Turbine Writes the Book on Free to Play with Lord of the Rings Online at E3

OK, I admit it. I’m a J.R.R. Tolkien junkie. I love the books, the movies, and the games. Well, most of the games. I’ve been playing Lord of the Rings Online for quite a while now, and it’s one of the most enjoyable MMORPG experiences I’ve had to date.

With the recent announcement that LotRO is going free to play, Turbine was suddenly high on my list of destinations at last week’s E3. I got a chance to chat with Kate Paiz, Executive Producer of LotRO, about the changes coming with the transition to Free-to-Play.

The major point that Turbine was making is that subscribers won’t see their game change much. They’ll still be able to access all the content, and they’ll receive 500 Turbine Points every month to spend in the new LotRO store. These points don’t expire, so subscribers can save them up to buy large items if they desire. I’ll talk more on the store in a bit.

The other major benefit subscribers will have is the ability to spend Destiny Points. Destiny Points are an existing game mechanic that allow you to purchase buffs for your character through an in-game interface. While free players can earn these points, only subscribers can spend them.

So, what can free players look forward to?

For free players, there’s a lot of good news as well. They’ll be able to access the first 20 or so levels of content completely free, including the Shire, Ered Luin, and Bree-land zones in their entirety. They’ll have access to all four races (Human, Elf, Dwarf and Hobbit), and all classes except the Warden and Rune Keeper.

Once a free player has progressed beyond the zones mentioned above, they’ll still be able to complete the Epic quest line without paying a dime. They’ll also be able to gain unlimited experience from killing monsters in the environment, as well as from completing deeds. If they want more quests, that’s when the LotRO store comes into play. (For a detailed listing of the differences between free play and subscriber play, check out this chart)

Each region’s quests will be sold as a bundle containing all quests in that region (this can be 80-200 quests, depending on the region in question). For example, you could buy all the quests in the Lone Lands for one price. While that price hasn’t been finalized, it’s expected to fall between $5 and $10.

Purchases in the store are made with Turbine Points. Points can be purchased for around a penny per point, but if you buy larger amounts of points at a time, you can get discounts. Most interesting to me was the news that you’ll be able to earn Turbine Points in-game.

Complete certain deeds, and you’ll be rewarded with experience, titles, and in some cases, Turbine Points. Amass enough of these points, and you can (for example) buy the Mines of Moria expansion without a dime coming out your pocket. You can do the same for any expansion currently available. Instead of shelling out your cash, burn off those Turbine Points. This also means that subscribers can save up their points to pick up any new expansions that come along.

The new LotRO store is very similar to the store that in Dungeons and Dragons Online. You’ll be able to buy things like crafting recipes, horses, cosmetic outfits, buffs, and more. The one thing you will not be able to buy is gear. The folks at Turbine felt that any gear in the store would make their content less valuable, and that was something they wanted to avoid.

Another cool feature on the LotRO store is that you’ll never be able to buy an item that you can’t use. The store automatically filters out content that doesn’t match the class, race, or level of the character you’re visiting it on. Also, any potions sold on the store won’t conflict with potions crafted in-game, as they will have separate cooldowns and their effects will stack.

Turbine also showed off the brand new zone that they’ll be adding when the Free-to-Play update goes live, named Eredwaith. Eredwaith, located just south of Eregion, brings players of level 63 – 65 back from Mirkwood to work on Volume 3, Book 2 of the epic story.

We got a bit of a look at Eredwaith, and it’s gorgeous. You can expect to encounter the Dunlendings, lots of Gondorian ruins, and ton of views that make you say, “Wow.”

You can also expect a new high resolution client, as Turbine will be continuing their support of DirectX 10, and adding support for DirectX 11 in the Free-to-Play update as well.

All in all, I was excited to hear the changes that Turbine has in mind. It’s obvious that this move to free-to-play isn’t something that was done on impulse, but was planned out for quite some time. If anyone ever wants to read a book on how to make a free-to-play MMORPG, getting Turbine to write it would be a great idea.

The new free-to-play update is in beta testing now, and you can sign up over on LotRO.com. Until then, check out some screens of the new LotRO Store below!

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2 Comments on Turbine Writes the Book on Free to Play with Lord of the Rings Online at E3

Ted Masterton

On September 10, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Free to Play is a bit of ingenious. Pay to Win might be a better title for the new business model…

I am very uncomfortable with the idea that real world wealth can effect a character’s standing more easily that the bloody, gritty reality of pressing back on the insidious forces of Sauron. I mean, three years of battle has left me with,I think i read 460 points. Real world expenses were about $300. I don’t even want to imagine the opportunity costs.

If I joined tomorrow and spent the 300 RW dollars on Stuff, will I be the same as Tazril Orkbane, veteran of the War of the Ring?

I dunno. I just really don’t like the intrusion of the real economy into Middle Earth. I live in the real economy every day. In LOTRO I am as rich as I ean be, based on my talents, my choices, my skills, my friends. It is a do-over and I can gleefully suspend disbelief and live in the Professor’s mythopoeic epic tale. Not so much anymore.

Ron Whitaker

On September 13, 2010 at 4:32 am

@Ted: Believe me, I was in a similar position when I first got wind of the impending transition to free-to-play. However, Turbine has stressed on many occasions that they do NOT want this game to become pay-to-win, and the store reflects that.

There are tons of convenience items in the store, such as fast-travel scrolls, different outfits, potions, and the like. However, there is no gear, there is no raid loot, and there is no IWIN button.

Basically, your character will still be affected by what you do, not by what you buy. That’s why I said that Turbine was writing the book on free-to-play. If more games approached the concept like this, the free-to-play world wouldn’t be so bad.