[LOTRO] Farewell to Codemasters – the great migration

codiesbye

So tomorrow is the big move to US servers. We don’t know the final details yet of the process players will have to go through but it probably will involve creating a Turbine account and then associating the old EU one with it. The advice we’ve been given so far in the FAQ is to wait until the official migration has started for more information.

When we have it, I’ll post it up here. Meanwhile, enjoy the bittersweet (but very appropriate) loading screen that Codemasters put up today. I know that on the whole I’ve been happy with the job they’ve done, and hope they didn’t get too screwed over in whatever deal was cut with Turbine.

[LOTRO] Turbine to take over the EU Servers

Now this was somewhat unexpected news – Turbine will be taking over the running of the EU LOTRO servers from Codemasters from June 1st 2011. And all EU players will need to migrate their accounts to US servers –0- lifetime accounts, characters, items et al will all be moved across smoothly, Turbine claim.

Here’s the FAQ. They also say not to create a Turbine account until the official migration process has started (unless you already have one).

What we don’t know yet is what will be happening to the EU servers. The FAQ notes that all existing servers will become part of the US service, so it’s not clear whether that means there will be new servers to support the EU population or if migrants will have to pick an existing server to join.

I guess this sheds some light on the extended talks which held up Codemasters from implementing the F2P patch some months back. I always felt that Codies did a good job with LOTRO on the whole, but at the same time it’s always been clear that the US guys were getting a better service with elements such as my.lotro which weren’t available outside the US servers.

Note: If  EU servers stay the same (for all intents and purposes) as Longasc suggests in comments based on posts on the german forums, then it’s worth noting that the EU RP server, Laurelin, is actually marked officially as RP and CM’s enforce RP-based name complaints there. This is a markedly different approach to the US unofficial RP server which has no staff support.

The Shape of Things to Come

This morning, I spent some time back in Middle Earth, mostly because I’d caught up with yesterday’s twitter comments. There’s been a new development, and it’s actually hit the EU servers at the same time as the US ones (nice work all involved). Five mysterious relic stones have appeared throughout Middle Earth, and are heralded by a letter that appeared on both Turbine and Codemasters’ forums:

Numerous residents of Oatbarton and the surrounding communities were aware of my intention to submit plants from my pipe-weed crop to this year’s Growers’ Festival. You may contact me for names of good, honest folk who can attest to this, such as my wife Opaline or our good friend Rosalyn Smallburrow, also of Oatbarton.

I have not changed my growing habits or techniques since last year, so there is little reason to expect that my submission for this year’s festival would be of lesser quality than my previous, prize-winning entries. I do not mean to boast, but my pipe-weed plants were shaping up to be of even higher quality than in years past! You can speak to the individuals noted above for their opinions, and they will certainly agree that my pipe-weed crop was proceeding exceedingly well for the season.

Given those facts, you can see that I take a great deal of pride in the quality of my pipe-weed. Imagine my alarm when I woke up this morning, drank my morning tea, prepared a small breakfast, and took my customary mid-morning stroll to observe my plants… and found them withered, brown, and wilted! They will win no prizes in this state! They are fit only for compost now! Unimaginable!

Right in the middle of my field, someone had placed a tall stone block bearing unpleasant symbols. I do not know what to call it, but I would not like it anywhere, let alone in the middle of my pipe-weed field: the pipe-weed field that was thriving yesterday, but after the appearance of this horrible thing is no more!

Starting in Oatbarton, I went to investigate and opened a deed to find five mysterious relics throughout Middle Earth. Now, being a lazy (but honest) Captain, and making use of the fact I wasn’t online on the day all of this broke, I cheated and used the guide over at Casual Stroll to Mordor, which gives locations of the stones. You don’t need to do that, there’s no real sense of hurry!

Initially, on twitter (thanks to all the people who were tweeting about this, it helped me get a sense of real occasion and also some of the speculations about the stones), there were many suggestions of what these relics could be – my favourite was that they might be tied to the five Istari (love ties to lore, after all). But, it became clear quite quickly, and from doing the deed myself – that these are heralding our new instance and raid cluster, due for February-ish. First of all, the title you get for completing the deed is ‘Calm before the Storm’. The relics all take aspects of debuffs in LotRO (there’s a fear one, a poison one, a disease one, etc), plus of course a big Evil one which almost certainly signifies the raid. Additionally, they’re all located near walled off locations, closed doors, possible instance entrances. And as mentioned by Roll One Hundred, they each signify one of five gaunt-lords (named in the comments thread as: Ivar the Blood-hand, Ferndúr the Virulent, Drugoth the Death-monger, Thadúr the Ravager, Gortheron the Doom-caller by Merric of Casual Stroll to Mordor). Interesting times, so we have the basis for a storyline leading up to the release of the next instance cluster for LotRO.

There’s some talk on forums this morning that simply doing this deed will be the gating system for allowing you to start these instances (sorry, couldn’t find the reference immediately). Remember, we’re losing radiance-gating (HURRAH!) and this seems a neat way to do it. When Turbine were asking what people would prefer to radiance, one of the options was deed-gating. It’s also become clear that you can’t complete the deed if you don’t have the relevant quest packs for the areas. So, any free-to-play players will need to stump up the cash for the various areas if they want to progress through to this deed. We have no idea if it will be a gating system though, but it does suggest the new instances will be spread throughout Middle Earth, perhaps another way to ensure quest packs are sold and used (which, in my opinion, makes  sense and would be the same as having to pay to get access to the instances!).

