[LOTRO] Migration Update

So the Codemasters forums have now been changed to read-only, and instructions have been sent out to EU players via email on what to do next.

This involves checking this transfer website until it spits out some concrete information on how to sort out a US account/ transfer. (Link updated: thanks mbp.) Apparently this may not be active for another 2/3 days. So long fellow hobbits, see you on the other side.

[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.

It takes a world to raise a village

Lots of bloggers have been discussing MMO communities this week, with Blizzard’s recent announcement on premium services for being able to play with friends on other servers.

And I was musing on which games are ‘known’ to have better communities. Of the AAA games, LOTRO (Lord of the Rings Online) is probably the game with the best community reputation, and I wonder how much of this is connected with:

  • The IP. Maybe Tolkien fans are just less likely to be smack talking fanboys
  • Minimal PvP, so little appeal for ‘killers’

We know that there are other factors affecting the quality of in game communities, such as the size of the game, and how much players are encouraged to interact. But I wonder how far the IP itself affects things. Some are likely to attract an older crowd, due to when the original IP was written/ popular, others have a reputation for just being more mature in general because of the themes involved (imagine a historical Roman Empire game compared to a Pokemon MMO.)

And some fandoms have enough of an identity in themselves that fans will come to the game expecting to find fellow fans and hobbyists. Being a Tolkien or a Star Trek fan means something; there are conventions, websites, magazines, a whole fan community out there.

And then, some types of playing style also skew older. Typically puzzle and strategy games will appeal to an older set than twitch games. Other styles are more likely to draw in a mixture of male and female players (roleplaying games, in particular) rather than skewing quite so strongly male.

My theory is that a more diverse player base probably leads to a more polite community. So an IP like LOTRO which has huge and widespread geek appeal married to a fairly chilled out game design which doesn’t skew too strongly towards hardcore achievers at the loss of the roleplaying set was always going to encourage a better community.

And I wonder what this implies for SWTOR. Star Wars is an IP with a pretty broad appeal – not as much as Tolkien but still pretty broad. But how much room will there be in their gameworld for people who just love the world itself to wander round and explore? How much for the roleplayers? We’ll have to see.

In which we give marketing advice to MMO publishers

Gravity noted via twitter that he’d offered some suggestions to Flying Labs (creators of Pirates of the Burning Sea) on how to improve their website to better attract new players – it’s a post on their suggestions forum.

<…> new users will make a fairly quick prejudicial judgement on whether to download the game. They’ll be asking questions like, will I get ganked, how much does it really cost to play and enjoy it, and what are the features.

Answers to these questions should be easy to find.

Sounds sensible, right?

So what advice would you give to your favourite game as to how better to attract new players or draw back returning ones? (Advice like ‘completely redesign your game’ probably isn’t useful.)

Here’s a couple of thoughts:

LOTRO: It’s difficult to draw players into an older game because they’ll tend to assume it’s less good than whatever they are currently playing. But LOTRO has a lot of unique selling points – the lore, the skirmishes, the great epic storylines, and the friendliness of the player base. They really should be pushing the friendliness more because it would draw in exactly the sorts of players they want. So I’d suggest for them a social push with lots of inducements to share information on social networking sites.

WoW: The price of entry is way high, especially since if you really did want to buy all the expansions it’s about twice as expensive if you do so online via Blizzard as if you just buy them from Amazon. (I know this because I checked earlier.) Just bundle the dratted things together and halve the price and loads more people would buy it if they liked the trial.

Sony: Oh. Haha. This online thing just isn’t working out for you is it? Sorry, I got nothing.

[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.

[LOTRO] How not to check out new content

So there has been a new patch into LOTRO with new instances, a new raid, and a new part of the epic book and since I have a lifetime sub, I thought I would go check it out.

Of course, you can’t really check out the new bits of epic book quest until you’ve caught up with the part that you probably should have finished earlier. So this is where our heroine started her journey, trying to remember where she’d last left off.

lotro_ened3

While picking up my old quests and exploring/ getting lost in bits of Enedwaith that I had forgotten even existed I found a random stone that was glowy and clicked on it! Ping! A new deed popped up.

What this picture above means is that there are other mysterious glowy stones to find and if you can find all of them then your character will get a new title. “Calm before the Storm” is actually a pretty cool title I think, and this is a good example of how LOTRO deeds aren’t quite the same as collection quests but can sometimes have a lot in common.

As an explorer type of player, I love this stuff. It’s more interesting than just, “I see a shiny, I pick up a shiny, I put it in the right collection” which you get in Rift and EQ2 but you are still encouraged to go explore and find stuff. (Note: who am I kidding, there are probably player-generated maps online with all the mysterious stones marked on them but I’m going to pretend that isn’t true.)

