Turbine Tries to Explain Epic Story Flip-Flop


In a post that should have come before Sapience made the admission that the epic story would no longer be free, MadeOfLions tried to explain the reasoning behind the changes made with the Helm’s Deep Expansion.  I was pretty harsh on them for this announcement mainly because they didn’t admit the real reason behind the change.  I still don’t think this announcement is really true, but it as at least a better attempt.

I’m not going to re-write the entire post, but I do highly suggest you check it out.

I have issues with a couple of parts of it, first with regards to Isengard.  MoL says that epic story was developed assuming the Epic Story would be only included as part of that expansion, not free like it was.  That’s fine if its true, but that part was never communicated to the community and with the changes to Moria and Mirkwood, as well as Rohan, not to mention multiple Turbine quotes on the subject, we became accustomed to the free epic story.  I don’t understand why the story behind Rohan’s development wasn’t told, but perhaps that’s just because MoL wasn’t a part of it.  It almost seems to me like Turbine is trying to forget Rohan completely.

The other issue I have is that MoL claims the only way they could deliver the story and big battles in all their glory was to charge for the story, I just don’t get that rationale.  If I were to buy the expansion I’d get the story, so why wouldn’t you want to make it as good as possible?  Linking the story to the expansion doesn’t impact those who buy the expansion at all, if purely inflates the amount of people who buy the expansion.  Personally, I think it would’ve been better accepted to charge for Big Battles then the epic line using that same logic.

The final thing I posed to MoL on the forums was why if this is such an epic story with these massive battles that forced Turbine to make the hard decision to break their promise, are they only allowing 2 months to test it?

The reality of MoL’s post is that Turbine doesn’t have the team to do all the things they say they can and have in the past, and unless they start bringing in more money we will continue to see changes with this game.


LOTRO Helm’s Deep Pre-Order Debacle


I don’t really like making my first post in a long while a rant, but I just couldn’t help it.  There are so many things I feel are wrong with this announcement that I needed to write about it.  I have been expecting this news pretty much any day since the middle of June, so I can’t be terribly surprised it came yesterday.  I’m also not surprised by what was actually in the announcement, but I was really hoping that Turbine would change its model from previous expansions.

Sure, Isengard was their best expansion ever, and one that I snatched up the legendary pack for immediately.  However, we’ve never heard a peep about how Rohan did and one can only guess that it didn’t do all that well.  I know from my own highly scientific polling, most people were either not getting the pack or using their Turbine points for it, like I did.  What Turbine failed to do with that pre-order was include items that people really cared about and wanted.  After 6 years, I think players are getting tired of titles (does anyone still care what title they show?) and have more cosmetic items then they know what to do with.  Combine that with the fact that we can only show off one horse at any given time, it makes it hard to really need all these extra things.

With Helm’s Deep, I was really hoping they’d include some other sort of item in the pre-order packs.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what that would be – but I feel they should have tried something to switch things up from a model that clearly isn’t working.  One highly controversial item that would’ve tempted me is the rumored XP item that has been leaked.  I personally would love a way to bring a couple of my alts up to level cap but the prospect of leveling them is more then daunting and not something I have any intention of doing.  That to me would be the perfect “convenience” item, paying real world money to shorten my time in game.  And while they may not have learned anything about previous pre-orders bonus items, there’s more later about a trick they did pick up on

Next up would be the pricing, I again was hoping for something more along the lines of the Mirkwood model.  Not necessarily as confusing, but the base pack around $20 with a fluff option for another $20.  Instead what we got was a base of $40, a few more cosmetics for $60, and a horrifically overpriced Hobbit themed add-on for $40.  That hobbit pack includes:

  • 3 Star Lit Crystals which is 1195 TPs in the store
  • Scroll of Delving which is 195 TP
  • Relic Removal scroll which is 195 TP
  • and a Premium Relic pack which is 2000 TP (updated for all characters this is 3495)

So that totals 3585 TP, which is roughly $35 and if you’re in the US toss in an extra $13 for the movie ticket and it’s a pack valued at around $48.  It does appear that these items will still apply for your level 95 LIs, but no answer from a dev to the forum questions on this explicitly.  Even though the community has answered that store versions currently are not level bound, I would like a blue-name clarification that it will be that way with Helm’s Deep as well.  Clearly, if you’re not in the US this pack is not a good deal, and even in the US if you get a sale and/or a double point weekend (or stipend) it is probably better for you to pass on this.  After a twitter comment, if you play multiple characters, the relic pack is actually 3495 TP for all characters, so this does become a $63 value which is a better deal.