I have to say, I’ve been fairly down on LotRO lately, mostly due to raiding and kin issues, but this little deed sparked my attention again and showed how Turbine can drop little neat things into the game with little fanfare and manage to get us all that little bit interested again, even if you only do the deed for the cool title (which was my initial spur!).

calm

[LOTRO] Flogging a dead horse

Psychochild commented on my last LOTRO post that he was disappointed that one of the old Winter Festival horse rewards had been removed as an in game reward and moved to become a cash shop ‘store exclusive’. At the time, I was less bothered by this trend than he was. After all, the horse had been available for players at the time, and anyone who had gained it in game had at least a year to show it off before it went onto the shop.

But this week, Codies and Turbine have gone a step further. A scant couple of months ago, the hot holiday rare drop of the Halloween Season was a horse with skeleton-type markings (don’t ask me why, I thought it was hideous and unthematic). People spent days farming for the thing. And now guess what is on special offer this week in both Codemaster and Turbine stores? Yup, a skeleton painted horse could be yours for a mere 1495 turbine points.

It’s not the end of the world, a cosmetic mount is still a cosmetic mount. But evidently they are taking the position that any desirable in game reward should be available to buy for cash as well. This is really a logical extension of the F2P ideology, that people should be able to choose whether they want to get an item by paying cash or grinding in game. In fact, it’s probably a decent sales technique to introduce an item via the game, making it rare and distinctive so that players are aware of it and talking about it. Then slip it onto the shop later.

But I can’t help wondering if it diminishes the meaning of in game rewards, even meaningless ones like cosmetic skins for your horse …

Delayed F2P — LotRO Europe

LotRO Europe was supposed to go to Turbine’s Free to Play model on 10th September. It’s been delayed. And delayed again. We’ve had some welcome back weekend promotions, some free travel, some GM-run events, some community competitions, all to make up for it.

I’m sure it’s all appreciated. But… I’m disappointed.

Not really in the delay of the Free to Play model. I’m a lifetime subscriber and I honestly don’t care too much for the item store or the move. I do, however, want the new content of Enedwaith. I want to play with the Captain changes, I’d mentally got myself prepared for them and they’re still not here. I want the newly scaled instances of The Great Barrows, the Annuminas instances and Helegrod as a revamped raid experience. We prepared for them, we looked forward to them, we read about how everyone in the US is finding them, and now I’m starting to lose interest again.

Yes, that’s probably me being a fickle consumer. I’ve been playing LotRO since beta and bought in on the lifetime sub before launch even, I was so enthused about the game. But I’ve been milling around the endgame for what seems like forever. I have more medallions than I can spend, my gear is all there is (since there’s no real variation), and I’m only really logging on to provide a Capt body for kin raid efforts in Barad Guldur. I do have alts, I’m not the world’s greatest alt-er though and I simply don’t enjoy churning through content an additional time for no real reason. So I play a semi-static group with a set of friends as and when we can all be on together, but what I really really want is my Captain changes and the new content.

Codemasters have been patchy on information. In fact, they were pretty terrible at the start of the delay, but they have learned from this and now provide more regular, if just as un-informative, updates. Ok, we trust there’s a good reason they can’t tell us exact details. It’s obvious they don’t want to provide a guesstimate of when the update will hit, and funnily enough, I respect that. They don’t want to set themselves up for a big failure again with a fixed date. I suspect we may never entirely know why the delay has gone on this long.

The forums depress me. If anyone complains about the delay, they’re met with the ‘omg, how dare you complain’ crowd – the crux of their argument appears to be ‘we trust Codemasters, there MUST be a really good reason for the delay’. Everyone has a right to complain, it’s HOW some people complain that is an issue. No-one should resort to personal attacks, Codemasters’ employees are individually obviously not to blame. Of course, there’s any number of conspiracy theories that cover Codemasters caring more about other game releases, to Turbine wanting to take over European players as they did with DDO eventually – and probably some really wacky ones relating to the Illuminati. Who knows? But that’s what lack of information does to us in an age where we’re used to knowing things, and quickly.

I’m not fuming angry about the delay. It’s not like the new content brings all that much to me or to my friends – especially with no new levels. But, it’s diverting and would have kept me in LotRO for a while, instead of seeing me drift off to check out so many other games instead. I do find it hard to concentrate on my Captain… I was genuinely kind of excited about the changes to the class, and I feel their denial more sharply than the loss of anything else. But I feel I can’t complain on the official forums, I don’t even feel like complaining. I just feel that something is up, we’re not being told, we will get the update when we get it, but in the meantime, I’ll be drifting ever further away from LotRO and Codemasters.

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.

Cheap LOTRO Lifetime Subscriptions! But what does it mean?

Codemasters surprised us this afternoon by announcing a special offer on LOTRO lifetime subscriptions. This week, you can buy a lifetime sub to the game for £75 (that’s around half the normal price, I think).

It could be a clever promotion to encourage players like me who have dipped in and out of the game since it went live to finally take the plunge. And at that price, I have no hesitation about picking up a lifetime subscription myself.

Or does it herald a change in direction at Turbine? A move to more paid-for content patches and item shop together with a cheaper lifetime offer might be the new scheme. Or maybe if Turbine are shifting resources to a new game (say .. Harry Potter based maybe, since they’ve just been bought out by Time Warner) and plan to ease up on the LOTRO content, it would be time to charge less for the lifetimers.

In any case, it’s a good game with plenty to see and do, especially for Tolkien fans. And although no one knows what the future holds, it’s as good an offer as you are likely to get for the lifetime subscription.