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All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter: LOTRO Going F2P

My own apparent delusions of grandeur aside, I think there's actually only three things I really wanted to say:
  • I've become so picky about gaming that my core identity as a gamer has become threatened... it's not that I've lost my passion for games, I just can't enjoy them like I used to anymore.
  • If people really don't like me being confrontational in the face of their comfortable delusions, I either need to adapt a much better approach (perhaps delivering my message with a lot more consideration than typically begets an INTJ), or I need to kill this habit of confronting people entirely.
  • If plan to update this blog, at all, it seems I need to write from the heart from whatever I'm dwelling on at the moment.  This is not a professional undertaking, I'm not writing for a magazine here, so catering to others' expectations does not make a whole lot of sense.
At the moment, I'm downloading the Lord Of The Rings Online Free To Play (F2P) beta client and looking forward to giving it a spin.  My history of the game is heavily jaded by an heavily ingrained tendency towards altaholicism, usually caused because I'm not satisfied with such a heavy investment in an MMORPG unless I know I'm playing the best overall class for me, and the developers did good enough of a job of presenting all classes as having their ups and downs.

The F2P transition promises to make that easier to bear, as it allows me to take things at my own pace without worrying about a monthly subscription, and the time in which I have to worry about being among the first to the maximum level is long past.  (Would that I could offer such easy solace to any friends who had aspirations to leveling up with me!)  I think this game has a great potential for possible rebirth, and given an out-of-context quote it would seem even Tolkien himself would agree...
 “All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.”

-- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord Of The Rings

Recent Lord Of The Rings Online video courtesy of gakiyarou and YouTube

It might seem that Lord Of The Rings Online brings an interesting new spin to the face of MMORPGs in that having a comprehensive virtual world is no longer adequate qualification to justify a monthly subscription, and to the classic MMORPG gamer who was raised to the likes of Merdian 59 or EverQuest, that might very well seem to be the case.  Yet, if you're a relatively new gamer, chances are your introduction to MMORPGs were one of the hundreds of free to play MMORPGs out there, and many of them actually possess a comprehensive virtual world.   If anything, this is only bringing the idea into the awareness of those gamers who consider western-made MMORPGs a completely different creature - an assertion I'm hesitant to say has much merit in a wider view of things.

To a great extent, I think that Lord Of The Rings Online going free to play is an overdue move for the entire MMORPG genre.  While $9.89/mo made sense back when EverQuest was released, it was an environment where there was a very small number of competitors and the idea of virtual worlds was relatively new.  Now, virtual worlds are not at all novel, players are paying more attention to the gameplay, and they have a lot of competitors driving prices down in a typical supply/demand model.

Though F2P MMORPGs generally operate on a model where only a few players actually pay (I've heard the number of paying customers varying from 2% to 70% depending on who you ask) when Dungeons and Dragons Online went free to play, a 500 percent increase in revenue was reported.  Contrary to the worries that players who never pay for a game are nothing more than dead weight, hundreds of free to play MMORPGs operate and thrive from this resultant bandwagon effect of their presence.  It certainly has not hurt ArenaNet when Guild Wars was funded solely through a $50 box price and yearly expansion pack - they not only survived, they're making a sequel.  Is it an unreasonable premise that this whole idea of needing to fund servers and development teams with a monthly subscription may well be a financially motivated myth, especially when some companies are discovering they can actually earn more on the F2P model?

As for the game itself, Lord Of The Rings Online is indeed an excellent virtual world.  It is significantly notable when any game based on an existing Intellectual Property is released that does not cause a backlash among fan expectations, and it has been my impression that LOTRO delivered much more respectively than Star Wars Galaxies did.  The actual core mechanic is somewhat tried-and-true MMORPG mechanic, but it does introduce some novel perks and move that keep it reasonably exciting.  About the only bad thing I can say about the game is that it is a bit of a grind, with the typical procession of "kill 10 rats" and "fedex" quests taking up a large amount of the tasks for the players to perform.

In conclusion, when I regard a subscription as being a key to a virtual world, few modern MMORPGs seem to verify the need.   There's probably only two MMORPGs I've ever played in which I wish I had bought a lifetime subscription to: the first is Final Fantasy XI, the second is LOTRO.  I greatly look forward to Turbine's offering the F2P mechanic as an excellent, competitively-minded alternative.
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