Over this past weekend, Mrs. Vraeden and I went out to dinner at one of our favourite restaurants.1 We frequent this place so often that we don’t really bother to look at the menu. Even the servers there know us pretty much by sight, and a couple of them could probably get us our meal without even speaking to us first.
So why do we keep going back? You could say that we’re in a rut. Mrs. Vraeden likes a margarita on the rocks with salt, the Alice Springs Chicken with the steamed veggies and add a house salad with ranch, but no onions. I like the world’s greatest food to go along with the 12 ounce ribeye (medium rare; more rare than medium) with a baked potato with everything but scallions and a house salad, also with ranch and no onions. Plus, I also hold out the (very) slim chance that the always-lovely Kym Johnson might be there (because she’s Australian and why wouldn’t she go to this restaurant?).
After listening to this past week’s live show and reading our friend Peter’s question about getting the fun back in LOTRO, this got me thinking about why people stick with a game they have played through many times over.
The question is this: After your 500th run through Grand Stairs/Draigoch/Barad Guldur/Watcher/Sword Halls/et al, why do you keep logging into LOTRO?
From Peter’s letter, it seems to me that if you’ve been playing LOTRO for a couple of years, there probably isn’t much content that you haven’t already done. So why do you keep coming back for more? Does the game really become a never-ending grind? Why not branch out to other games and then pop back in when new content is available?
In a previous article, I mentioned that there is a core group of LOTRO players who will only leave when someone at Turbine turns out the lights; they will be dragged kicking and screaming away from the game only because the servers will be shut down.
There are also a group of MMO transients, who bounce around from one game to another as they are released. They may find themselves returning to one or two games for the bulk of their play time, but they’re never around for more than a couple of weeks at a time, or after racing up to the level cap, you never see them again. I think the reality of the situation is that many LOTRO players also play other games. They might be other MMOs, but they could also play console games, single-player PC games, PnP RPGs and a few might actually do stuff outside in the sun (Nerf Humans vs. Zombies comes to mind).
Since December, I have been spending the bulk of my MMO time in a galaxy far, far away. My LOTRO account is now F2P and I really only show up to collect my lottery winnings and for the festivals. Other than that, I haven’t played a lot of LOTRO.
When I have logged in, I sometimes get a “Hey, where have you been?”, “We need a healer” or “When are you coming back?” tell from a kinmate or friend.
To tell the truth, there are many things I miss about LOTRO. I enjoy SWTOR, and as a huge Star Wars nerd, there are lots of parts of that game I still want to see. But I enjoy some of the gameplay and mechanics of LOTRO, and I miss the community and my virtual friends very much. There will come a day when I walk away from SWTOR and only re-activate my account a couple of times a year to play new content as it is released.2
I’ve been logging in to LOTRO with more regularity of late, mostly because I want the Fireworks steed on a couple of my toons and I think the You-In-A-Box is pure awesomeness (especially on a hobbit).
When I cut back on my LOTRO time, it wasn’t because I was bored with the game. Quite the contrary, there is still a lot of content I have not done, and many aspects of the game I have not explored (tanking being first on my list of skillz to learn).
That’s not to say that I didn’t find myself some days wondering why I even bothered to log in. Merric mentioned in the podcast that his days in WoW had come down to a seeming like work and sometimes I’ve felt that way, too: log in, run a set of dailies, bio, swap to an alt, run the same dailies, eat, bio, swap to another alt, run the dailies again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
When I had two “main” toons, a hunter and a minstrel, it seemed that a lot of my time was spent doing the same things over and over. I started playing right after the Mirkwood expansion dropped, and until Enedwaith opened up, there really wasn’t that much new content for about a year. I didn’t dread logging on, but the fact of the matter was that some times, I felt like my LOTRO experience was stagnant.
After grinding up some virtues and deeds, I decided to roll a third toon. The kinship I was in at the time needed captains, so I rolled one, despite my reservations about playing a melee class. Along the way, I was fortunate enough to run into a couple of other players who always seemed to be in the same zones at the same time. From the North Downs on, if we were on together, either in pairs or more, we would knock out some quests or slayer deeds.
One of my new virtual friends is a LOTR fan, and it was nice to run around with her because it was her first time through the game, and every now and then she would stop and just take in the sights or smell the roses. I spent about an hour just sitting around while she geeked out in Caras Galadhon. It was like going to Disney World with a child or someone who has never been before, and that was a refreshing way to view LOTRO in a different light.
As I’ve leveled alts, I’ve found myself forgetting how visually stunning LOTRO is. It’s easy to lose the forest for the trees (sometimes literally) when you’ve played through five toons and are running alt #6 through the Old Forest. I took several months to get my hunter up to the level cap because I was doing every quest I ran across and trying to finish all the slayer deeds and virtues in each zone before moving on. There was no nook or cranny of Middle-Earth I didn’t want to see.
That wanderlust has gradually diminished as I’ve leveled alts; I want to race through the zones, skipping the quests I loathe (pie/mail delivery, Laila in the Barrow-Downs, etc.), ignoring some zones unless I absolutely have to be there for class or epic quests (cough . . . Forochel . . . cough), and only doing the deeds if they had a cool title or a virtue I was actually going to slot on that toon.
Besides the top-notch landscapes, the epic quests provide a depth to LOTRO that is missing from a lot of MMOs. Several years ago, a buddy of mine tried to get me to play WoW, so I did the 10 day free trial. While each zone had its own quests, I didn’t feel like there was any purpose to the game other than clear out all the quest rings and then move to the next higher-level zone. The open-ended sandbox approach to WoW just wasn’t the pie filling I was looking for.
