A lot of additional information is pouring out on LotRO’s upcoming switch to FTP; some cogent summary and analysis can be found at The Ancient Gaming Noob and Player Versus Developer (both blogs you should be reading anyway.) And there’s a consolidated FAQ over on the forums, HERE, which is worth reading.
Various things about the LotRO switch are making it look a little less appealing for the ultra-casual/free-only player. These stem from one obvious source of potential issues, namely that LotRO is not as natural a fit to the free-to-play model as DDO was. There’s expansion content to consider, for example – for free players who were once subscribers and who bought the expansions, how will this be handled? Information is now starting to come out to explain this kind of thing.
Ultimately, while I’m not one of those people who thinks that the traditional subscription model will be going entirely away any time soon, I think that we’ll be seeing more and more games heading down this path – mostly new games, but some older traditional ones as well. It’s harder to switch a game’s money model after it’s launched than during development, not least because one runs the risk of undercutting the expectations of existing players.
Given the success of DDO under this kind of model, I’d rather have seen it from Turbine than anybody else – and I’d probably rather have seen it from LotRO than any other game, since it’s one of those titles I’ve felt was pretty good but not sufficiently appealing to me to warrant a $15 a month fee. Turbine now insure that I and people like me will give the game another chance. And with no time constraints there’s no question that at least some of us will get hooked.
In a sense, though, more so than in DDO, it seems like it’ll be harder to play the game even semi-seriously while sticking strictly to the free content – free players will have access to much less of the game’s total content and will be playing under more onerous restrictions, like a 5 gold cap on money even for players who have spent some money on the game, which I suspect is a move to keep a boot on the necks of gold sellers. FTP LotRO will be pushing players harder towards paying the VIP fee than DDO does.
This is good and bad. LotRO is a game that fits a monthly subscription fee better than DDO did. And in a sense this package looks a lot more like the kind of “unlimited trial” we’ve seen from a variety of triple-A games in the past year or so; the difference is that Turbine is folding those players into the customer base to a greater extent, in that once you exhaust the free content, you’ll be able to drop a couple of bucks on some extra stuff to do, which may work out to lasting several additional months for some players. The modular approach takes away the commitment of paying the subscription fee.
One counter-example would be Age of Conan, which you can now play for free up to level 20. After that, although you can create an alt and run the same content over again, I suspect that most people either subscribe or quit playing. To the subscription-wary, LotRO is giving a third option: pay for a little bit of extra content. This may stretch the playable lifetime of the game from 14 days (the duration of the game’s current free trial,) to potentially many months, and I would venture to say that many, many people who spend 6 months playing LotRO even semi-actively will end up spending some money on it somewhere. This is money that Turbine simply wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.