What is “free” in LotRO F2P?

LotRO F2P Beta Premium Content Quest (via Massively.com)

It looks like Turbine has either been corrupted by the Ring or they’ve been into the sauce.  We’ve gone over the fact that LotRO is going “free to play” and I’ve also already made it clear that I’m one of the few dissenting opinions out there because I do not think this is ‘good for the game’.  I guess the beta is running for the LotRO F2P model and some screenshots came out over at Massively (I don’t know if they are originally theirs — you never know these days) showing something that I found quite appalling.

Please view the screenshot to the right.  Veteran players might recognize the location and the NPC’s and recognize that they are not merely simple little quests but ones that are important to the story and to the progression of a character — at least back in the days that I played.  Veteran players will probably recognize several other locations and NPC’s and wonder the same thing that I am: What exactly is going to be “Free” in this “Free to play” game?  Those quests lines appear to be “premium content” which means you have to pay for them.

Read the FAQ and you’ll see that they never mention anything about how much or little of the game is locked to “Free players”.  They answer the question about whether or not you will have to buy items or not to enjoy the game by stating clearly “The purchase of items in the LOTRO Store is entirely optional.”  Is it optional to buy content?  Checking the FAQ it looks like just about 25/35 questions are there alluding to what your ‘status’ will be and how you’ll go about buying stuff from their store (VIP, Premium Member, etc) but none of them really outline the premium content plan.

I challenge Turbine to be forthcoming and tell us exactly what is and is not Premium Content. How much of Evendim is Premium?  How much of North Downs is Premium? What about Angmar? This chart here states that players have “Unlimited” access to the world and “Unlimited” access to the Epic Story Quests.  Soooo…. players grind once they’re out of their starting area (level 10)?

Does this sound like “Free to play” to you?  It doesn’t to me.  I’m sick of hearing the words “Free to play” associated with games that are so ridiculously far from it.  Tell us what is and is not free.  I want publishers/developers to be completely straight forward with people and lay out exactly what part of their game is available for free on both a technical and ideological level and then what they expect people to pay for straight up and in a roundabout way.

If you can’t quest in zones then you might as well not be able to go to them in a game like LotRo.  That makes them not free to play.  If you have to pay for content beyond level 10 then this is nothing more than a disguised method of charging a subscription fee… except they’ll make even more money from it while disturbing the beauty and harmony of their successful traditional subscription model game.

So to those who are so excited about giving the game a try and playing up their character to max without spending a dime…. you do that.  Tell me how it goes when you quit at level 11 because you can’t stand grinding to tears.  Let me know what it’s like seeing Premium Quest Rings everywhere.  Be sure to come back here and trash the game for being terrible since you’ll know, never having played 99% of it.  After that let’s open it up to discussion again about just how good this was for the game.

  • The issue is that LOTRO’s zones are geographically adjacent to each other, so they had to come up with some method of allowing players who skipped a zone to pass through en route to future content that they might purchase.

    That aside, we do see the F2P label applied to games that are really just offering a choice between “buying” or “renting” access to content. (In Turbine’s DDO, option 3 is working for what amounts to pennies per hour to “earn” the Turbine points to buy content access with, it remains to be seen whether this works in LOTRO.) I’d certainly be open to a new, more descriptive label for this model. Then again, the mere fact that they’re setting up in a way that results in players having to pay them money for a product that costs money to produce isn’t exactly headline news, no matter how they’re labeling it.

  • Buying content is necessary, other items aren’t. Just like Dungeon&Dragon Online.

    I do admit that Free To Play isn’t what these type of games should be called. It’s basically a P2P with a Free Zone and a hybrid Cash Model.

    In other words, players have access to the entire of a limited Zone for Free, after which they must either:
    1: Pay a Subscription fee, which will unlock the entirety of LotRo.
    2: Buy Content Zones seperatly, which will unlock a single zone at a time. Great for Casuals with little play-time.

