The big news in LOTRO land is that 19 of the 29 servers will soon begin closing down, leaving only ten active servers in production. When the dust settles, 5 servers in the US and 5 servers in Europe will remain. Further clarifications in the official forums have indicated that Turbine desires to disrupt as few players as possible. This indicates that servers with the largest populations stand the best chance to survive. With further extrapolation, my original and home server of Windfola is directly in the crosshairs, and I’m still not sure how to feel about it.
Back when the server upgrades and consolidations were first announced, I liked the move. Being on a smaller server, I was noticing the distinct absence of other players in the world. It wasn’t just that my kin had stopped logging in (though this was also true), but population in the newer game areas also felt like it was at an all-time low. Considering that LOTRO is a very social centric MMO, I didn’t think that this bode well for the game. Friends of mine on Landroval and Brandywine (two of the more popular North America servers) didn’t believe me. To them, the game was as healthy as ever, but I knew better. Something had to be done, and Turbine made the right call.
So, I went along with this belief for most of the year. Even though I’ve played LOTRO very little in the last ten months, and even though I assumed that Windfola would close, I looked forward to the server consolidations both for the improved health of the game, and for the promised free transfer to a server where more of my friends play. But a strange thing happened this week when the details of the plan began to be revealed. I started to feel sad. I e-mailed my kinship leader and successor and told them about the potential closure. I suggested that we have a plan in place for the kin. Though the game isn’t shutting down, there’s really a feeling of finality that goes along with this type of planning. It’s like an admission that those great times we all had running a certain instance or skirmish for the first time together now exist only in memory. There really is no going back. While Windfola was there, there was always the chance – the possibility – that all of the old kinmates would somehow log in at the same time one night and decide to go storm Methedras one last time, for old time sake. But now, I have to face the reality that those days are probably gone for good.
Windfola is like a parent or grandparent who we have always known, a stoic presence that we take for granted, knowing that we will always be able to return and spend time there. One day we wake up to find that we can no longer go back and say/do the things we had always intended, because that moment has passed in favor of the next.
Paradoxically, despite the nostalgia, I will not choose to stay on Windfola, even if it survives the consolidations. I’ve been eyeballing Landroval for some time. While I don’t roleplay my characters, I enjoy playing within an environment thick with roleplay due to the ambiance it provides in the towns and hubs. Random music concerts and conversations in the streets of Bree bring a life to the world that no NPC can match. Plus, I’ve met so many people since I started playing who call Landroval home. It might actually be fun moving to a new place! I’ve never had such mixed feelings about a game announcement before.
As for the way Turbine is handling the consolidations, I have very few complaints. A slow, controlled closure seems like the way to go. I like that their renaming strategy may free up names that have been squatted for years. Giving an extra two character slots to premium and VIP players (if that comes to pass, as has been hinted) is another token of goodwill toward a player base that is about to be rocked. I really like that they are giving us titles “of Windfola” (or insert your server of choice) to carry with us to our new worlds, so that we will never forget our home server. As new players join the game, they can ask where we got our strange title, and we can spin the tales of the days of 29 servers.
Free server transfers is something that I called for on LOTRO Players News towards the beginning of this year. I am slightly disappointed that they will return to charging for transfers after the consolidations are complete, though. $20 to move around and play with friends seems like an unnecessary blow to the social health of the game, especially since they are unable to provide the mega-server technology that so many modern MMO’s have adopted. Turbine, make free server transfers a permanent fixture. Abandon this relic of monetization.
At the end of this, I hope that all of the men, dwarves, elves and hobbit refugees can find their way to a new Middle-Earth. Someplace to make new memories with new friends, be that in LOTRO or elsewhere.
Servers by John Seb Barber on Flickr Creative Commons