I’ve always had largely mixed feelings towards LOTRO’s free-to-play (F2P) model. On the one hand, it provides options for all players, is not essential to the enjoyment of the game, and lowers whatever obstacles there were for new players to get into the game and enjoy Middle-earth; on the other, the store casts a shadow on an otherwise elegant and enjoyable game and creates a lingering environment of greed as soon as one pries at all into the store and its related marketing schemes. The rather large “Store” button in the UI and the advertisements on loading screens cheapen the general feeling within LOTRO as well.
PB, writing for DocHoliday’s blog, published a nice editorial weighing the pros and cons for free-to-play versus the typical subscription model. He says we are deluded if we think that game companies haven’t been basing their release schedules or mechanics around extracting as much money as possible out of the subscription model in the first place; a company like Turbine seeking to maximize the profitability of their store is only a different dance to the same song.
This I can understand. A company must make money and, since the advent of F2P, Turbine has been able to crank out updates and new content more regularly, arguably at the rate at which they presented new areas the first 18 months after release. Though I cannot back it up, my assumption has always been that the areas that were released in that first year (Evendim, Forochel, and the like) were zones in production pre-release, riding the wave of cash injected by initial investments and released throughout the first year to keep folks playing. After Mines of Moria, though, things seemed to dwindle down to a trickle. So, while the F2P model is less than ideal (especially after Turbine had said they would not make LoTRO a free-to-play type game) it has provided the cash necessary to keep Middle-earth growing, which is what we all want. It hasn’t hindered the quality of content much either; the epic story is still interesting, quest text is still thoughtful, zones are still beautiful, endgame raids and instances are of the same grade as before F2P. They’ve even had the time and manpower to revamp existing zones to make them more player-friendly.
It’s just that dratted store that’s the problem.
It’s an eyesore, a blemish, a reminder of the wretched capitalism that oils the wheels of that great machine we call industry. I’ve had my moments of rage in its regard; “Armourgate” and the premium wallet, more specifically, have been some instances of seeming abuse of the store and of Turbine reneging (again) on their collective word. As I said in the Armourgate post, it feels especially ironic as this kind of moneygrubbing and advantage-taking is very Saruman-ish, in a game based on a story of fidelity and honour and freedom.
But, ultimately, it doesn’t affect the way I play the game. I’ve never bought anything from the store out of necessity and, because I am a subscriber, my allowance of store points lets me buy whatever I want without spending extra money. Like I said above, it hasn’t had any noticeable effect on content and I haven’t been put into a position of choosing the store or the game. Is the Turbine Store trifling and petty and nickle-and-diming? Yes. Do I have to partake? No.
However, being a subscriber is losing its appeal more and more. Why not allow an advertisement-free option for us monthly subscribers and Lifetimers? We’re not going anywhere. Our loyalty to the game and its IP has been proven tenfold in our longevity as customers. So why should I have to be subjected to that store button; those eyesore pop-ups that tell me I have earned points as can be used in said store; and the horrid adverts disguised as loading screens telling me to either (a) become a VIP, which I am, or (b) buy crap in the store, which I already do?
There are countless examples of this model out on the internet: you get the free version for free because it has limited functionality and you are subjected to advertising; when you start to pay your subscription, the ads go away. Hulu, Spotify, Amazon’s Kindle, and countless iOS apps utilize this idea. For LOTRO, the ads are all in-house so they don’t generate actual revenue just by being there, but it seems the same principles apply. This proposed ad-free option should come with the subscription package, but I don’t care if I have to pay a small stipend of Turbine Points each month to keep the pigs at bay. If it’s a one-time purchase to keep ads away, I will totally do it; I’ve dropped hundreds of dollars into this game over the years, a few more bucks won’t kill me. Consumerism is about choice, so just give me the ruddy option!