In the latest episode of Massive Failure Podcast, it was stated in a very reverse-psychology April Fools-ish way that the “downfall of LOTRO” can be traced back to the decision to move the game to the Free-to-Play business model. While I have absolutely no insight into the amount of revenue generated by LOTRO (neither immediately following the F2P conversion nor now), and I can see the many benefits of a steady, predictable income stream provided by subscriptions, I can unequivocally say one thing: without Free-to-Play, I wouldn’t be here.
Not that I’d be dead, I just wouldn’t be writing this blog. I would never have been able to try LOTRO, risk-free all those years ago. I wouldn’t have eventually subscribed to LOTRO for two years, and purchased all of it’s expansion packs. I wouldn’t have played LOTRO, and thus not been able to write for LOTRO Players, nor joined the LOTRO Players News podcast. Not having any experience or exposure in podcasting, I would not have ventured into the world of producing my own podcast, nor would I have met any of the fine people in that medium. Lastly, I would not have been introduced to the video game blogging community and thus would not have any idea of how (nor reason) to start a gaming blog of my own.
If we could go back in time and eliminate Free-to-Play, the words you are reading right now would simply vanish into thin air (Back to the Future style!). Or you’d just get a 404 message. Not exactly sure how that would work.
Thus, it’s difficult for me to be critical of free-to-play. As someone who didn’t “grow up” on MMO’s, the idea of playing one was completely daunting. Starting an MMO from scratch meant learning a new game with very developed and complex systems. It meant finding my way around an immense world. It meant learning an entirely new language. It meant risking looking like a complete idiot to those who had been playing for far longer. Last but not least, it meant paying a fairly sizable amount of money (compared to the amount of money spent not playing an MMO) both up-front and continually for who-knows-how-long (because I didn’t even know how long it would take me to max out!) for the privilege of playing a game I would not even have the chance to try out. Free-to-Play gave me the opportunity to try MMO’s at my own pace, figure some things out, and finally decide if the entertainment value would be worth it. Free-to-Play introduced me to MMO’s.
I honestly don’t know what’s behind the “decline” of LOTRO, although I tend to think that the natural attrition that goes along with having a seven year old game with seven year old technology combined with the pressure to compete with newer, flashier games in a changing consumer landscape could have something to do with a loss of players. More so than a business model that gives players multiple types of payment options, anyway.
As a side note, I may be accused of being in denial, but fewer players doesn’t always point to failure, just as a positive profit margin doesn’t always indicate “success” (see: “City of Heroes”). Apple is financially successful with a relatively small segment of the electronics market. I’m not saying that LOTRO is the Apple of the MMO world, just that “success” and “failure” of a game is ultimately up to the interpretation of the brass at Warner Brothers more than any one player, blogger, podcaster or fan.
One thing I do know is that the LOTRO F2P (or more accurately, hybrid) model gave me the opportunity to embark on a fantastic journey that has deposited me directly into a great group of gamers and content creators. I have a really hard time bashing it.
#LOTRO #F2P #Subscription
Featured Image by Bradley Stabler on Flickr