What LOTRO and SWTOR have is the underlying story that drives the quests, and for me, that is what keeps the games interesting. Even though there is one epic story in LOTRO (unlike the 8 in SWTOR), the fact that it is set against the backdrop of the War of the Ring and even the instances and raids are tied into the story make it feel like more than just grind for tokens and gear.
I will also state right now that I am not a hardcore raider. I know people who are, and they get a tremendous amount of enjoyment out of mustering every night at 8:00 PM (eastern time, US) to run through the newest raids, or heading out to the Moors to cruise around and crush creeps. That’s just not me.
If this sounds like rambling, let me draw this back to the root question: How do you keep a MMO from getting stale?
First of all, let me echo what Merric said on the live show: If it seems like work, stop playing. You’ll only end up hating yourself. I don’t know about you, but I have one full-time job, and I don’t need another. I swore an oath years ago that if I ever dreaded getting up every day and going in to work, I would find some other way to support myself.3 I would apply the same principle to LOTRO: If the game isn’t any fun any more, then you need to find something else to do. Your leisure time is too valuable to spend it doing something that you despise.
Second, what parts of the game have you not experienced? In the live chat, there were many good suggestions on how to keep enjoying LOTRO: join a band, roll on another server, level up an alt (or five), move to an RP server, join a different kinship, etc. For me, melee combat and tanking are things I have not done very often. When I return to LOTRO, leveling up my champion and guardian are high on my “to do” list.
Maybe you should try out some of the more advanced classes, such as the lore-master or warden. Try healing if you’ve never done that. Head out to the Moors—either as a Freep or a creep—and take in some PVP action.
One other thing I’ve tried to do is go back to the zones I usually skip. It’s easy to race through areas from one to the next just to get to Moria at level 50, and then beyond at level 56, until you get to the level cap and start running the daily/weekly instances and raids. The re-vamped Evendim zone is amazing, and some of the other zones I speed through (Trollshaws, Forochel) also have a lot of content that turned out to be a lot of fun when I actually got around to doing it.4
Crafting is another area where you can find new aspects to the game. Now that I’ve got toons with all of the crafting professions, I can make pretty much the best crafted gear for all of my new toons. It’s a far cry from when I first started playing and thought that having 500 silver was a lot of money! Of course, if you’re like me, you probably loathe farming (it’s literally watching grass grow), but leveling alts through the guilds and getting full sets of recipes is something not everyone has in the game.
You could also try and level a toon without sending him/her any money or gear from your other characters just for the challenge of it.
Game mechanics aside, in my opinion, the best way to keep enjoying LOTRO is to find people you like and hang out with them. In some cases you might want to try a different server or join a different kinship. Maybe not for all of your toons, but for the new one or two you just started.
It’s easy to hang out with the same people all the time. But that doesn’t mean they’re not dragging you down. Remember, before you start thinking that you have depression or low self-esteem, make sure that you are not, in fact, surrounded by poo-holes. Same thing with LOTRO: Maybe it’s not you, maybe it’s the people you hang out with.
I have been very lucky to belong to great, casual kinships in LOTRO, and that fits my play style very well. Even the kin that’s more into raiding (Shoutout: Lost Legion of Dunharrow) is made up of folks who are fun just to hang out with in game. The Osgiliath Guard (Holla!) is the other big kinship I belong to and they are helpful and welcoming and generous. They have divisions in just about any computer game you can think of; I also belong to their SWTOR division and they are second to none. The people in both groups make my LOTRO time exponentially more enjoyable than just logging in and playing solo.
Some of my friends belong to kinships where the people aren’t always so nice or they have problems. Maybe there’s drama. Maybe the leadership is weak. Maybe you want to role-play and they don’t. Maybe there are 80 members, but it seems like you’re the only one who’s ever on. Maybe they are all, in fact, poo-holes.
After the kinship I was in a couple of years ago dissolved, a few of the officers and main members bounced around trying to find another “home”. I know a guy who is in one of the hardcore raiding kins and after running around with them for a while, I knew that wasn’t for me.
It’s not that they were bad people or didn’t know what the hell they were doing. Quite the opposite: they were a lot of fun and regularly beat the endgame content. My problem with them was that they were too good. And not only that, some of them were all too willing to tell me how to play my class, even when I didn’t ask.
I appreciate that some people believe the game starts when you get to the level cap. That’s just not me, nor is that what I enjoy about LOTRO.
If you find yourself always with the same people, all the time, and you aren’t enjoying their company, find new friends. That’s not to say that you have to leave your old friends, but if you like to RP and the people you currently hang out with don’t, find a group for role-playing. Or find a causal kinship that does non-raid events like concerts, chicken play, festivals, craft fairs or has a help-a-lowbie-out night once a week.
There are many good reasons to quit playing an MMO: you’re not sleeping regularly, you forget your anniversary because it was on a scheduled raid night (again), you get fired from your job, you went outside for 5 minutes on an overcast day and got sunburned, the crease in your chair is a little too perfect, et al.
But if you’re thinking about quitting your game of choice because you’re bored, maybe you should spice things up and try something new in the game.5
Who knows what might happen?
Maybe next time I’ll get a Bloomin’ Onion and the filet.
- Not to name names, but it rhymes with “trout rack”. ↩
- Or I will suck it up and start paying two subscription fees. ::cringe:: If this happens, please roll a toon on Elendilmir and fishslap me until I see the light. ↩
- And so I became a high school teacher at two-thirds the pay. ↩
- I usually skip Forochel because I’m from Florida and I hate the cold. Maybe it’s a testament to the prowess of the game devs because I try to speed through Forochel and the Misty Mountains because I want to get as far away from the snow as I can. ↩
- Or roll some toons over on The Jekk’Jekk Tarr and help me smack some Imps around. ↩