There are a lot of reasons to be excited about free things. I love buying one Coolatta and getting a second free, for instance. But when “free” is applied to MMOs some players tend to scoff and turn their noses up. Free MMO, as discussed numerous times on this site and across the internet, is almost synonymous with “bad MMO”. But Turbine, along with companies like Frogster and gPotato, has been giving players reasons to change their tune. The quality of the free MMO has only been going up in recent years, and is bound to make a sharp spike with ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2. And given the success and complete turnaround of DDO since going free to play, it seemed like only a matter of time before another AAA game tried a different sort of revenue model that doesn’t bank too much on subscriptions.
And so this fall we’ll be getting to traipse about Middle-earth for the low price of nothing. It’s a controversial subject no doubt, especially since Lord of the Rings Online isn’t exactly a game that needed the saving DDO once desperately required. LotRO may be one of the best performing MMOs in the western market, and yet Turbine is obviously confident that going F2P will make it even more successful. But the change is bound to have its share of ups and downs. In the spirit of remaining positive, here’s our list of five reasons to be excited about a F2P Middle-earth. Don’t worry naysayers, next week, we’ll have five reasons to be concerned.
#5 Now Everyone is Lifetime
Now one thing that I’ll be sure to say before anyone who hasn’t read the FAQ gets upset: all existing Lifetime members of LotRO will never have to pay the optional “VIP” subscription that comes with the conversion to F2P. They’ll automatically get VIP status from day one and never have to pay a cent for those VIP privileges. But the one of the best things about this conversion is that now everyone will have constant access to Middle-earth without the need of a monthly subscription. I’ve always had an on and off love affair with LotRO.
I’ve been playing since launch on and off again, but I never seem to last more than three months at a time because of some other game grabbing my attention. So I was always constantly subscribing and unsubscribing, and wrestling with the torment (hyperbole I know) that I should have bought the lifetime subscription from the start because LotRO is one of those games that is always deserving of visitation even if you never stay all that long. Now, with the conversion to F2P, that agonizing and self-derision over subscribing and unsubscribing can finally be put to rest. Whenever I feel like visiting Hobbiton, I’ll be able to without whipping out the credit card. I can finally stop beating myself up over not buying the Lifetime membership.
#4 Free Might Mean Free Expansions Too
Initially the launch of F2P LotRO will still require players to buy Moria and Mirkwood to experience the game’s first two paid expansions. But if history is any indicator further content additions may be more along the lines of “free”, as they have been for DDO. This is pure speculation, and perhaps I missed some statement from Turbine that said otherwise, but I wouldn’t be surprised if future expansions to the game were more on the smaller scale of those being added to DDO. Of course there’s still the hurdle for those players who never anted up for Moria or Mirkwood, but beyond the mines and the forest it’ll be interesting to see how Turbine’s Middle-earth evolves.
#3 More Free Peoples
One of the biggest complaints for new players to any aging game is that there simply aren’t enough fellow newbies around. F2P games never seem to suffer this fate as there is always a stream of new folk hopping in and out of the game, and the conversion of LotRO to F2P should do much for the low-population of the game’s beginning zones. There are downsides to the influx of new people of course, but this article is for looking on the brighter side so we’ll just leave it at that. MMOs are best played when they’re filled with players, and the F2P model will undoubtedly help LotRO in that regard.
#2 More and More Content Updates
LotRO is already one of the industry’s best examples of “timely updates”. But under its new F2P model, DDO has really shown developers how to keep their titles in the eyes of players with a constant stream of “mini-updates” coming every couple of months. LotRO, already familiar with this format, will undoubtedly seek to keep the same mantra as DDO. The more often your game grows and changes, hopefully based on the players’ wants and needs, the more you’ll convince them to pony up cash for VIP status and Turbine points. There’s a lot of Middle-earth already represented in LotRO, and I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing even more in much swifter fashion with the conversion to F2P. At least if DDO’s any example to go by.
#1 It’s LotRO and it’s Free
Kind of a no-brainer sure, but it’s honest. LotRO is one of the best traditional MMORPGs on the market today. And it’s going to be free to play. Imagine what it would be like to see those same words uttered about so many other titles you might have affection for but not the time to commit to a subscription with. LotRO is one of those titles for me, and the fact that it’s becoming F2P, micro-transactions and VIP status be damned, means I’ll always have Middle-earth just waiting for me whenever I want to pop in. If only I could convince Blizzard, NCSoft, Mythic, and well just about all of my current hard-drive inhabitants to do the same thing. Of course, not every game needs to be F2P. I’m not saying that. But it’s clear that Turbine understands the need to innovate in an increasingly competitive market. Gameplay isn’t the only thing that needs to evolve in the MMO industry. The subscription-only mentality is frankly something I’m glad to see challenged these days, and I couldn’t be happier that the Hobbits are the ones with the eggs to do it.