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Why LotRO is Going Free-to-Play - An Exclusive Interview with Turbine

Posted Fri, Jun 04, 2010 by B. de la Durantaye

With today's big news that The Lord of the Rings Online is going free-to-play, Ten Ton Hammer Executive Editor, Benjamin J. de la Durantaye, spoke to Adam Mersky, Director of Communications, and Kate Paiz, Executive Producer over at Turbine. What does the change mean to current subscribers? How will the game support a free-to-play model? How did this happen? Find out with Ten Ton Hammer's exclusive interview with Turbine.


Ten Ton Hammer: What will happen to the current lifetime subscribers?

Adam Mersky: They will become VIP members without paying a subscription fee any more. Nothing has changed for them except now they'll get 500 free Turbine points per month. For more information on the different types of accounts that will be available, visit http://www.lotro.com/betasignup/vipchart.html

Ten Ton Hammer: How similar is the change with LotRO to what Turbine has done with DDO?

Kate Paiz: We learned a lot with DDO and we're not looking to fix what isn't broken. There are a lot of similarities with the way the store interacts with the game and the categories of items we offer. There are certainly differences, especially around the content models. LotRO is such a different game in the moment-to-moment game play, it's only appropriate that we customize it differently.

A Skirmish in The Lord of the Rings Online
LotRO Skirmish

Like DDO there will be two purchasable classes. For us, it will be the Warden and the Runekeeper which were part of the Moria expansion, which can now be bought as part of the Moria pack or individually. New players will have all of the Shire, all of Breeland and all of Erud Luin to play completely free. That content lasts till about level 22.

Then from 22-50 you have all of the epic story to play free. There are region packs that will be available. Those are the optional quests in that area which you'll be able to buy from the store. You'll walk up to an NPC. That NPC will tell you all about the quests they have available, and there will be a "Buy Now" button instead of an Accept button. If you click "Buy Now" it will open the store window where you can buy the region pack and you'll get access to the 80-200 quests for that region.

So it's definitely a different experience than the way content is offered in DDO just due to the natures of the games, but we felt it was important for players to be able to walk all the way from the Shire to the Misty Mountains without any barriers or penalties in their way. They can kill monsters on the landscape and experience the epic quests to their heart's content.

Ten Ton Hammer: What was the determining factor in switching to free-to-play?

Kate: We learned a lot from the DDO launch. We saw the benefit to the community and the way it grew. We were impressed with how helpful and mature the community was. The Advice channel, and the interaction were great. We really wanted that for LotRO. The game was doing very well as a subscription based game, but we saw an opportunity for it to be doing even better in this new model, and that's what inspired us.

Ten Ton Hammer: Was the decision influenced more by Warner Brothers, or was it a Turbine decision?

Kate: Turbine.

Adam: We'd been talking with WB for a long time, and we're certainly thrilled to be part of the family. They acquired us a little over a month ago, but we've been working on this for a lot longer.

We really think this is the future for online games--the concept of providing players with a choice. If the number one reason players aren't playing the games is the subscription, then it seems pretty obvious that removing that, and providing other options, it's not only going to be beneficial for them, but for our business as well. And it has been. We felt very strongly about the move when we did it with DDO, but at the end of the day, we didn't know how people were going to react. But the response has been so overwhelmingly positive for us as a business, and frankly, for our players too. We knew we had to do this. Not only for LotRO, but it's become part of our design philosophy for any future games we design.

Kate: I think WB does agree with the strategic value of this, and that was a way in which Turbine's and WB's interests were very much aligned. I think it certainly had an impact on their decision to move forward with us.

Adam: You can even go back to the press release and look at their quotes when they acquired us.  The acquisition of Turbine was a strategic move for them and it's not just because of our games. It wasn't just to unify the Lord of the Rings rights, which are all certainly good reasons, but these new ways of providing entertainment as a service to new players. We're all up 24/7. For us, it's not just about shipping a game and moving on to the next title. It's about developing a long term value relationship with the customer. Our ability to do that in MMOGs, I think, intrigues them with how that could impact their entire portfolio across the board. Maybe not the same way as it is done in an MMOG, but there are certainly things we do in the MMOG world that can benefit players of other types of games and different platforms.

Visiting Gathburz
Gathburz, part of the Siege of Mirkwood Expansion

Ten Ton Hammer: What's going to be available in the cash shop? Will we see legendary items?

Kate: We don't sell any gear at all in the LotRO store. We may eventually do something like DDO where we offer a starter pack of items for players who are looking for a little bit of a leg up at the very beginning of the game but right now we don't offer any gear in the store at all.

Moria is still an expansion in and of itself. Down the road we may introduce slight enhancements or benefits to legendary items, but that isn't scoped out yet and it certainly won't be in at launch.

A big part of beta is to validate the offers in the store. If we sell crafting recipes that are easier to buy from the store than to run around trying to find in game--do players like that? Is it a good value for them? These are the kinds of questions and things we will be exploring so that we can always ensure that the store, while always optional, is meeting the needs of the players and giving them the choice to play and find it in the game, or to pay and get it easily through the store.

Ten Ton Hammer: Have you given thought to how future expansions will be released?

Kate: We haven't yet decided on full expansions and the strategy for that. What we are committed to is continuing to expand and grow the game. We'll continue our update frequency and the quality of the updates, similar to how DDO has. But we don't have full expansions locked down at the moment, but we will in due time.

Adam: I like to look at this almost as a whole new beginning. When you bring new people in the game and see how they're enjoying it and consuming the content, it makes it easier for us to develop content for that kind of audience.

Like you see with DDO, we're doing a lot of regular updates to the game on an ongoing basis, and I think you're going to see a new type of energy there for LotRO.  If you take a look at what DDO has done in the past year, I think you can expect the same kind of success on all fronts for LotRO, whether the business side or the content coming into the game.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will there be any new content when the game is initially launched as free-to-play?

Adam: We're going to have an update when it launches, which will come with some new content.

**For more information on The Lord of the Rings Online new free-to-play model, check out the FAQ at http://www.lotro.com/betasignup/faq.html
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