We still don’t know all that much about the expansion, even with the flurry of press articles.  If you actually think about those articles – what additional information came out that you didn’t know prior to the article?  At least with this expansion we don’t have to worry about the price and/or inclusion of an Instance Cluster since there is none.  However, at this time we still have zero information about the availability of using Turbine points to pay for the expansion, something we learned very quickly with the Rohan launch, later that day even.  This part doesn’t make sense to me since Sapience said they held off on the announcement to figure out a way to make the Hobbit pack international – so they had all this ready a good time ago and had to know this question would come immediately.  And after thinking about it a bit more, the fact that they’re floating the story that they didn’t announce the pre-order based purely on a freebie tie-in for a portion of the community is also a tad insulting.  If they really wanted to announce it, they would have (like they’ve done before) and make changes or inclusions along the lines.  But based on these prices and the fact that I’m sure there are many lifers like me with a healthy stash of TP, I highly expect the TP price for this expansion to be very high.

Getting back to Turbine learning their lessons, they did have an ace up their sleeve that they didn’t roll out until specifically called out on it, and this of course is that the Epic Story line which has been available for Free for a long time now (not quite since F2P launch) will only be available to those who purchase the expansion.  Here is Sapience’s initial response to the question as well as his follow up justification for the change.  <Update> Significantly after the fact, a slightly better explanation has come from MadeOfLions.  <Update> Initially I jumped to the greedy thought, but I’ve now come to realize what really bugs me isn’t that they’re being greedy (I still think they are) but that they’re not being honest or consistent in why they’re making the change.  If they had admitted it was a business decision to make the change, I would have been totally fine with it.  However, they are claiming that because Big Battles are such an integral part of the story, they need to charge for both of them.  Never mind that Helm’s Deep isn’t that big of a part of the books that LOTRO is based on (unlike the movies) as posted elsewhere but Turbine previously has included new technologies for free since they are so integral to the Epic Story line.  Legendary Items, many skirmishes, and Mounted Combat were all new technologies that significantly changed the game but since they were tightly integrated into the Epic Story line they were included for free.  No matter what real reason you think is driving this decision, the public answer clearly doesn’t make sense or justify what they’re doing.

The final piece of this announcement that truly boggles my mind is the date, November 18th.  If we look at past expansions, Rise of Isengard had almost 5 months of closed beta testing, without an instance cluster, before its launch, Riders of Rohan had 3 months but still pushed that launch a month and split up its instance cluster into 2 pieces to be launched significantly later.  This expansion will only have 2 months of closed beta testing, which is incredibly short considering that they’re introducing a “new” instance and rewards system as well as a complete and total revamp of EVERY class.  They haven’t updated every class at the same time since Moria, and not since Mirkwood have they actually succeeded in rolling out any kind of instance cluster at launch time, let along one that’s using “new” technology.  History shows us that both of these are both things that Turbine historically has trouble with so you’d like to think they’d want to make sure they did it properly.  I look at this in two ways, one cynical and the other incredibly pessimistically.  The truth is probably neither of them, but we’ll never know that.  From the cynical side, this is done to ride the wave of the Hobbit build-up to the second movie and get in before the holiday season kicks off in full gear, and was a date set by WB long ago.  Even if it launches at that time, I expect numerous patches and various things to be quickly closed off due to bugs and/or exploits.  As for the pessimistic view, this game is turning into an easy daily facebook style game, where difficulty has no place, so they don’t have to worry about class interactions or Big Battle difficulty at all.  They can just make sure classes work on their own and make the battles super easy and they’re done and ready for launch.

Riders of Rohan was the first expansion I didn’t pre-order on the day it was announced, and in fact I waited and bought it with Turbine Points.  Initially I wasn’t even planning on buying the Helm’s Deep expansion at all, even with Turbine Points, but now I’m not so sure since they made the epic chance.  Part of me thinks this is a clean time to part ways, but after almost 7 years in this world that is a hard thing to do.  Depending on how they handle things going forward I may cave and buy it with Turbine Points, but this announcement has really shown me how little Turbine understands the community.  The Player’s Council certainly has their work cut out for them.


Turbine’s Communication Issues


I waited on making this post as I wanted to give Turbine added time to release their next round of twenty questions, however if anything those questions further exacerbate the issue as myself and others see it.  I’m not claiming to speak for the entire community, but I know at least many, and certainly I believe the portion of the community Sapience was addressing on Monday.  In answering the posts over the weekend, Sapience was a little bit snarky in responding to the community by explaining how much they’ve pushed out to the community and failing to understand why the community continues to ask the same questions.  I think this comes down to a few things.