Whilst still on the catching up phase of my questing, I failed the cardinal rule of things that you should do when you check out new content!

lotro_ened2

Yup, this was the hole I later fell down and died, even though burglars actually got a new ability this patch to Safe Fall. (Colours look weird because it was dark and underground so I’ve turned up the contrast for the screenie.) So when you log in after a new patch – check whether your trainers have any new skills to teach you!!!

One thing about LOTRO as a game, and the questing in general is that it genuinely does run at a different pace to games like WoW or Rift which have been more optimised to stop players getting bored. In LOTRO, it is entirely possible that you will be sent to the other side of the zone to find a remote dwarf fortress with a hidden entrance – and it may take you over an hour to find it. Some quests are quick, some are not. After a while, I find that I adjust and quite enjoy the slower “scenic route” but it really isn’t a game for all tastes.

lotro_ened1

 

And then, when you are least expecting it, they remind you that you’re in the LOTRO world with links to the main storyline and foreshadowings about where your character and companions may be heading in future.

One of the high points to me of Enedwaith is a solo section where you are able to sit in on a council of the neutral tribe of Dunlendings who you have been assisting. An envoy from Saruman has arrived to try to recruit them to his faction. You are there to represent the Dunadain (because the rest of the Grey Company is busy losing its collective bows or something). It’s a very well written scene, and will be a delight to LOTRO fans. The Dunlendings decide to stay neutral, but make it clear that they prefer your deeds to Saruman’s honeyed words.

And with that, I’m finally just about caught up to the new stuff. Arb has already tried out one of the instances and was raiding last night and her initial feedback has been pretty positive. I’m looking forwards to finding out for myself!

[LOTRO] Dev blog on raid difficulty

Arbitrary pointed me towards the latest LOTRO dev blog by jwbarry, which has a few interesting things to say about raid difficulty.

I think this is interesting because I personally don’t have to read for very long before I catch myself thinking, “Is that going to be fun?” jwbarry says that he was inspired by Demons Souls, the notoriously difficult and unforgiving SINGLE PLAYER platform/ fighter game – what he and many other players love about Demons Souls is that it’s hard but fair. When you fail, it’s because you failed and not because you got unlucky.

This is all well and good but there are reasons that Demons Souls doesn’t exist in a multiplayer format. And one of them is that when you fail you can just keep on trucking, try to figure out your mistake and get it right next time without having to debate whose fault it actually was with 11 other players.

This heavily influenced the design of Ost Dunhoth. You will wipe many, many times but it will be because the minstrel didn’t heal in time, the hunter stole threat, the tank didn’t back up out of the fire, your DPS didn’t coordinate on targets, someone broke a crowd control (CC), etc. It will be because of something you did wrong. You can then analyze this, learn from it, and avoid repeating the same mistakes. You can get better, not lucky.

This sounds like fairly standard raid design unless they’re planning on putting in lots of extra in game diagnostics, eg. “BURGLAR X JUST WIPED YOUR RAID!!!!11”.

So yeah, I’m not entirely sure about using Demon Souls as a difficulty gauge for multi person raiding, your mileage may vary.

Difficulty Tiers

I’m going to be honest and say that I have some issues with normals/ heroics and tiered difficulty in raids and instances. I just want to go kill internet dragons, why do the dragons have to come in normal and extra-spikey versions? It’s very confusing.

Not to mention that devs ideas of harder difficulty have not historically always been more fun. Here’s an example of the LOTRO ideas:

An example of a way mechanics upgrade: look at what happens when you fight a trash pull. If you kill a trash monster in Tier 1 and wipe, he stays dead. In Tier 2 a trash pull needs to be defeated as an entire pull. In Tier 2, if even one monster remains alive after you’ve wiped, the entire pull will respawn.

Now I could see circumstances under which having to redo trash packs would make people play more carefully and make the instance more fun. I could also see circumstances under which it could be very annoying indeed.

I think I’m on the fence on this one, it could be cool.

Further challenges sit above Tier 2 difficulty. These are the tasks that are asked of the players on the highest level of LOTRO. You’ll be asked to do it faster, better and harder than anyone else. To beat the challenges, perfection is expected of you.

I have come to realise over time that I don’t find being asked to perform to perfection all that interesting. I figure on Spinks at least, I had her rotations down well enough to be reasonably perfect for tanking/ dps but I’m not sure it made the game all that much more interesting.

Far more interesting was when we had to respond to unexpected events in the raid. But I don’t think that’s the kind of perfection he’s talking about here.

I’m sure they will have done a solid job on the new raid designs, jwbarry sounds as though he has a clear idea in his head of what he thinks of as fun raiding. I am just not entirely sure whether I agree.