LOTRO: F2P FTW?

LOTRO:  F2P FTW?


By Ron Keith



On Friday, June 4th, Turbine announced that Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) was going be free-to-play (F2P). Sometime in the fall (No official date has been announced, yet.), LOTRO will be F2P. Officially it was Turbine’s parent company, Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, that made the announcement, but the decision was probably Turbine’s.
For LOTRO, it’s been a long journey from pay-to-play (P2P) to F2P. Unfortunately, the journey was not fraught with the same level of excitement and peril as the Fellowship of the Ring; if it had been, perhaps the game would have been more successful as a P2P game. 
Will the journey from P2P to F2P have a happy ending? Will the dark skies clear and a new age dawn? Is F2P the solution?
For whatever reason, LOTRO did not succeed as a P2P game. In spite of many strong MMO elements —œ a franchise with a devoted fan base, a large explorable world and enjoyable player-versus-environment (PvE) —œ LOTRO barely managed to elicit much more than a yawn from the MMO community. 
Anyone who has played LOTRO, recently, knows it can be a lonely game. There aren’t a lot of people in the game. Depending on what time you’re playing, sometimes you can feel like you’re the only player on the server. That’s not good. Not good at all. An MMO without a bustling player community might as well be a single-player game.
So now Turbine has decided to make LOTRO F2P. Will this be good for the game? It sure can’t hurt.  And if Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) —œ another Turbine MMO —œ is any indication, people will flood to the game.
After DDO went F2P, DDO added another million subscribers to their roster. Big deal, right? Maybe you’re thinking that’s just a whole lot of free riders. They don’t mean anything to the bottom line, not if they’re not paying. Surprise! They did pay and they paid big time. 
In a February, 2010, press release, Turbine said, “DDO Unlimited paid subscriber base has more than doubled, while at the same time players are transacting in the new DDO store at three times the industry average, growing the franchise revenue over 500% since its [F2P] launch in September.”
Wow! Those numbers reek of success and, as you know, it’s hard to argue with success. Is it any wonder they decided to make LOTRO F2P?
Free-to-play will be good for LOTRO. It will bring people back into the game and revitalize it. What Turbine discovered with DDO is that F2P works and it works well.
But what does this mean for Turbine? 
Currently, Turbine has three MMOs: Asheron’s Call, LOTRO and DDO. DDO and LOTRO both have hordes of fans dedicated to their respective franchise, and, yet, both MMOs failed as P2P MMOs. Sure, Turbine will probably make good money with both franchises as F2P MMOs, but that’s probably not what the intellectual property (IP) holders of Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons had in mind.
What this means for Turbine is that they probably won’t get another chance with a premier franchise. Turbine has a track record, now:  They can’t make a successful P2P MMO. If you hold the IP for Transformers or Prince of Persia or Twilight (Come on. The world is primed for an MMO filled with weepy, angsty vampires. You’re dying to play it. Admit it.), Turbine is not going to be the first MMO designer you call.
But that’s okay, because Turbine knows something, now. Maybe they don’t know the winning formula for P2P MMOs, but they sure can make one helluva F2P MMO. If Turbine turns LOTRO around —œ and there’s no reason to think they won’t, they’ll become known as the company that can not only fix flagging MMOs, but the company that can make F2P profitable and possibly more successful than your P2P model.
That may not be the business model Turbine was planning on, but as the dollars flow into LOTRO’s F2P cash store they might be able to forget about that old business model. After all, it is hard to argue with success.
Anyone taking any bets on when Asheron’s Call becomes free-to-play?

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