overland travel measured in hours, but LOTRO certainly does slow down to smell the roses, take in the lore, and ask the player to really get to know this world. If you’re looking for relaxing and enriching journeys, this is it, but if you’re expecting high-octane action and progress, it’s bound to disappoint.

Short of completely overhauling the game’s design, which I would not advocate, I don’t know what the studio could do to help new players over this hurdle. It’s one of those “feel” things that you either get or you don’t, and sometimes to get it, you simply need to give it some time.

Problem #2: The business model

Actually, this may be “problem number one” for most people, at least according to regular comments left here at MassivelyOP. Some people are very put off and confused at the initial cost investment for LOTRO, as even a subscription doesn’t get you the expansions. Playing free is even worse, due to all of the restrictions and super-grind for LOTRO Points that is the only viable path forward unless you want to pay.

Fortunately, this is definitely an area that SSG can address — and it’s working on it. The last couple of years have seen massive content giveaways and deeply discounted expansions, but I’d urge SSG to go further. Free players shouldn’t be as deeply penalized in standard features (and in fact, they have seen some lightening up of restrictions recently in regards to class, race, and virtue unlocks), and subscriptions should cover all but the most recent expansion, period.

Problem #3: Not being Tolkien fans

When it comes to MMOs based on long-established IPs, you have either players who are fans of that IP or players who are logging in despite not being a fan. The fans of Tolkien’s Middle-earth are well-catered to here, but if Hobbits and Elves and magic rings to rule them all aren’t a part of your geek collective, then a huge draw of the game is simply absent for you.

A lot of us play video games set in IPs that we couldn’t care less about, but in my mind, that offers an opportunity for the game itself to make converts to that franchise. I’ve seen LOTRO win a whole lot of people over to the world of Middle-earth, simply by creating a living, breathing virtual environment that feels “real” in a way.

But if you’re not a fan, then the game’s going to have to work in other areas to keep you engaged. Ease of use, production values, an initially engaging story, and more front-loaded fun are essential. If the studio wants to grow the game population, especially in light of the upcoming Amazon TV series, then it might want to consider taking time to doing a content pass over the very early game. Where can the tutorial and initial zones be streamlined and improved?

Problem #4: Too much stuff, too much grind

I know that any time I log into a long-established MMORPG, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed with the multitude of systems and a lack of knowledge as to what content and features are essential and what are basically noise that you can ignore. Devs keep adding and adding without looking back to what they can then streamline, simplify, or clarify.

LOTRO needs some of this, to be sure. There is far too much grind, particularly with its virtue system. I’d advocate that slayer deeds need another halving and virtues should go account-wide. The game throws gobs and gobs of largely non-usable loot into your bags (particularly if you’re not a crafter) that could be reduced. Orphaned systems should be examined as to whether they should be made optional (as with epic battles) or brought up to date.

Like many long-running MMOs, LOTRO is overloaded with stuff that doesn’t all need to be there. Maybe it’s time to get out the pruning shears.

While some bounce, others stick

I certainly don’t mean to imply with this column that every new player bounces off of LOTRO — just that some do, and it’d be a good idea for the studio to identify why and work to address that.

But there are many players who are still, to their joy, discovering how rich, full, and fun Lord of the Rings Online can be in 2022. I recently saw a great piece at TheGamer that argued, from the perspective of a new player, that LOTRO is “the best Tolkien adaptation to date.”

That’s only what I’ve been saying since 2007!

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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