    What the Free Zone will do for LotRo is to crowd the Starter Area, and possibly hook up more players to the game. But the former is the important part. Starter Areas were empty, which leaves a very bad impression on new players wanting to try a game and socialize. Many games would benefit from a P2P with Free Zone model (Final Fantasy XI comes to mind)

    2 other VERY popular MMO which uses a similar model or identical model would be Wizard101 and Dofus. Only difference is that you cannot buy Zones in Dofus, only subs but there is a Free Zone. But regardless, but games are doing VERY well.

    But I do agree that F2P isn’t the right term for this model and does mislead the players, versus an actual F2P game where players may access all the content without paying anything.

  • That chart you referenced said they had “Unlimited” access to the “World”, but under “Quest Packs” it says “Ered Luin, Shire, Bree-land (can purchase more)”. To me that makes it sound pretty clear that you can go anywhere and kill anything, but you can only do quests in those three starter zones (up through about level 20), and to quest further requires micro-transactions.

    Informis had it right with “no cover charge”: there’s no longer a $30 entry fee, therefore the game is *free* to *play*. But you will have a limited play experience unless you shell out some cash. It’s like the state fair: you get in for free, but you buy tickets if you want on the rides. (To complete this analogy, your first few hours of rides would be free.)

    I really see this all as just a major extension of the “Play Free for 14 Days!” offers they’re constantly having. You try it, and if you like it, you invest in it and get more fun.

    (Full disclosure: I’m a lifetime member, so my content access isn’t going to change.)

  • p.s. – There’s three groups of people:

    Lifetime Members – Not really affected.
    Current Subscribers – Don’t have to pay monthly anymore.
    Non-Subscribers – Don’t have to pay if they want to try it (or come back to it).

    So who loses here?

  • Whether it’s a good deal for current subscribers to unsub and coast along on their already purchased content will depend on if the character slot, gold, trait restrictions turn back on after being a VIP or not. If not, it may only cost a few month’s sub cost to unlock them the rest of the way. The deal-breaker may or may not be chat and mail access, if you’re a strict solo player (never the best idea in LOTRO) you don’t really lose much. Otherwise, it’ll be pretty inconvenient and may be worth going VIP anyways, in which case the sub model hasn’t really changed, has it?

    I see the lowest tier trial player as basically the same as WAR’s Endless Trial. They can play up to about level 20 without buying anything, on as many characters as they like (with 3 slots for free) but they can’t really interact with the rest of the game. I agree with Keen, the trial might as well end at 20, there’s no way anyone is grinding enough to hit the “epic story” without the rest of the quests.

  • I see the main losers being Lifetime subs, unfortunately, depending on how well month to month sub members can “coast” on unlocked content for free. The 500 points a month just works out to never having to buy mini-expansions again, and some fluff items.

  • I have a lifetime sub & am not too worried about F2P. If I was a new player I would be pretty freaked out about the cost of buying quests. Things add up fast when you spend a few bucks here & there.

  • @Kalath: It does say that chat and mail are “Limited” for anyone but “VIP”.

    @Rindan: Exactly. That’s why I firmly believe it’s not good for the game.

  • P4P – Pay For Premium

    I expect you will be able to buy books, giving you a large portion of content specific to the books related quests and items. Think of it as buying chunks at a time to play through. LoTRO is successful but as time goes on, that success will wain to the next generation of MMO’s, like SWTOR, GW 2, FFXIV, WoW, even the big updates to CoX and Eve. This exposes the game to more people than it might have previously.

  • So wait, you don’t like the fact that LOTRO is going “free to play” , yet now you complain that it might not actually be “free” ??? Huh?

  • It’s gonna work out fine. Folks will leave Bree-land at 20 and wander into the lonelands and North Downs. They’ll kill some mobs, do the free Volume I epic quests they can finish at thier level, and then they’ll shell out cash for the quest packs for one or both regions.

