LOTRO Legendarium: Is LOTRO’s PvP game worth salvaging?


The funny thing about Lord of the Rings Online’s PvP scene is that I truly believe most players are either unaware or uncaring that it actually exists. You would honestly surprise most LOTRO players, especially more recent additions to the game’s population, that this title even has PvP.

I don’t have any hard data to back that up, just a conclusion based on observing how tucked away, trivialized, and largely insignificant PvMP — or “player vs. monster players” — is to the game at large. LOTRO stands out in the MMO community for throwing all players onto the same side and in the same faction (the Free Peoples of Middle-earth), pointing the entire PvE community toward a shared threat. We don’t really think in terms of factional warfare or artificial divisions because that’s not how the lore or game is structured.

Those with long memories might recall this wasn’t always the plan. Back when LOTRO was being developed as a sandbox called Middle-earth Online, there were at least discussions about allowing players to jump into the virtual skin of various mob NPCs and roleplay at villainy for a while. Neat idea, especially if you never know if that mob was computer- or player-controlled, although it was certainly open to a lot of griefing and balancing issues.

In any case, that format didn’t come to pass. When LOTRO launched, the devs figured out an alternative way to shoehorn in PvP into what was essentially a 99.9% PvE game. This became the Ettenmoors: A single battlefield zone where players could fight either with their normal characters or by leveling up a monster. Ergo, PvMP instead of “PvP,” if you want to be technical. It seemed like something that was done to both satisfy expectations and to add another bullet point to the checklist. And hey, if it turned out to be well-received, so much the better.

The truth is that the Ettenmoors would become a niche-of-a-niche slice of gameplay. Some people absolutely loved it and became die-hard fans, but historically that crowd’s always been very small compared to the PvE set. LOTRO’s attempt a while back to float a PvP server — and the incredibly underwhelming reception it got — demonstrates how this isn’t the game for those who enjoy fighting other players.

That small PvMP crowd was nevertheless a loud crowd, especially when endlessly advocating for Ettenmoors development and balance on the servers. That’s where I suspect most people became aware that this game even had PvP — by hearing someone complain on the forums about it getting overlooked by the developers. And while I’m OK with MMOs having gameplay that I don’t enjoy or participate in, I also don’t see much of a point expending gobs of resources in propping up features that have minimal player interaction.

That’s why it’s been really interesting over the past few months to see the return of Orion and an attempt to salvage and balance LOTRO’s PvMP game. He’s certainly engaged with the community on the topic, posting more replies on the forums about the subject than all other devs combined in the past few months.

And his work leading the revamp of this system isn’t just words; Update 33.1 is making monster play free to everyone while allowing players to trot in at level 20 with their normal characters if they so wish. This is basically SSG throwing the doors wide open, removing as many obstacles as possible, and seeing who comes to play. It will certainly be interesting to see if these changes spur more engagement in the Ettenmoors or not.

By Orion’s own admission, this approach may not work. “The Ettenmoors occupies a niche role,” he said on June 28th. “It is not and never will be the focal point of the game. It is, however, an important piece of the greater whole that sets The Lord of the Rings Online apart from other MMOs. Monster Play is at a crossroads. We need to solidify its place in the game and give it every opportunity to thrive before making a final decision on how it might be supported moving forward.”

I appreciate his candor and approach. How I read this statement is, “We’re going to try to beef up the current game, take out obstacles for engagement, and see if the current system can actually thrive. If not, PvMP may need to be extensively reworked or changed entirely.” Of course, if there are low numbers, SSG might pull him off this project and let PvMP exist indefinitely with no further active support.

So is the PvMP worth salvaging with additional resources? I guess there are two ways to look at this. The first is from the players’ perspective. Those that care deeply about PvMP would say yes, those that never engage with it are probably indifferent at best for its future. But the second perspective may be more interesting, and that’s looking at this through the studio’s eyes.

I’ve harbored a strong suspicion, prompted by all of the changes to the business model, communication, class/race pairings, lower-level zone editions, etc., that SSG — and, by extension, Daybreak and EG7 — are working hard to position LOTRO for a future influx of players. This could be either a future promotional push or anticipated overflow from Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series, but either way, I really think this is fueling a lot of decisions that have shaped the game in the last 12 months or so.

And so if EG7 and SSG are anticipating a rise in player population, then it could stand to reason that making sure the game is as robust from the get-go — including having a fully accessible and thriving PvP scene — is important to the devs. It’s a narrative that may be completely delusional, but it fits.

LOTRO’s PvMP game is only worth salvaging if it ends up a net positive for the game, and that can only be answered by the studio and community together. It’s certainly a curious development for a system that’s been neglected for years, and a portent of things to come.

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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