Lord of the Rings Online offers a budget a la carte.

buffet (kawanet@flickr)

What is it with MMO payment plans and food metaphors?

Subscription games are often described as all you can eat buffets, and now Turbine is describing their plans for LOTRO as offering an a la carte option (if you don’t eat out much, ‘a la carte’ just means you get to order what you want from the menu). I guess we all just relate to food. Can’t wait to see the menu fixe, catch of the day, and pre-theatre quick dinner offers.

In any case, Lord of the Rings Online is about to become more accessible to new players – at least from a financial point of view. When the switchover happens (sometime in the Autumn, so probably Oct/Nov) the starting content/ zones will be available for free. And Codemasters also dropped a press release stating that the EU version of the game is going the same way.

Free players get a cut down version of the game, but as much time as they like to play around with it. And then if you want more, you can select which options you want and pay for those as you wish. Want another character slot? Buy one. Want more bank bags? Buy some. Want access to another zone? Buy that too. Plus the obligatory cosmetic gear. And as soon as you give Turbine any money at all for anything, you are classified as a Premium User and get a few extra perks for free. So there is a good incentive to make that first purchase, however small. You can tell that Turbine have some experience under their belt with F2P games and what western customers might want to buy.

Here’s the big (UK) list as to which types of subscriber get what. The ‘quest packs’ are zones, and since LOTRO zones do pack a lot of content, that’s going to be an interesting model to watch.

We won’t know for sure what is on offer until they finalise the cash shop. And yes, the F2P (free to play) players do get a limited subset. Only one character slot, a low gold cap, few bags, limited traits, self-service customer service (err, maybe that means access to web based help). But it’s enough to play the game and decide if you want to buy more.

ScreenShot00099

My gut feeling: feels like a smart conversion to me. LOTRO is a quality game – much heavier on the exploring and immersiveness than WoW. The quest design will increasingly feel old fashioned as newer games are released, so this is probably the right time to open it up, while people still remember and are nostalgic for earlier times.

Current players have mixed reactions. Turbine is evidently trying to give decent value to those who already have lifetime subscriptions – they still get pretty much unlimited access to the buffet plus a package of cash shop points every month. Whether monthly sub payers will also still feel that they are getting good value isn’t so clear. But at least they will have more choices on how to pay and if they decide to stop paying for a few months, they can still access their characters. The player base in general is also wary of an influx of F2P players. The LOTRO community has a good reputation, and for good reason.

But at the end of the day, an injection of new players should improve the game for everyone. The game is slower paced than WoW and casual friendly, and the type of people who will get into it enough to want to pay Turbine/ Codies are likely to be the same type who currently pay.

As for the lifetime sub, I noted when I picked mine up at half price that I was wondering what the future held for LOTRO. I don’t really feel burned that the game is going F2P. I still get about 6 months worth of subs out of it, plus the equivalent of lots of free stuff when they switch. I probably wouldn’t have bought it if I had known what they planned to announce and this doesn’t particularly endear me to Turbine/ Codies (a bonus for people who bought lifetimes recently would have done this), but I knew the risks.

And the chance of being able to get my husband and friends to try the game out in a regular group is something I look forwards to greatly. Maybe we can get even an EU blog/ reader guild going!

If you are curious then you could sign up for Turbine’s F2P beta. LOTRO is one of my favourite MMOs, and I’m happy that more people will get a chance to try it.

So what does this mean for current endgame players?

No expansion announcement. There is to be a new endgame zone, with quests and a new book in the epic story, which will all be released when the game goes F2P. It’s been about a year since the endgame players last got a new raid. Think about how WoW players start climbing the walls if they have to wait 6 months and you’ll get an inkling for how things have been.

Does F2P mean that the emphasis in LOTRO is going to be much more on casual or lower level players? We’ll have to see.

Massively have a great interview with Turbine, which picks up on many of these questions.

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8 thoughts on “Lord of the Rings Online offers a budget a la carte.

  1. F2P players also get reduced to the starter zones and have a very odd gold limit – 1 gold is not enough to buy anything above level ~10. http://www.lotro-europe.com/freetoplay/info/

    I still did not pick up the reduced price lifetime offer yet and doubt I will. No new content will come till autumn and then it is just a book on top of the F2P changes they are testing, like Vol.3 book 1 for which I really did not need a month’s sub to complete.

    But does nobody feel they got cheated? Announcing a new F2P system a month after the early reduced price lifetime buyers got it sounds like a willful deception to me.

    I wonder how they will treat me as F2P player. I bought Moria and Mirkwood and some of the extras offered with Mirkwood.

    I really wonder if I have to rent passes or buy me a physical path to the Gates of Moria or Mirkwood to get there when F2P goes live.

    • The thing with the gold cap is really quite smart. That, the character limit and the bag limit are likely to be someone’s first purchases. And as soon as you buy anything at all, your gold limit and number of characters on the account goes up.

      So say for example each zone costs $2 to unlock. When you open up the lonelands, you automatically also get an increased gold cap and character slots. And if you keep playing and still like the game, you can pay for an unlimited gold cap and so on. It seems well thought out to me.

      They have also said that people who have already bought the expansions will keep access to them without having to pay more. The FAQ does answer a lot of this.

      • “When you open up the lonelands, you automatically also get an increased gold cap and character slots.”

        That’s useful to know.

        I bought a 12-month sub to W101 for my son and I when it was released and I sort of regretted doing that. Not because it was W101 (I actually liked the game) but because I could have spent $100 on Crowns, then used those Crowns to permanently unlock each zone, thus essentially having a “lifetime” sub rather than a 12-month sub.

    • Is Codemasters in Europe doing it differently than Turbine? Here in the U.S., lifetime subscribers get permanent VIP status. Not a bad deal. I’m kinda bummed that the lifetime option is no longer offered, was thinking of taking it up, myself. Wish I hadn’t missed the chance.

  2. What happens to existing account holders?

    I currently have a bunch of characters on my account… will they be deleted? Will I be locked out of them? Will I have to keep paying to keep them active?

    What about what I already have on those characters… will they be reduced to 1g each? Will I lose bag space?

    Seems like it’ll be something to watch. Nervously.

    • Most of the answers to your questions are handled directly in the FAQ: http://www.lotro.com/betasignup/faq.html

      Basically, you won’t “lose” anything you already have, but you might be restricted. For example, if you log on to the game as a premium player, you’ll most likely not be able to access 2 of your characters (you get to pick which ones you can access). You’ll either have to subscribe or buy character slots to access them.

      I’ve been playing DDO and Turbine has been through this once already. I expect that they know the score and have systems in place for handling things. So, while I might be cautious, I don’t think it’s necessary to be nervous.

      We’ll see, I guess.

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