    It’s the ultimate casual gamers system. Pay for content as you need it. Once you buy it, it’s yours forever. No more feeling like you’ve burned a subscription cost on a month that maybe you didn’t log into the game often enough to justify a sub.

    It’ll end up wildly successful. Same as DDO.

    I am excited for the first “I grinded to 50 and didn’t pay a penny!” post on the forums though, lol.

  • Personally, I call the method “Pay as you go” because I think it fits the feel of the game.

    Turbine said up front that the only free stuff would be the 1-50 maps and the starting quest zones; aka the Shire, Erid Luin and Bree-land. If you want to do quests past that, you need to either subscribe to the game (which makes the game play exactly as it always has) or you have to buy the quest hubs one area at a time.

    I’m not sure how this is going to effect new content patches, but I assume expansions will be released as they were. (I read something to that extent, since you still have to buy Mines of Moria and Seige of Mirkwood seperately if you’re a ‘free’ player) They might have free content patches to anyone who is a subscriber (either monthly or lifetime) but people who are playing under the free model would have to pay a small price to open up that content.

    Trying not to break any NDA rules or anything, but the new stuff feels the same as before and the things in the store really were optional for me. For someone who is playing for ‘free’ though, it’s not going to feel very free at all if they want to progress past, say, level 15 easily.

    That being said, you can still kill any mobs anywhere so if you’re REALLY into grinding, you wouldn’t have to pay a cent until you want to get past level 50.

  • @Rindan: I am assuming that all of the concern involves the potential to pay more than a typical monthly sub? I get annoyed at people who actually want to play for free in this model; people who choose to pay nothing should have a limited voice over the mechanics of the game. In my business I give free service to staff of clinics that utilize me, but it would be shady if the only time they called me was for free service and then on top of it criticized my business model for not being free all of the time…

  • Free to play meaning “no cover charge” is a pretty damn good way to put it, as the first reply said. Its kinda like carnival that doesn’t charge you to get in the gates, but every ride costs 5 bucks, so suddenly the amusement park down the street that charges 50 bucks for the whole day doesn’t look so bad.

    If you stop thinking of F2P games as “free” though, they become much more fun, because they it feels so much less offensive when you decide you want to spend some money. Just think of them as cash shop games straight up and be done with it.

    A lot of it is how you decide to approach psychologically, so getting in the right mindset helps. The rest is just marketing, and can be safely ignored.

  • The phrase Free To Play really needs to be stamped out and replaced with the much more accurate, Free To Try!

  • It works if their revenue goes up…if not it didn’t work.

    Either way I don’t trust the FTP on games & they are not hooking me with it here either. I’ll steer clear and settle for not going back in an MMO in 2010. 2011 is a different matter all together though as I have my eye on a few of them…

    WoW=DFL Done Fo Life…well until W2 lol

  • I don’t disagree with anything being said here, except that the F2P move is bad for the game. In my eyes, all Turbine is doing is adding a third tier of players – the Free Players. They don’t pay for the client, they don’t pay for any content, and they can do as they please within the original SoA zones.

    Subscribers and lifers pretty much continue on as they have, with the option of some cash shop items for convenience. Turbine is hardly alone in doing the “Sub + Cash Shop” model, and at least they provide the *option* of not paying a sub (I’m looking at YOU Cryptic). I’m a lifetime subscriber, and I have few concerns. Hell, I’m even looking *forward* to the items that allow my alts to finish deeds quicker.

    But really. I think you’ve moved into hyperbole here. One, the F2P mechanics are in beta still. Anything and everything can change. Two, your feelings on the F2P move are pretty clear. I don’t think anything Turbine could announce or show would change that. Three, this is a business, this is the real world, and you get what you pay for. We’re (mostly) grown ups here; we should recognize the realities of a capitalist system. I challenge you to show me *any* game that’s truly Free To Play.

