Why I Can’t Hate Free-to-Play

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

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5 thoughts on “Why I Can’t Hate Free-to-Play

  1. tsuhelm April 7, 2014 / 6:05 am

    So you do know: ‘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.’

    I think honestly that be hammer on head time!

    I am in the exact same boat…I played a cheep MMO before (DOFUS) could run in browser and was fun…had dipped toe into FFXI for a month before computer died so who knows what could have been…LOTRO to me with the F2P was the biggest draw…(it was still also rated highly and the community was still winning awards), frankly I was amazed and happy I could try for free…hard times, no job in Argentina …handing over cash for a GAME would have been hard to explain to my newly met wife-to-be.

    I was amazed you could actually keep playing and grind out content…I like to think this as PLAY to PLAY…

    I got into it over time, started blogging, even forked out cash for Moria, then Rohan…at the moment VIP (twice serendipitous failings to cancel subscription payment!)…I would give more of my hard earned cash to LOTRO if it sold me the correct product …and I hope the 7 year old keeps on going…

    Community is its best weapon to beat away at other MMO’s, oh OK the LOTR link does help a wee bit!

    OK this comment too long…Great article…I give it the pick of the week and it is only Monday! 🙂

    Like

  2. Vlad Matejka April 8, 2014 / 9:32 pm

    As much as I understand the “decline” of LOTRO, I do not – your reasoning for the decline is probably one of the most reasonable I have heard in a while. From what I frequently read, people are dissatisfied with ‘this’ or dissatisfied with ‘that’ and ‘such-and-such’ is the last straw. I was a subscriber since before F2P and have never looked back. I have loved most moments of the game and nothing has been a deal breaker (okay, I have fundamental disagreements with in-game advertisements to buy more TP or mithril coins).

    The reason why I am so positive is for a few reasons:
    1) I love LOTR and Tolkien literature. I tried a few great MMOs before LOTRO and the lore of other games just did not cut it.
    2) I am easygoing
    3) I think hard before I buy into something.
    4) I’ve worked in multiple programming environments and know what it is like to be someone like Turbine (rudimentary speaking).

    The way some people talk, it is like they have lost a limb or suffered from a bad break-up when they flame Turbine. I do not get personal with companies and their products since they are a ‘company’ and an ‘product’ is not something you can be interpersonally connected to. Maybe it is that, coupled with my understanding that keeps me going in LOTRO. Or maybe I am some kind of wuss. It is all up to interpretation.

    This does not mean I do not like aspects of LOTRO – Big Battles were a little underwhelming (but super cool and a programming feat), Classes are too OP, content is not as challenging as it used to be, and yadda yadda. I guess I just do not fall for consumerist complaints, however…

    At one time people complained that their characters did not feel powerful enough. Now they are very powerful and people are complaining about ease. You cannot have it all! People want better housing, better avatars, more customization, all raids scaled, etc. Turbine can only do so much at a time. American consumerism teaches us you can have it all, but that is an obvious lie. American anxiety also teaches us to think the worst of any decision by a company NOT to do something (ex. release raid content for at least a year) or at least fear any company in principle.

    I think at heart that there is a massive lack of trust and massive amount of greed underpining critiques against Turbine – this is not the only case, many companies and organizations suffer from the same public behavior. Consumers always put the blame on everyone but themselves. I agree that we should not blindly trust institutions, but perhaps we should consider ourselves as part of the problem.

    Detractors from my comments may say: “this does not change the fact that LOTRO is dying or that other games are wildly more successful.” But I say that those games are invested in feeding the kind of consumer that I describe above. Of course they are more successful! Those games and their makers only care about finding what the easiest and most powerful triggers are in the human brain to make consumers say “I want that!” and then they implement it in the game. While LOTRO contains obvious elements of that kind of marketing strategy, Turbine is also pinned down by the Tolkien family and the legacy that J.R.R. himself left.

    Therefore, let me just say that all this being said, we can all make improvements. I just choose to be easy going about it. I pay Turbine to support them, I critique them so that they many improve and be held accountable, and I trust them because it is contradictory to continually pay for it, play it, and hate. Either get involved in a positive way or go to another game.

    Okay that response was too long 😛

    Like

    • Braxwolf April 8, 2014 / 11:08 pm

      Hey there, Vlad! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really enjoyed your thoughts, hope to hear from you more often!

      Like

  3. Sigela April 14, 2014 / 6:13 am

    Your points are so valid, Braxwolf, that you need more hits on this blog post.

    I pay my VIP fee and I consistenly get an entertainment value that I consider greater than the small fee. Smells like WIN to me.

    Sigela/Ringeras of Nimrodel, Ridney of Riddermark and many other alts too numerous to mention

    Like

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