It should be noted that, just like DDO, LotRO is not going balls-out FTP. LotRO will use a hybrid pricing system much like DDO’s, wherein one can opt to subscribe and get nearly everything, or play for free and spend money here and there. This is not the same FTP model used by, say, Allods Online.
The key factor here, I think, and the one that led Turbine to this decision, is that DDO subscriptions have increased under its free-to-play model. And not just jumped a bit, but tripled. Not to mention that overall revenue is up tenfold, last we heard. The thinking in the boardrooms at Turbine has to be that, while LotRO may have been doing well, it’s possible to triple the number of customers paying the traditional subscription, primarily by exposing it to new players who wouldn’t have tried it otherwise (even under a limited-time free trial,) and by appealing to potential players who, for whatever reason, don’t want to commit to a subscription fee or to playing multiple times weekly. And overall revenue from outside the subscriber base is likely to be very significant, possibly exceeding that from subscribers, as it has in DDO.
Now, some people are predictably taking it badly over on the LotRO forums. Not so much as you’d get if WoW did the same thing (the WoW forums are a sewer,) and less than you’d think because the LotRO community is more mature and level-headed than that of some other titles, but some folks are clearly unhappy with the change.
The big fear is that this will somehow ‘ruin’ the game by doing one of two things. First, it could break the game mechanically a la SWG’s NGE. This comparison was actually brought up over there, but I think it’s fantastically unlikely. Nothing in the announcement or in the existing model that Turbine is already using implies that sweeping changes will be made to the underlying mechanics, and it’s hard to see why Turbine would think such a thing desirable with what’s already one of the top games in the market (assuming WoW to be an aberrant exception, which it is.)
The other feared outcome is that the move to FTP will result in a large influx of additional players, presumably increasing the asshat factor. This is more likely than an NGE-type catastrophe. It’s possible, but I think any such effect is likely to be mitigated by LotRO’s nature – LotRO is a slow-boiling, casual-friendly game, and asshats aren’t likely to stay long.
One point to consider is that Turbine is one of the few companies to do two things: provide a free-to-play MMO that’s actually worth playing beyond a few hours, and transfer an existing subscription-based title to the Free-to-Play model. If some other company, even Blizzard, were to announce such a move, I would be deeply concerned about its effect on that game’s long-term health. Because Turbine is a proven winner at this, I’m much less worried. Not to say that there’s no reason to be wary, but there’s good reason to be upbeat as well – more money means more resources and more development.