    I agree, some more transparency from Turbine would be great – for those who do not currently play, or have never played. And calling it Free To Play really isn’t the best title. But then again, that depends on your definition of “playing the game”.

  • @Drannos: I’ll grant you that they’re adding a third tier of players. Where I take issue is how that third tier affects the game for the others. This change towards a “f2P” model will change the experience in some way for the players who have been paying for a service to be one way to find it changing to another.

    That alteration of the game is where I think it’s “bad for the game”.

  • One thing I wish pay-as-you-go games would do is use DOLLARS as the currency to purchase content. It’s already immersion-breaking to have to make a purchase decision every step of the way, and it only adds aggravation that I need to make a mental currency conversion every time.

    Even if they don’t call it “dollars,” at least make the conversion ratio 1:1 so I know how much of my actual money they’re trying to get me to spend.

  • I think most of the current players will like the new payment model.

    Ultimately, it makes everyone able to become lifers. Once you buy content… it’s always yours. Play it now. Play it 6 months from now. Doesn’t matter.

    In fact, the addition of the new Epic-dungeon system, where you’ll be able to go back and do all the old content dungeons, but at level 65 for level 65 rewards, is a great new addition. Rift at 65? Yep. Urugarth? check. Carn Dum? Sure. Garth Agarwen? Why not? They’ll eventually have all the old instances working in this system.

    Horizontal game expansion anyone? If Lotro has had one achilles heel, it’s that every time they update the game and it’s level cap, you got pidgeonholed into a small new set of instances. The games followed a pretty narrow vertical progression until this update. It changes from this point forward.

    The new F2P model will make the entire gameworld relevant again. Folks will be spread out in level ranges, and all the content will see frequent use.

  • I think it is difficult to speculate how the gameplay experience will be adversely affected, one will have to see. I have heard positive respomses about filling up previously under-populated zones; this can help restore the Massively part of MMO from Meagerly.

    In the end the majority player base will be responsible for passing judgement, not us armchair theorycrafters; it is important to not point out only the potential adverse effects, but weigh in the positive also, as the latter may overshadow the former in importance ro gameplay experience…

  • Outsid ethe starter areas and ALL of Epic volume 1 you need to pay for quests in packs. So from your article in Evendim you can go and do everything in the Epic books you just can’t do the other quest lines. As a lifer that returned after Allods F2P got to me I don’t have a huge problem with F2P. Heck I started over and basically did Epic books and Deeds to 58 causually in 4 months. Skirmishes, which you get 4 as a Free player, really take over the 30 to 45 grind. We’ll see how the population changes but I’m hopefully optimistic. Then again Allods was like that for me to and then, well, you know.

  • It’s free to try basically, then you can pay 10 bucks a month to keep playing without dealing without all the stupid cash shop stuff. The game has a good population on my server right now and most of us will happily keep paying 10 bucks a month.

    Sure you can buy content if you want but honestly if you play on playing a lot I think 10 bucks makes more sense. If they did much more than what they are doing they would lose a lot of us current subscribers and it’s nice to see we are still valued in the current f2p scheme.

  • Another True F2P game is Runes Of Magic. It has an Item Shop which is how they make their money. Nothing is locked to nonplaying members. Like the costumes, you can pay money for them, or do some awesomely difficult series of quests for them. As for the experience boosting items and such, yeah, gotta pay for em, but when you start a new character, they give you some item shop stuff for free, and the char gets a 50%exp boost for 2 days upon creation. Awesome game and truly free. LOTRO could learn from them. @_0

  • As many have said above, the problem is with the term “Free to Play”, which is completely misleading. However, we are stuck with it in the same way we are stuck with “MMORPG” even though the RP part barely exists in most of the games that use it.

    I’d go with “Pay As You Go”, which is a well-understood phrase that pretty much sums up how DDO, W101 and soon LotRO operate. And I think it’s an excellent model for MMOs just as it has proved to be an excellent one for cell phone providers, theme park operators, restaurants and countless other forms of human endeavour.

