LOTRO Legendarium: What will happen when Lord of the Rings Online dies?


You know that old hypothetical of “Would you want to know when you die or would you rather be ignorant of it?” A slightly less morbid version of that is, “Would you want to know how many years is left in your favorite MMO or would you rather stay uninformed so that you could maintain the illusion that this could go on indefinitely?”

Because the sad truth is that all online games will end at some point. Lord of the Rings Online is, as far as I know, doing well and not emitting warning signs. Yet there’s always the specter of license renewal, the challenge of Amazon’s upcoming Middle-earth MMO, and sheer age that might threaten its existence one day.

And as much as I skew to the more optimistic side of things, today I wanted to briefly dip into the gloomy territory of the day if and when LOTRO is closed. What would that be like, how would we react, and what would follow?

So for our hypothetical, let’s say it’s the year 2030 — just picking a number out of a hat here — and Standing Stone Games posts a regrettable notice on the official website that after over two decades of operation, Lord of the Rings Online is closing its doors at the end of the year. Thank you for your patronage, we’ll unlock all the content and store offerings for you in the meanwhile, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Depending on how whether or not this closure was obviously coming, there might be a virtual riot, but in either case, the loyal game community would find itself plunged into mourning over the imminent demise of its favorite MMO. Some players would rally around an unsuccessful attempt to petition the powers-that-be to give LOTRO a stay of execution or sell it somewhere else, while others would schedule a final raft of community events, concerts, and celebrations.

Individual players would have but a few months to wrap up their journeys, take all the screenshots and videos they could, and start saying goodbye to their characters and favorite locations around the world.

On the final day, SSG would throw a party — around the Party Tree, naturally — and servers would clog with well-wishers, rubberneckers, and the faithful Free Peoples of Middle-earth. Fireworks would be set off, kites flown, tears shed… and then the servers would go dark.

The interesting question is what would then follow the announcement and then the server closure. It’s always a possibility, however remote, that another studio would snap up the game and rights to operate LOTRO. In this scenario, character data probably wouldn’t be ported over, but the lights would come back on under new management, and those missing the game would trickle back to start over again.

It might even be a modest event for the new owners, but nothing like the former heights of LOTRO. Without the experienced devs and know-how to build onto the game, this version would be in perpetual maintenance mode.

A more likely event is that LOTRO rogue servers would begin to pop up. I know of at least one that exists currently, but MOP policy is not to promote player-run servers that are trying to compete with their equivalent currently operating live MMOs. However, in the event of a shutdown, it’s fair game, and we’d be throwing a lot of interest and support toward whatever popped up.

For now, it’s good to know that the game can be emulated for the interests of game preservation. It would be almost unthinkable for a game with this amount of scope and content to completely disappear.

Displaced LOTRO players may also choose to abandon MMOs entirely or emigrate to other titles with similar vibes (or even the Amazon MMO, assuming that it’s up and running by then). We’d most likely see ex-pats of Middle-earth in many of the major titles, with former kinships moving into these titles together.

There would be retrospectives on LOTRO, anniversaries, and plenty of fond memories shared online over the years. But as with all media, sooner or later time would start to erode those memories and that passion as people simply moved on.

For me, it would feel a lot like looking back at my college years with fondness, recalling specific memories and emotions but not being able to revisit that personally. LOTRO would be a part of me thanks to all of the experiences and the people I met there, but it would also be a closed chapter that offered nothing more than nostalgia.

It would be great if LOTRO lives for decades more and that I never actually have to see this shutdown happen. But if it does, I’ll be grateful for the time I had wandering its virtual paths and vanquishing every shrew I saw.

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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