[LOTRO] Expansion pricing, and when points get devalued

Turbine had previously announced the pre-release package for Rise of Isengard, which costs $30 for the expansion zones (including raid and dungeons), some pretty cosmetic gear/ mounts, and 25% xp bonus for all characters on your account. Sounds like a reasonable deal for an expansion, and the xp bonus is a nice perk for people with lots of alts.

Yesterday they also released the details for the expansion pricing if you prefer to buy it with Turbine points, and the forums went wild. The price is points is significantly higher than the price if you buy the pre-order in cash. And not only is the price for the expansion higher, you have to pay extra in points for the raid and again for the dungeons.

Note: One of the vaunted advantages of F2P was only having to pay for the content that you wanted. This advantage does not feel so exciting when it’s a) cheaper to pay cash for the entire bundle including the part you didn’t want and b) the price of the basic content has risen so high that you’re paying more for the part you do want anyway.

Now, it obviously makes sense from Turbine’s point of view to devalue points in favour of cash whenever they get the chance. This being the case, anyone who stocked up on turbine points when they were on special deal with the aim of using them to buy the expansion has lost out here. Player vs Developer discusses the expansion pricing in more detail. As PvD comments, even at the best deal possible, this would still be more expensive than paying cash for the preorder.

(Although if you aren’t in a hurry for the content, it’s bound to be on sale in a few months time.)

But the point cost isn’t for people like you, it’s for people like me

Now to get this into perspective, you have to consider players like me. I have a lifetime subscription, but I actually play LOTRO in fits and starts, a few months here and then a few months there. I very very rarely spend Turbine points but my account accrues them at 500p per month.

I have about 7500 turbine points on my account. Buying the expansion with points is a no brainer for me, there’s nothing else I wanted to spend the points on, I don’t have to buy the raid if I don’t plan to raid (which I don’t) and it doesn’t matter to me how much those points would have cost in real money because I didn’t pay for them. I could imagine that my lifetime sub covers the cost of this expansion – because it basically does.

Now I just have to decide if I want to pay the extra for the 25% xp bonus for my warden alt. I think I might not bother, actually. If it had been an account bonus I probably would have done it but the version you can buy with points is for one alt only.

So my advice with Turbine and Points is this:

  • Don’t buy any content before you need it unless there is a particularly good sale on. The longer you wait, the more chance of it coming up in a sale.
  • Don’t buy points unless there’s something you really want to spend points on, regardless of how good the sale is. Turbine have shown here that if they really want people to spend cash, they can always make that more appealing.
  • If something has been in a sale once, it’ll be in a sale again.
On another note, I do wonder how pricing the raid separately is going to affect raiding in Isengard. I don’t think many casual raiders will be quick to plonk down the extra points for the raid instance unless they are very keen.

[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.

Free-to-Play Hardcore

As the countdown to LotRO going free-to-play starts, I’ve found myself pondering all sorts of random elements about games going free-to-play. Possibly the most bizarre of these, is the concept of hardcore and how it relates to the micro-payment structure.

Will the new hardcore be those who reach the level cap without paying a penny? I like the idea of this one, and I’d give it a go if I wasn’t already a lifer on LotRO – it’s a little like Ysharros’ non-quest quest, but with additional difficulty of not buying adventure packs.

I actually hope someone does give it a go, so we can cheerlead them along, in whatever game they choose to do it in.

Thought of the Day: How do you decide when to pay in a F2P game?

I think that the amount people decide to pay in a F2P game is highly dependent on what their friends are paying.

If you have friends in the game and they are mostly playing for free, you’ll feel like an idiot if you pay. If your friends are mostly buying a few things, you’ll be encouraged to do the same. If you don’t know anyone else who plays, or haven’t made any in game friends then chances are that you will only be playing until the next game catches your eye anyway. (Unless it offers a stellar single player experience which is not usually the case.)

So one goal for a F2P developer might be to nudge new players to engage socially with the more hardcore who are already paying.

The LOTRO F2P strategy of having both F2P and subscriber players on the same server might prove to be very smart indeed.