  • From what I can tell being pretty active in the game, this is not going to be a bad thing for LOTRO. LOTRO has been grinding to a halt for almost a year and a half (since Lorien finally released in March of 2009), with content updates that have left people shrugging their shoulders and wondering if this was it. Now, it remains to be seen if they actually make a lot of additional money off of this (though I suspect they will, in the short term), but the amount of “new” that is coming with the F2P (or P4P, I like that one) is very encouraging. Lua scripting, the new tournament system they’re beta testing this weekend, scalable “classic” instances, never mind the new zone. Radiance and LI changes are in the works, and they’ve already said they expect content updates to come much faster. Having played/sampled plenty of other MMOs, I don’t care if we get a few “dregs” from other games! Let them come play! I seriously doubt they’re going to overwhelm the players and community we already have. If anything, they’ll have to adapt to how LOTRO works, not vice versa. I’ll keep my subscription, build my 500 points a month, and pretty much just go on playing the game the same way I always have. I don’t see how I’m losing anything on this at all, and all indications are that there’s a LOT more going on at Turbine for LOTRO now than there was before.

  • There’s a reason they’re calling it “Free to play” and not “Pay as you go”. One sounds like they’re the heroes and the other sounds like they’ve decided to chop their game up and sell it off for parts. The latter also sounds (dare I say it?) bad for the game.

  • If it is run in a similar fashion to Their F2P version of DDO then there will be options available to F2p players not wishing to spend a dime, where they can grind out free point which can be use to purchase more content.

    There are people who did just that (in DDO)and have gotten to cap. It is nowhere near easy but where does it say F2p is also free of grind.

    Fear mongering over Turbine switching a game to a F2p model is so last year. They have already proven at it can and does work.

  • People don’t seem to understand how F2P actually works. Yes, you eventually have to unlock more quests to continue, but you do that with “Turbine Points” (in the case of DDO and soon to be LotRO). Yes, Turbine Points can be bought with real money, BUT you also gain them from doing things in-game: for example, in DDO you get TP rewards at certain rep levels, and Turbine has said you will get TP in LotRO from things such as completing quests and deeds. Once you have enough TP, you can unlock more content for — yes — free. With that new content you can gain more TP, and the cycle continues. Now, they obviously don’t make it extremely easy, and you have to play on multiple characters and servers, but it is entirely possible to unlock the entire game in this way without paying, thus Free to Play.

  • Free to Download, Free to Install and Free Copy of initial Game. No store bought price like a normal retail bought subscription based MMORPG, i.e WOW.

    That is what “Free to Play” strictly means.

    In reality the F2P model branches into many other types:

    Pay For Luxury: Core Game is the same for everyone, but vanity items are bought with real money.

    Pay For Content: Core game, but areas/quests/items locked unless bought with real cash.

    Pay to Win: Your able to buy in game items with real life cash.

    V.I.P : Turning your F2P model into a Subscription.

    My personal favourites are Pay for Vanity or Pay for Content, Pay for content ONLY if its not game content but items like mounts or clothes. (vanity not itemisation)

    Pay to Win games often have a lacklustre feel and a tiny player base.

    V.I.P games are good for mixing in with Free players, its basically a indefinite trial of a game before you have to commit, for example you could play 3 months free before becoming V.I.P where as with a Subscription based, the most your usually given free time is a week or two or a month on initial purchase of the game.

  • How about we call the traditional subscription model an “all you can eat buffet” and the F2P model “a la carte”?

    I’m a hearty eater and a hearty gamer, so all you can eat buffets, and subscription MMOs, are good value for me.

    But my girlfriend never gets her money’s worth at an all you can eat place. Similarly, many people don’t get their money’s worth from a subscription title. Playing LOTRO super casually and buying access to a zone every couple of months would work splendidly for them.