The classic quote “I do not think that means what you think it does” comes to mind with regards to communication.  In order for communications to be successful, they need to not only be sent out, but received in some fashion.  One way communication isn’t all that successful, and I think Sapience’s post pretty much points out that there’s a disconnect somewhere.  Turbine needs to realize not all of their players read the forums, I’m guessing a pretty low percentage actually and probably about that same amount follow sites either on the web or through some sort of social media.  However, even those following in some fashion inevitably miss items as it can be hard to catch every single item that is ever posted.  As an example, it is a REDICULOUS process to even try to obtain updates on when a dev makes a post – the ONLY way to do it is check the dev tracker constantly or use a horrendous Yahoo Pipes setup that thankfully someone put up and shared with the community.  Even that dev feed can get cluttered with things like store sales and out of game events.  Providing a way to filter those out and subscribe in some fashion would be quite helpful.

Another aspect is using leading statements without providing any sort of clarifications or follow up information, a few examples:

  • announcing pre-orders for the Rise of Isengard expansion (first expansion to not ship with an instance cluster) and not inform the public that an instance cluster wouldn’t be available for another 3 months.
  • announcing pre-orders for the Rise of Rohan specifying that the cluster would be delayed, but delay the inclusion of that cluster with the purchase of the expansion
  • and just recently – there will be an update between Update 11 and Helm’s deep, but not specifying that it would only be bug fixes and not additional content.
  • these are just a few examples of this

I just don’t understand why Turbine continues to be as vague as they are with these kinds of issues considering how poorly the community reacts every time.  We knew in closed beta for a LONG time there would be no instances in ROI – why not release that and get ahead of it?  What was the point of not explaining how people could obtain the instance cluster with RoR?  And why not just be honest and say the only updates between Update 11 and Helm’s Deep will be bug fixes?  These are all examples of poor customer relations and leading the customer along a false path for fear of upsetting them with bad news.  Well guess what Turbine, while we don’t like getting bad news, we really don’t like feeling like we’ve been lied to.

Then of course there’s the recent – we’ll just ignore this question was ever asked and hope that it goes away as it pertains to things like the content license.  It is a simple factual question, even the question of “what content do you have a license for” took years to resolve and I’m still not sure I know the answer.  Sure it may be a very complicated arrangement and may in fact be in an incredibly nasty negotiation period (purely making this up for dramatic purposes) but you can admit the facts with something along the lines of “Our current licensing deal extends through 2014 and we’re in a constant state of evaluation of the future,” that simple statement acknowledges the question but still doesn’t back anyone into any corner or impact any potential negotiations.  The license issue got even worse as Sapience and the official twitter feed promised to settle the issue definitively in the 20 questions coming up.  Turbine has a history of this kind of teasing, and sadly it is becoming more and more childish and less exciting each time they do it.  Their answer was that they “plan to support LOTRO for many more years to come,” not only is this incredibly vague but there are a whole host of other things Turbine planned to do (or not do) that they went back against:

  • not going Free to Play
  • no gear in store
  • new PvMP map with Isengard
  • more frequent updates with F2P
  • I could go on, but I think you get the point

Not only does Turbine’s track record not speak to well for us just blindly trusting them, but any agreement like this is a two way agreement and who is to say the Tolkien estate wouldn’t grow tired of what’s going on and pull the plug on the game’s license?  After the various tweets, I was really hoping for something substantial, but instead we just got some public relations nonsense that addresses absolutely zero concerns of the community.  What did that statement say that wasn’t something we didn’t already know, of course Turbine wants to continue the game as it is a way for them to stay employed and continue to make money for WB.  I have to question those who think this statement from Turbine is any sort of binding contract with the community.  I would have been happier if they would have hid behind the ongoing contractual discussions and not wanting to disturb them then the crap we got.

While I’m on the list of those questions, I find it incredibly insulting that Turbine has the nerve to redicule the community for asking the same questions multiple times, when they themselves pick and answer the same question multiple times.  Why not keep a consolidated list somewhere (go and find all the dev chats, trust me I tried, its damn hard) not only for the community but for yourselves such that you know which questions you’ve already answered and not pick those unless there’s a significant change.  Let’s pick on the deep meaty answer they did provide this time around regarding instance difficulty.  That same exact question and answer has been repeated numerous times, on various forums including live and bullroarer.  What would have been really interesting would have been how that process has changed as the game has evolved or how they roll in the feedback from Live into that process.

Finally, the waffling back and forth on issues when coupled with all the above completely muddies the water and makes it incredibly hard to understand what’s really coming or planned.  For example, mounted combat instances have been asked about numerous times and each time we get a different answer.  From not on the roadmap (which means no since the roadmap goes out quite a few years), to we’re actively looking at it, to there are much bigger issues that need to be tackled first before we look at that option.  What’s worse is that some of this waffling has been by the same person!  All three responses individually would be perfectly fine answers, as would be stepping up and acknowledging that you’ve provided a different answer before but things have changed for whatever reason.  At this point, while I want certain things in the game and aspects addressed, I’d be happy to have a consistent answer, or if the answer changes own the fact and you could even admit that player feedback caused the change in opinion.  I’m pretty sure there are others like me that keep asking questions (like the mounted combat one) simply because we don’t know what answer we’ll get.

