Posts tagged Free to Play

Turbine Tries to Explain Epic Story Flip-Flop

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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

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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.

 

Challenging the Status Quo

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I think I’ve written and deleted this post at least half a dozen times as I’ve really been struggling with this of late.  As a bit of a back-story, I was incredibly upset with how some people handled the recent “Troll” post and I struggled with how I wanted to handle it.  I’ve taken quite a bit more time then normal as I just couldn’t come up with a way to accomplish something useful, without just ranting about someone else’s work.  I’m sure some will be able to figure out what I’m actually referring to, but hopefully this is broad enough that no one takes it too personally.  And if you do, just be happy I didn’t post what I originally wrote.

The core of my concern was that the “Troll” post could (and was) be taken as either a total troll post, or as a joke and just as quickly dismissed without too much more discussion.  Taking one of those view-points and discussing it purely on that concept is doing exactly what you shouldn’t do on the internet – Feed the Trolls, not to mention wasting peoples time  However, if you actually want to dive into some of the questions that were raised in that post, then you can actually start shifting the discussion to something that could benefit the entire community.

The overarching question raised in the “Troll” post surrounds Turbine’s lack of communication with the community.  And we’re not talking things regarding game balance or other tough questions but relatively cut and dry questions, things like do you have a license for the Hobbit?  When do the licenses expire?  What does Turbine gain from NOT answering these kinds of questions, if anything they’ re fueling the fire for the conspiracy theorists?  Now based of of their horrible handling of the past two expansions, I can sort of understand why we haven’t heard anything about Helm’s Deep, but why not at least continue the discussion by tossing out dates when we might hear something, instead of childishly teasing the community that they know something we don’t know.  Some people claim Turbine has never talked about things openly, and while there certainly has been limits it has become even more closed off in recent history.  And while they may historically not talk about things, why not try to shake things up a bit?  Dismissing the argument purely based on the history is passively accepting whatever Turbine wants to put out, and not actively asking for more as a customer.

I have a feeling that there’s some serious pressure over at Turbine and they’re at a real crossroads with the LOTRO franchise.  It has been making money for them, but we haven’t heard any sort of “ra ra” news from them in a long while.  Nothing regarding sales numbers, activity, expansion pack orders, etc. and before you chime in that Turbine doesn’t share that, they will when it is good news.  They were quick to point out how big a success the F2P transition was and how awesome the Isengard XPack sold.  Personally I feel that Rohan sold significantly less copies then Isengard and Turbine is trying to figure out how to best position Helm’s Deep to right that ship.  If you look at some the only updated source of speculative data (Rohan launched at week 121), there’s no significant jump with Rohan like there have been at other times.  While Rohan had some cool pieces, it didn’t splash big enough or in a big enough pool to really make enough of a difference.  Another area Rohan missed the mark was their pre-order as there just wasn’t anything worthwhile for many people, and again I think that’s why they’re “delaying” the announcement as they want to make sure it comes off better then Rohan.  The inclusion of level 10 “content” is a direct attempt to not restrict the Helm’s Deep buying pool to people at level cap like Rohan did.  However, I think a bigger issue for them of late has been the complaints that there hasn’t been enough meat to justify the price points, and the handling of instance clusters has been a significant sticking point as well.  But here’s where Helm’s Deep is in a tricky spot, they’re also unleashing the class apocalypse (aka skill trees) and the complete revamp of every class is quite a daunting task that coupled with not only creating new group content for but also verifying all existing group content would be a massive effort that would require an extended testing period.  And of course, added into all of this is the horrid job Turbine has been doing lately with rolling things out without breaking unrelated items or just having to take multiple passes to actually fix something causes additional delays.  And again, we still don’t have information on whether things have been truly addressed (launcher) or why certain issues appear to not be correctly resolved (retroactive Wildermore deed rewards).   Another opportunity for Turbine to get ahead of things would be this new forum system we’re rolling to at some  point, as it sure would be nice to have some idea of whether or not there will be better security for these forums, or if we’ll still be tied to using the same user name and password as our live accounts.  Again, we know very little about these new forums other then “they look cool,” and not anything like “we’ve heard your issues” and this is what we’re trying to do to resolve them.  Overall, there’s a ton of things Turbine needs to be worried with and it seems as though they’re taking the ostrich path as opposed to having some level of communication.