  • I played LotRO when it first came out. In fact, I played the beta. I reached the max level, completed all of the raid content available for the first year, and even participated on the private developer test server.

    My perspective on the game, which I loved, is that the game is meant to be a total package game. I see breaking it up and selling it off for parts as detrimental to the total game.

    I don’t see the a la carte being acceptable when used to break up the whole — a whole that worked.

  • First of all, a few points. Free players have access to all content in the Shire, Ered Luin, and Bree Land. Because of the recent revamps of this content, that easily gets you to level 20. After that you have access too all of the Epic Books in Volume 1, several Skirmishes (a type of instance that scales by group and level), and at least one group dungeon (that will scale with you as you level). In addition, you can earn Turbine Points in game as you level, then use that to buy content. If you mix in Skirmishes, the instance, and the Epic Books, you could easily reach level 50 (the level cap if you didn’t pay for anything). Yes, it’s possible, and the grind wouldn’t be that bad.

    I do agree that F2P probably isn’t the best name. Buying the quest packs is more like buying a lifetime subscription to a chunk of content. Pay $5 for the Lonelands and you can play it on all of your characters with no subscription fee until Turbine shuts down the servers. That’s not a bad deal.

    Really this is aimed at people who only want to play casually. If you only play a few hours a week/month, then buying a few quest packs is a far better deal than paying $10-15 a month.

  • It’s not like that anymore. You can level up to 50, which is the maximum for the no-expansion version of the game (as far as I remember – visit the lotr-website), which is the same level for VIPs and Premium users (who also get some perks like additional quests etc.). Still, there are some areas (like Trestlebridge – to the north of Bree), which have too many premium quests (almost if not every NPC with a quest has this big golden ring mark (like in the picture in the beginning of this article)). Usually you go to such areas following a quest that gives you point (to spend in the LOTRO store). Although this is [email protected], I do say that this is a neat trick. 😀 It’s like going from point A to B for free (and even get some reward) but you have to pay to enter point B. 😉

    There are many things that bind you to the store. Forget about the quest-packs etc. For example the Riding skill, which is essential to everyone who want to have his own mount, can only be bought through the LOTRO store. Yet buying a mount has a couple of ways to be done:
    1)VIP users get a basic mount through a quest. Further better mount has to be bought (as far as I know). For the basic mount from this quest there is no Riding skill required!
    2)Premium users have to buy a mount.
    3)F2P users have to buy a mount.

    Now there is also a difference in the meaning of “buying”. Some mounts can only be bought in the LOTRO store (and some of them are ONLY for Premium and VIP users). Other mounts can be bought from a horse master (like the one in the north outside Bree). The second option is quite a nice surprise. For around 500 silver coins you get a nice horse (better than the slow basic mount).

    So enough chit-chat from my side. There is plenty to be discovered and explored even for the F2P players. Let’s also not forget that (turbine) points can be acquired for free – as a reward from a quest or a deed (usually either 5 or 10 points). I myself am 22 level and so far love the game. Huge areas, beautiful landscapes, spooky atmosphere from time to time, incredible soundtrack etc. There is still plenty to do, when it come to the development of the game of course. But WoW&Co are not perfect either. Besides paying every month a fee is worse than buying a quest pack because you might want to play only Saturdays and Sundays (because there a people who have [email protected] to do during the whole freaking week!) or just when you like to. If you pay 15$ or so for a monthly subscription, then you ‘feel’ the need to play so that the money doesn’t go to hell for nothing. 😀

    I know very few MMORPG that are really free e.g. no premium content, no fee etc. Yet these games usually have major financial difficulties because let’s face it – especially in the beginning it’s really hard to sustain a development only on donations and developers, who do this just for fun and in their spare time. So LOTRO has to have some paid content. Otherwise how else will Turbine be able to run all the servers, continue the development etc.

    That’s all. Be happy with what you have in front of you and don’t look into the neighbours bowl. 😉