My initial draft of this post was still negative, but this recent round of questions and the buildup to those questions just made the whole problem worse.  I honestly don’t know what Turbine can do to reverse this trend but while some claim (and possibly rightly so) that F2P was the downfall of LOTRO, personally I think this horrendous string of communications has done more harm to the community then anything that has come from F2P.  When you think about it, quite a few of the F2P issues could have easily been lessened (I won’t necessarily say solved) if they had done a better job of getting in front of the issues.

I’m still hopeful the player’s council will help allow Turbine to actually listen to the community as opposed to just randomly blasting out data that they hope we’re interested in.  But I think a more important concept would be to have a little more accountability in acknowledging what’s been asked and what they’ve said previously.


Updates on the LOTRO Team Changes


Sapience did provide a couple updates out to folks this morning in response to the Aaron Campbell news, although not much more then name dropping, to clarify what’s going on with the LOTRO team.  In his brief post, he mentions:

  • Kate Paiz is still the executive producer
  • Derek Flippo still is the Design Director
  • Hannah Foell who has been a producer for a while now, will pretty much take over solo for Aaron’s communication duties.

For those of you wondering, we have seen Hannah in places we used to see Aaron as recently as the LOTRO Reporter Update 11 Preview.  Their Update 10 Preview was both Aaron and Hannah, so perhaps that was the grooming session for her.

Certainly this is a step up for Hannah, I’m still not sure about Aaron.

Nothing else of note from Sapience though, so we’ll continue to wait.


Who’s Left on the LOTRO Team?


News was made last week as Aaron “Rowan” Campbell announced he is taking over as the Senior Producer of DDO, leaving the LOTRO team without a Senior Producer.  It has neither been confirmed or denied on the LOTRO forums, and similarly, there’s been no mention of what’s going on with Kate Paiz, who last posted in January as the Executive Producer for LOTRO.  There’s a couple of things I wanted to touch on about this news, the obvious and then what I found after a little more digging into things.

I wonder if this is a promotion for Aaron, a lateral move, or a demotion based on what has happened (or rumored to have happened) with LOTRO.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but I always looked at LOTRO as being the bigger title for Turbine as compared to DDO.  Certainly you can read all sorts of things into this move and maybe they’re looking to Aaron to pump some life into DDO or something along those lines.  But the way it was announced – nothing on the LOTRO side and just a short introduction on the DDO forums, seems a little odd.  I would think if they wanted Aaron to carry on his “success,” they would want to pump him up a bit more and set him up a bit better.  Or the flip side, Turbine’s PR does have some issues so maybe they’re just doing their normal fantastic job.  Also, as has been raised elsewhere perhaps Turbine is seeing more competition in the D&D realm with Neverwinter Online and Elder Scrolls Online and they wanted to try and confront that.

With this announcement (or lack thereof) I started looking at other Turbine products checking to see who else was around.  Rumor has it the acclaimed dev Zombie Columbus has been working on Turbine’s MOBA Infinite Crisis for a while now, and he’s been joined by Frelorn and Celestrata per their dev tracker.  Jeffrey Steefel (former Executive Producer for LOTRO) has also been working on IC for a while now.  The only person making posts on the LOTRO side lately has been Sapience, so he’s really the only one confirmed to still be kicking around.  Also, I’ll point out that just because people are working on other titles, there’s nothing that says they’re not still working on LOTRO – they may be some re-use of technology or just a temporary assignment to help smooth out a rough patch.

Perhaps the reason why Turbine hasn’t been very active with regards to LOTRO news is that there’s some shuffling of personnel going on (similar to the recent restructuring of TSW Developer Funcom) and they’re still waiting for the dust to settle.  There’s been a number of interesting discussions on the official and unofficial forums, but in recent typical LOTRO fashion, nothing official from Turbine.

No matter what’s going on, I expect we’ll here something from Turbine this week about something ;)  It has been rumored that the new forums will launch this week, and on the optimistic side we could get something regarding the Helm’s Deep expansion.  I’ve been waiting for a while now for the pre-order announcement in conjunction with the closed beta start date announcement, so the end of the week would be the soonest I would expect something along those lines.  That Helm’s Deep announcement might be made by either the new producer, or Paiz, which either way would be a logical time to lay out and discuss the future of LOTRO.

What do folks make of these changes, and when do you expect to here something more about Helm’s Deep?


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