Lord of the Rings Online Goes Free-to-Play
We’ve known for a while that Turbine had something up their sleeves for E3 this year, and it looks like that something was a change to their flagship MMORPG, Lord of the Rings Online.
Turbine sent out a press release this morning announcing that LotRO will transition into a free-to-play model this fall with the release of a “major update.” Much like the changes they brought to Dungeons & Dragons Online last year, LotRO will have a totally free-to-play model available. This will be supplemented by microtransactions in the soon-to-be launched LotRO Store.
In addition, Turbine will still be offering a subscription model, called the VIP Program. The VIP Program will give subscribers unlimited access to all the premium content, priority server access, 5 character slots, a shared bank slot, and a monthly allotment of points for the LotRO Store.
So, the question becomes, what does this means for the future of LotRO, and for those who are currently subscribers?
There’s going to be a lot of uproar in the next few days in the LotRO community. You’ll hear subscribers bemoaning the influx of players who haven’t “paid their dues,” you’ll hear people forecasting the death of the subscription model for MMOs, and you’ll hear people excited about the prospect of playing a new game for free.
From where I sit, this can’t be a bad thing for LotRO players. To see why, just look at the outcome of the changes Turbine made to DDO. A game that was limping along and barely keeping its head above water is now the third-most popular MMO in operation (that’s from an NDP survey over on Massively earlier this month). LotRO had something in the neighborhood of 300,000 subscribers prior to this move. I would expect that number to actually increase in the wake of the transition to free-to-play. Sound strange? Here’s why I think it will happen.
The genius of the free-to-play model is that it allows players not just a limited trial of a game, but full access to the game’s world. People get into the game, they talk, they quest, and they become invested in the world. This drives people to the game’s store, where they purchase content, and many of them even subscribe. It also gives a large incentive for former players to return to a game they have already played, so they aren’t starting anew.
Not only is free-to-play a plus for the company running the game, it greatly, even exponentially, increases the number of players that the existing subscribers have to play with. That means guilds grow, raids are more accessible, and the world becomes more vibrant. The new players have an incentive to subscribe because they want to see the content and participate in guilds that are experiencing this content.
This is also good for players because it will likely mean more new content. After all, Turbine’s got a store to populate with items people want to buy. Sure, there will be potions, and new outfits, and other items of that sort, but there will also be content. New dungeons, new raids, and new areas to explore. That’s what the people want, and much like what happened with DDO, this change will increase the incentive for Turbine to provide it.
Much like the stance I took on changes in World of Warcraft a couple of years back, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. Instead, I ask you to sit back and watch what happens to LotRO after this kicks in. One year later, I’ll be watching to see what their numbers look like. I bet you’ll be surprised.
If you’d rather see for yourself, you can head over to LotRO.com and sign up for the beta that will start on June 16th.