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Gaming News: Landmarks for Wizard 101 and Free Realms, Rumour Control (SWTOR beta, DCUO pricing, APB adverts), CoH expansion dated, Blizzard writing contest

If you have somehow escaped knowing this, Steam have a really good sale on at the moment. Also, we’re about to lose at football again. Is that really news?

Numbers are up for Free Realms and Wizard 101

Good news everyone! Kid friendly non-subscription MMOs have posted some great numbers this week. Wizard 101 registered its 10 millionth player this week, with Free Realms claiming it’s jaw-droppingly 12th million signup.

Obviously the majority of these players are not actually paying to play, and many of them probably registered, checked out the game, and never came back. But props to both studios for getting the word out. Millions of players found out about those games  somehow – probably not through the gaming press — and came to check them out. That is not a small accomplishment.

If you want to join the party, you can get to Wizard 101 here, and Free Realms here. They’re both solid, kid oriented games.

Assorted Rumors, we’ve got them here!

The beta test for Star Wars: The Old Republic is widely rumoured to have started this weekend. Apparently 100-200 people received invitations to a game testing program, and SWTOR community managers have clarified what is and isn’t covered by their NDA (a fairly good sign that there’s something going on.)

Anyone care to bet that Blizzard will end up releasing Diablo 3 in the same month that SWTOR goes live? Anyone?

Sony confirmed this week that they’re going with an old fashioned subscription pricing setup for DC Universe Online. Or should I say, “old fashioned subscription model but probably with a cash shop anyway”? It’s interesting that they decided not to distinguish their game from CoH and Champions Online by going with a different pricing model. Clearly they’ve looked at their various portfolio of games and run the numbers, and think that they’re playing to a more hardcore audience here.

APB continues to flirt with controversy by deciding to play audio ads to players – even paying players. I don’t personally feel that one advert every three hours or so is something to get worked up about, is this even the sort of game that people play for three hours straight? Still, it takes double dipping to a new level if you look at income sources. Players pay for hours, plus there’s a cash shop, plus income from advertising.

I don’t imagine there’s all that much cash YET in in-game advertising, but I’ll be interested to see if it catches on.

Turbine is rumoured to be working on a new console MMO, with the assistance of Twisted Pixel. Scott@Pumping Irony guesses that this might be a Harry Potter game, given that Turbine is now owned by Warner Brothers who own that licence. I think I’d go with that as my guess also.

On a more local level, politicians had been talking excitedly here about the possibility of some kind of tax break for gaming companies. This went out of the window in the recent ‘austerity’ budget. But was there undue influence from outside companies lobbying against this? Did ‘one of the biggest gaming companies in the world’ really sabotage the tax break? The local gaming industry body says no, government made that decision all on their own. I’m inclined to believe them, this wasn’t a budget in which there was ever going to be much support for tax breaks.

And finally, is Linden Labs (the developer of Second Life) in trouble? They’ve just sacked their CEO and earlier this year they made 30% of the staff redundant. There is no good spin for that sort of story. They’re going down.

Going Rogue goes live in August

NCSoft announced that 17th August is the date for City of Heroes players to pencil into their diaries.  Going Rogue always sounded to be an interesting expansion, promising moral choices for players and the possibility for heroes to become villains or vice versa. I’ll be curious to hear more about it (probably from my husband since he’s a huge fan :) ).

I think they’ve done well to pick a date which is in the traditional MMO doldrums, before the rush of new games in the Autumn and Winter months. Maybe players who are bored with their other games will be lured into picking up an old fan favourite to see what they have to offer.

Anyone thinking of trying this?

Blizzard seeks fanfic writers

Last year’s contest was evidently popular because Blizzard is again running a fanfic competition. If you have any stories to tell that are set in the gameworlds of Diablo, Starcraft, or Warcraft, this could be your chance to shine.

These are last year’s winners if anyone wants to gauge the possible standard of entries. I rather enjoyed the winner (bit too elfy is my only criticism.)

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.