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Free to Play Interview

Michael Bitton Posted:
Interviews 0

As I’m sure many of you read this morning, Turbine has announced that The Lord of the Rings Online will be going Free to Play. The F2P re-launch of LOTRO is set for this Fall in both North America and Europe (Codemasters will run the European version), and a beta test phase is set to begin in a little over a week on June 16th. Naturally, many of you have tons of questions about the dramatic shift, and we got a chance to catch up with Turbine’s Executive Director of Communications Adam Mersky as well as LOTRO Executive Producer (formerly Senior Producer on DDO) Kate Paiz to get you some answers.

I asked Kate about what went into making this decision for LOTRO, and she responded that one major factor was the runaway success of the re-launch of Dungeons & Dragons Online, which resulted in “a significant uplift In player participation, in interested in the title, and in activity community participation.” Turbine looked at that and basically decided that it was really a no brainer for LOTRO given all the aforementioned benefits, and of course, this change results in making the game much more accessible to many more players.

While there were a lot of obvious benefits in making the switch, the logistics of it didn’t involve a simple cut-and-paste job. The Lord of the Rings Online is an entirely different beast than Dungeons & Dragons Online, consisting of a more traditional MMO experience, and breaking that up into smaller pieces fitting a Free to Play model resulted in a few differences in execution. For example, LOTRO doesn’t make use of the same content model as DDO, instead it has a completely open world with your typical bread and butter quests, dungeons, and instances, and so in LOTRO players will have full unfettered access to the entire open world, but the limited access comes into play with certain quest givers. The entirety of Bree-land, Ered Luin, and the Shire will be fully accessible by F2P players, as will any of the main story content even beyond these regions, however,  quest givers featuring quests peripheral to the main storyline will require a purchasable unlock as players progress through the game’s later areas, starting around level 20-25, beginning with the Lone-lands. The locked quest givers will be denoted with a lock icon above their heads, and players can unlock them by simply talking to them and being given the option to purchase the content right then and there. It’s important to note that players won’t have to unlock an individual quest giver, though, as making a purchase unlocks all locked quest givers for that particular region. Free players won’t be hurting for things to do, however, as Kate estimates the entirely free content amounts to around 300 hours of gameplay.

Turbine learned a lot from DDO’s re-launch as well, and they’ll be carrying their experience over to LOTRO. Like DDO, the LOTRO Store will only offer items of convenience, no one will be “paying to win” when LOTRO re-launches as a F2P game.  Generally, the only time you will really see gear available in the LOTRO Store will be as “Starter Packs” which give new players a little bit of a leg up in the very early parts of the game.

Also like DDO, players who are current subscribers will not see much of a change in the way things are now, they’ll have access to all the content they have now, and enjoy some additional benefits such as shared storage, 20 cosmetic wardrobe slots, as well as a 500 Turbine Point stipend every month. Lifetime subscribers are just the same, they simply won’t have to pay for their continued VIP access.  Current subscribers have the added bonus of being able to earn their 500 Turbine points beginning now, giving them a little bit of stockpile when the game switches over in the Fall. Though, those of you who play both DDO and LOTRO might be disappointed to find out that Turbine Points purchased for the DDO Store will not be valid in the LOTRO Store and vice-versa, they are entirely separate.

Development of the game will continue generally as it has been now, with larger updates featuring a new region and perhaps a level cap bump, as well as smaller updates, however Kate emphasized that the change to the Free to Play model would enable Turbine to put out these smaller updates much faster than they used to. Looking ahead, Kate let us know that the team is interested in exploring Eisengard and continuing the Saruman storyline there.

Finally, we wanted to know what the recent acquisition of Turbine by Warner Bros. would mean for Turbine and their players, and Adam Mersky explained that they’ve been working with Warner Bros. on this deal for awhile now, and Warner Bros. has previously mentioned some of the strategic reasons they were interested in Turbine, such as leveraging tech made for Turbine’s  Free to Play business model. However, as Adam also points out, the decision made sense for Warner Bros. due to the success of Turbine’s games as well. More specifically, Adam explained that the “success of DDO is unquestioned, it’s changed everything as far as this business, the type of game, the way we do content now, it’s a total turn around success story that is continuing to grow.”  Turbine (and Warner Bros.) feel that what Turbine is doing is the future of online gaming, though Adam cautions this doesn’t necessarily mean Turbine’s specific model, but the idea of offering players additional options in how they access your game, and this puts Turbine (and now Warner) at the forefront.


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB