Lord of the Rings Online is moving to free-to-play this fall. A lot of people have been nudging me, asking me what I think about this. So here's my take:
Moving to a free model is usually done by small, aging, or otherwise struggling MMO's that need to bolster their userbase. But LOTRO doesn't strike me as a "struggling" MMO. Lulzy here is on the Silverlode server, which is purportedly the lowest population server in the game. (I did this on purpose, so that I wouldn't have random people wandering through while I'm trying to take screenshots.) But even on Silverlode the place seems fairly active and vibrant once you visit one of the town centers. A year ago they were priding themselves on how their userbase was still growing.
Judging purely on the basis of population density, I'm just not seeing the need for this move. I have played "troubled" MMO games before, and LOTRO is not one of them. This is a game with stable mechanics, regular updates, a happy (by MMO standards) player base, a generous supply of content, a healthy community, and solid name recognition. Compare this series to my Champions Online series if you want to see what a dysfunctional online game is like.
Note that LOTRO is run by Turbine, the company behind Dungeons and Dragons Online. DDO went free-to-play early in its troubled lifespan. It's entirely possible that free to play is just a more profitable business model for them.
My only concern is what effect this will have on the quality of the community. Free to play games seem to have more trolls, jerks, and griefers. (Because it costs nothing for these types to just create new accounts when they are exposed or banned.) The players in LOTRO are uncharacteristically friendly for MMO players, and I'd hate to see this change. Then again, maybe the atmosphere and culture is a result of the source material. Perhaps Tolkien is too dry or cerebral to attract "teh hardcorez"?
In any case, it's an unexpected move. I'll be interesting to see how it all plays out when free-to-play goes live this fall.
We now return you to the adventures of Lulzy...
Ellie Cutleaf is sending me to Chetwood to attack the bandit hideout. I promised (lied) that I'd bring some friends along. I don't actually have any friends, but I'm pretty sure I can take care of the bandits anyway. The place is also guarded by killer guard dogs. I have a bottle of poison that I collected at great pains*, which Ellie tells me I'll be able to drop into the dog's food supply so I don't have to fight them all.
* The pains were actually experienced by the bears and wolves I had to kill to get it and not by me, but the point stands.
To get to their base, I just need to go to...
And now that I'm on the doorstep of the bandit base, I realize a fatal flaw with Ellie's plan which we both should have realized right before coming up with a new plan and right after slapping ourselves in the forehead: The food is inside the base. I have to go in there to poison the food, but to get to the food I have to fight the dogs.
Well, the only thing worse than having a stupid and self-defeating plan is doing it halfway. Let's make with the puppycide.
I kill my way through the base and slaughter dogs until I come to their food supply, which is actually just a big pile of dead sheep. I guess these dogs don't eat hay like the ones at the dog farm yesterday? It seems stupid to poison the food supply now that the dogs are already dead, but then I realize that one way or another, the poison is bound make it into the food chain and kill something. And I have to use the poison. If I threw it away, then all those bears and wolves I killed yesterday will have died for nothing, which I'm pretty sure would be wrong.