I don’t know all the background, but when LOTRO went free to play last year the LOTRO Store was deemed one of the places the company behind the game, Turbine, would fund the ongoing development of the game; the idea being that whilst having X number of people paying a small monthly fee is all well and good, the removal of that monthly fee would bring in Y-more people who would then either join the X group or spend their hard-earned wonga in an easily accessible in-game store. Some may have wondered if the plan would work, but I think general consensus is that it was a brilliant idea. I don’t know the figures but I read that tons of people have started playing the game now the barrier of a purchase & subscription fee has been removed – hell, that’s what swung it for me. There I was, surrounded with my newly recovered MERP books and yearning to reclaim my Middle Earth inhabiting youth when I suddenly remembered seeing the LOTRO boxes down at the game shop in town. A quick google found that the game was free and I’d registered and hit download before I really knew anything about the game.
If there had been a reasonable price (<£40) to buy the game on download I probably would have paid it. If there had been a price to buy it and a reasonable monthly subscription (<£10) but with a free trial period to try it I still would have gone ahead. But if there had been a price to buy it AND then a monthly subscription fee with no trial period, then no matter how low that fee I would never have downloaded it. That’s just me – I mean, why am I going to pay twice for something I might not like? So I can honestly say that Turbine’s decision to go free-to-play directly influenced me to download it – after all what had I got to lose, eh?
By the end of the second day playing the game I was googling to see if I could get a Mines of Moria box set so I could have all the content even though it would take me months to even get to a stage where I could play any of it, that’s how much this game grabbed me! I was in the grip of a mania, but I know that I always am when I find a new game so I waited for it to simmer down and I could assess how I felt about the game in a more reasonable frame of mind – after all, Call of Duty: Black Ops spent the night with me only to lift my wallet in the morning. But whereas the Balck Ops love bubble popped after 10 looooong, painful days. The mania for LOTRO never passed. I’m a whole month into LOTRO now and so much in love I want to take it out to dinner, marry it, have kids and move to a cottage by the sea… one with broadband though.
And Turbine are getting their worth out of me, let me tell you! I have spent more money in my one month in LOTRO than I would have in 4 months of paying subs. More for fuck’s sake! MORE! Turbine have worked out a balance of paying for fun and not paying to win that is almost perfect for me and I’ve had to stop myself more than once from clicking on the big gold LOTRO Store coin icon in game and ask “Do I really need this cool item?”. That is amazing – they have made a game so good I want to dry hump it, and then slapped on a business model that takes me for more cash than their original idea of just charging me to play – not just that but I happily open my wallet and let their orcs march in with a smile on my face and song on my lips. By christ I wish I’d have thought of that business model!
Still, they have to tread a fine line because no one wants to play in a game where that really cool super-warrior you just saw strutting through Bree turns out not to have the cojones to cock-punch the Balrog and grab all the loot, but just a very deep wallet. For my part I steer away from items that actually makes my character bigger, tougher, harder, etc. and buy the simple stuff that makes the gameplay more enjoyable and less of a grind. So far I’ve spent real Earth money the following items:
- A horse. Not one of the £20 super-fast ones, just a basic Bree-pony. Nothing gets you down more than a 10 minute yomp through the (admittedly beautiful) countryside just to click on someone and complete a quest for 93 copper pieces and some pork chops. Get a horse, but if you can wait a little longer than me, you could buy one in game for about 700 silver pieces which might take a little time to accrue but won’t cost you a penny from your actual wage packet. When it came to Gorfrik, I had Ranhold post him enough silver to buy a horse this way and save me a fiver in RL.
- Cosmetic clothing. Not a lot, just 3 or 4 items so I didn’t look like everyone else, but again you can buy this in game with silver pieces and not spend your real food money on it. When it comes to cosmetics, it’s worth remembering that it does nothing but look good
- Anti-death tokens. Nothing sucks worse than dying twice in quick succession as the second time beams you home. These tokens cancel that allowing you to carry on and reclaim your honour. I *think* these can also be made in-world and therefore bought there, but I’m not sure.
- Extra bag & vault slots. As a free to play player you only get 3 inventory bags. You *will* need more. Buy them. Same with the bank vault storage, although this can also be bought with silver (and then gold) pieces so save your loot and spend it wisely to avoid dipping into your real life bank account.
- Virtue slots. You can only unlock these at the store if you are free to play. Sure you can play without them, but it places a break on how far you can develop, although that break is very far into the game by which time you might be paying monthly anyway and have them unlocked 😀
- Experience/Deed Accelerators. Oh gods… having to find and kill 60 sickle flies can be such a ballache. Spend some money (mere pence) and get a 15-minute boost so you don’t have to grind so long on these repetitive tasks that really don’t enhance your gameplay in huge leaps – no one got to level 65 by killing 10 wolves in the Old Forest 😉
- Expansion content. Free to play people have the whole of the world created so far to explore, but large areas of it are empty of people and quests until you buy the downloadable expansion packs. I haven’t so far as I’m not at these places yet (and won’t be for at least 2-3 more months giving you some insight into just how much content free-ers get) but I will.
I think that’s about all I have bought so far, bar the odd little thing here and there. The store system works really well, just make sure you check out if what you are buying with real money a) needs to be bought & b) can be bough in-game for non-real money.
As for me, well once the migration from Codemaster’s EU servers to Turbine’s American servers is done I’m going VIP monthly subscription – that’s how much I love this bloody game, but rest assured I’ll still be shopping at the store for those accelerators 😀