Turbine appears to be trying to sweep certain things under the rug, and with their ability to pull things off their forums whenever and however they want, it falls to the community to attempt to keep them honest.  There are a couple of places that do this, the main one being the unofficial forums, but at times they get a little too “tin-foil hat” for my liking.  Unfortunately there seems to be either the all is well forums, or the tin-foil hat community site, without too much in the middle.  I haven’t been posting too much of late due to other restrictions on my schedule (new baby and new job) but I have been trying to seed others with information in hopes that they could pick up the slack.  However, it is evident that either they don’t want to or are afraid to burn any bridges so I will be reverting back to more activity here.  I can’t promise too much, but it is pretty easy for me to say that I’ll post more – simply because I really haven’t been posting.  But I’m going to try to post more questions and thoughts about the news and really not talk about things that are just information, or where I don’t see anything of interest to talk about.  I’ll also toss out the offer to folks that I’m more then happy to post thoughts or articles on subjects if you’d like another voice and don’t want to deal with forums.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I’m not doing this purely to bash LOTRO or Turbine or to get any enjoyment of such activity.  I truly do love this game and the community (for the most part) that has grown with this game.  I feel that with the all that has happened lately the community is in a bit of flux, and I want to try and do what I can to support and foster this community.  I personally don’t feel that there have been enough folks challenging Turbine but far to many either parroting them or making wild baseless accusations and not enough rational, thought out, and properly researched discussions.  That’s what I’m working to better provide for the community, and of course this will not be limited to just Turbine.

 

The Ups and Downs of LOTRO’s Update 11

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For me Update 11 has been a bit of a mixed bag.  There are a number of cool little things they’ve put into the game and of course the new epic story line, but I can’t help but be overly frustrated by the lack of quality and revision control that Turbine continues to show with its launches.  There’s also the slightly shadier aspect that I’m not sure I like or dislike, and that’s the continual push to have players log in every day.

Let’s start with the good parts, I’ve already talked about the zone and it really doesn’t disappoint from a visual perspective.  The whole footprints in the snow things is pretty darn cool!  I like the new housing tweaks, especially being able to pay for 20 weeks up front, in case you know you’re going to be gone (or forget) and that 5 weeks just isn’t long enough.  Foreclosure doesn’t impact me at all, but I think its a good middle ground way to get out of the corner they backed themselves into.  While the launcher has had issues, I do like the fact that it FINALLY respects your default browser when clicking links from within it.  I’m also quite happy with the way the epic line (not that I’ve done that much) mixes in your story with session plays to allow you to flesh out the rest of the story and allow us to check in on other areas.  The LOTRO story is quite geographically diverse, and this tech is a great way to show what’s going on without forcing us all other the map.  They also added in new craftable items for those who have maxed out not only their crafting skills, but their guild reputation.  I’m quite happy these don’t require any other reputation (like Wildermore) as it allows for folks with lower level crafting alts to still make usable items for people at the end game.  These items are a touch better then the Hytbold items, and offer quite a bit of flexibility with their multi-output options, so they’re definitely worth a look.  One other thing that I haven’t checked out, but was mentioned in the LOTRO Reporter interview was mounted fishing, and while you may or may not like the idea, the technology and concept behind it is quite intriguing and points to further growth and flexibility of the game engine, which is always a good thing.

Somewhere in the middle between the good and the bad is this whole new alerts panel thing, I’m actually ok with it, but that’s mainly because, thanks to the folks over on the LOTRO Google+ channel, I found out that you can individually scale the size of the alerts panel in your UI settings.  Without making it really small like I have, I think the cartoonish nature of the button would really bug me, but since it is now super tiny (yet still findable to click) it is one of those “out of sight, out of mind” updates.  They did add in some warbands and some other stuff for mounted combat, which while I agree is a good thing, but I still don’t think enough was done to make it anything more then a fringe side-game.  However, I have yet to see or read if any of the new warbands are challenging, or if they’re as much of a pushover as the others.

While there’s a number of pretty cool things in this update, sadly there’s also a LOT wrong with this update.  I’m still quite puzzled how this whole patcher thing wasn’t caught, but it still isn’t completely fixed – perhaps relying on the ancient .net 1.1 for so long and making such a drastic jump was just too much to pull off successfully.  There’s also the potential that there’s some nastiness that they had to code in to make the dreaded Pando Media Booster work with 1.1 that’s not playing well with whatever version of .net they’re using now.  Whatever the issue is, the fact that is has taken this long (3 days to patch) and it still isn’t resolved isn’t a good thing for Turbine.  The next big issue with this update are the broken quests which block you from proceeding in the story, there are now 2 that I know of with one being fixed.  Please make sure you check out this post such that you don’t get stuck in a position where you can’t advance further.  While I really appreciate and enjoy all the tricks and things they can do with phasing now, it seems like they forgot to put the proper checks in place to make sure that you can’t accidentally phase out someone you need for quest turn-ins.  Also, the music system is now broken, and this is troubling for two reasons:

  • timing is close to WeatherStock which is one of LOTRO’s biggest events that is noticed and picked up by media outlets outside of the gaming world
  • this happened when there were no updates to the system, meaning they don’t have a good system of regression testing to make sure that what worked in previous builds still works in current builds.

Finally, this update has once again brought us back to the time (Isengard did this too) where we no longer get virtue rewards for deed advancement or completion.  I really wish Turbine would just pick to something and be consistent about it, but all of the flipping back and forth on this in conjunction with the increase in available ranks just doesn’t sit well with me.  It is starting to seem like they are purposefully leaving options out of the game in order to drive folks to the store.  And let me be clear, I don’t have a problem with them having traits available in the store (I have bought them) but when you don’t include them in entire regions when they are in others (they’re in Rohan and the Great River, but not Isengard or Wildermore), it appears shady to me as if they don’t want too many options for players in game.

The other aspect that rubs me the wrong way is this shift to not only reward players for logging in every day but in some ways penalizing them for not.  Penalizing may be a strong word, but there are certain very clear advantages to logging in every day now that just weren’t the case prior to Update 11.  And I’m not just referring to the Hobbit Presents, which are just another addition along the same lines as festivals in that there are just certain things that are on a daily timer.  The big shift that I’m refereeing to is the new “VIP Perk” that is the change to rested experience.  Prior to update 11 you could “store” up to 20% of a level per day up to a cap of an entire level’s worth as rested experience, but now with Update 11 that cap is at 33%, but it can be refreshed daily and applies to all experience not just monster kills.  So this is really only a perk if you’re able to actively QUEST on a daily basis on whatever character you want to work on.  I’d suggest if you really want to take full advantage of this “perk” make sure to try and get in some good quest time on your alts, perhaps run a skirmish or two on them to get not only monster kills but quest xp.

Overall, I still think this was a pretty decent update for LOTRO but the bugs and lack of regression testing could pose some huge problems when they do their class overhauls with all these instance options and technologies as something is bound to break, and who knows when Turbine will not only catch it but be able to fix it.

 

LOTRO Update 11 Official Patch Notes

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The patch notes are live for folks to check out as the servers should be up soon-ish.  I’m not going to post them in full, but a few highlights:

<Update> Don’t forget there’s a new batch of top tier guild craftables as I mentioned previously <Update>

  • I’ll be curious to see how the new Mounted Combat works, as well as what new mechanics are there in Wildermore like Aaron has mentioned.  I like the concept of mounted combat, but more attention needs to be paid to the content for it to be anything more then a gimmic.
  • We’re getting Hobbit Presents, so more incentive to log in a do stuff daily – or so Turbine hopes.
  • A little more incentive to pay your rent – foreclosures after 6 months, so if you’re looking for a house, there should be some new openings coming.
  • Turbine is really pushing Mithril Coins, and I expect them to almost completely replace Turbine Points for purchases.
  • Yet another Legendary Item reset – so don’t forget to spend your points!
  • I like the rested XP now applies to all gained and not just monster kills, but I’m not sure I quite understand all the potential impacts and/or limits there.
  • Sorry Captains, but “Defeat Event Cooldown” reducing bonuses will no longer stack
  • All sorts of class tweaks
  • Another new barter coin – Warband Barter Tokens which can be used for the legendary pocket item upgrades

What else jumped out for folks?

Also, if you haven’t already, you might want to check out the 2 recent dev diaries on Mounted Combat and the Epic Story as these actually do go a little deeper then some of the other diaries out there.

 
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