LOTRO Executive Producer Kate Paiz took time out of her very busy schedule to answer questions about the F2P announcement and beta for Mordor or Bust readers and podcast listeners. As if that wasn’t enough, she also answered a handful of questions submitted by readers who follow MoB on Twitter! What character does Kate play in LOTRO? What is her reaction to OUR reaction about the F2P announcement? How is the F2P beta going? Answers to these questions and many more after the break!
The news that LOTRO was converting to a F2P payment model obviously took everyone by surprise. What are your thoughts about the reaction of the LOTRO community since the announcement?
I’ve been very pleased with the reaction of the community – while there are folks that are concerned about how this will change the game, most players have responded very positively. I think that Turbine has shown players with the DDO Unlimited transition that we are able to introduce a Free Play and in-game Store option in a way that does not detract from our high quality gameplay experience.
We understand it took 18 months for DDO to be converted to F2P. Will LOTRO take more or less time?
We have always believed in the power of choice for our players and knew if players responded well to our overall approach in DDO Unlimited that it would be something that we would offer our players in LOTRO as well. Obviously we’ve deeply customized our approach for LOTRO’s unique gameplay experience in preparation for a fall launch this year.
The Turbine Community Team was right in the thick of things on forums the entire first weekend and bore the brunt of the onslaught of the post-announcement mayhem. Can you comment on the job they did, and can you share some of the feedback they passed up the chain?
I have nothing but the highest respect and appreciation for the job that the LOTRO Community Team does – they are very skilled at handling the player concerns on the forums and communicating them throughout our organization. The first week or so after the announcement the feedback was mostly around players digesting the news and asking clarifying questions – how does this affect lifetime subscribers? (answer – they get all the benefits of the monthly VIPs and have the option to spend their monthly Turbine Point grant in the Store), how are we changing gameplay to “make” free players pay? (answer – we’re not, as balancing the mechanics of a complex game like LOTRO is very hard and we do not want to destabilize that balance), etc. Once the Beta began, the community team has helped channel feedback from our players regarding the balance of items found in the Store versus found in the game (we’ve increased drop rates of certain high value items like the stat tomes) and other non-Store features (the new Vault UI was revised based on player request, and we’ve adjusted some of the rewards for the Epic story in the new Book).
The concerns raised in the forums generally broke down into a handful of similar issues. What is your take on the following concerns that have been raised by the LOTRO community:
a) Going F2P will give undesirable people (such as spammers/griefers/etc.) more access to the game and will result in a degradation of the quality of the community. What are your thoughts about this?
We are very proud of how supportive and active our community is, and I very much believe that it is the community that really brings any MMO to life. One of the ways we tried, from a development side, to limit the impact negative players may have on the game is by providing chat and tell spam limits. Free players have different limits on the amount they can communicate with other players than subscribers do, with the goal of limiting spam and other undesirable behavior. It is our goal to not have these limits be in the way for anyone playing normally, but to allow them to prevent griefers or other spammers from annoying their neighbors. We also, for a variety of reasons, have not converted monster play to be available to Free players. Therefore, the PvMP part of the game is now a subscriber-only feature, and while we plan to introduce it at some point in the future to the rest of the playerbase, we wanted to first focus on delivering the quality PvE game that we have to players in a way that continued to drive great interest and fun in the game. The CS and Community team remain dedicated to limiting the impact undesirable behavior has on the community at large, and will be actively policing the game and forums at and after launch. We also believe that the existing community will help welcome the new players, and lead by example.
b) One of the most active threads centered around current Lifetime Subscribers. Some Lifers (as we call them) are very happy, such as myself. Others are not happy at all with this change. What steps has/is Turbine taking to make sure that Lifers are taken care of?
The dedication and spirit the lifetime players bring to the game is very important to us, which is why we have made sure that the lifetime players have all the advantages that monthly VIPs/subscribers do. They will receive a monthly Turbine Point grant of 500 points every month to spend where they want in the Store, they have full access to all systems and content in game that other VIPs do, and they will be able to buy current and future expansions in the Store for Turbine Points.
c) Some people who recently purchased Lifetime Subscriptions feel they should be offered the opportunity to get a refund because the game is changing in a radical way. Some of these people claim that if they knew LOTRO was going to be F2P they never would have purchased the Lifetime Subscription at all. Will Turbine offer such a refund, especially to people who may have made the purchase in the past 3 or less months?
The VIP program is the best value in the game, and I believe that VIPs, lifetime or otherwise, will find the game really fun to play and will enjoy the value delivered by their subscription. In fact, there have been some requests from new players in the beta to reintroduce the lifetime option, as they are loving the game and want the full access without the monthly payment. We are considering that feedback, and may reintroduce the lifetime option at some point in the future.
d) There has been some discussion about whether or not Turbine should institute some sort of spending controls in the microtransaction system. Primarily this is to help prevent overspending by people who have spending addictions, or to prevent abuse by minors who are using their parent’s credit card. Is there a plan to offer some sort of spending control in LOTRO?
Parental controls are definitely something we talk about a lot, and are interested in exploring in the near future. In the meantime, we will be offering Turbine Point cards for sale in retail stores after launch for those who do not have access to credit cards or who want to make sure they maintain a cap on their spending. We will continue to find ways for players to customize their payment options to fit best into their lifestyle.
e) There is a lot of concern about content updates expressed on the forums. Will content continue to be released on a regular basis? Will the content updates be similar to what we have seen in the past? Is a major expansion like Mines of Moria a thing of the past?
I encourage everyone to look at the update frequency Turbine has supported for DDO Unlimited since its launch last year – they have launched 5 updates since September 2009. I expect that LOTRO will have a similar frequency of patches and updates, as we have a lot of world to cover to get to Mordor. I’ll be honest and say that we’re not entirely sure yet how expansions fit into the Free model. This is something we are actively exploring in Beta, and we’ll have more clarity around closer to launch. But it is our goal to have expansion-sized content going forward.
f) Perhaps the one thing most people seem to agree upon is the disappointment that Vol. III Book 2/Enedwaith will not be released until F2P goes live. This will result in a 6 month + gap in new content. Why not release Vol III Book 2/Enedwaith now to give players something new to do until Beta is over and F2P finally launches?
Unfortunately, there is a reality around how deeply intertwined content and systems are in the game, and it just wasn’t feasible for us to release Enedwaith separately and at the quality standard we expect. The beta has been a great help in getting Enedwaith balanced and I believe players will find the new region and the level 65 option for the classic instances very fun at launch. We also made sure to have great live events and festivals this year, so players would have new stuff to do while they waited for the fall release.
Has the acquisition of Turbine by Warner Brothers Home Entertainment had an impact on your day-to-day job, or is it still business-as-usual at Turbine?
Business as usual for sure, though it has been great getting to interact more with the other game developers at Warner Bros. including Snowblind who is also working on the console game War in the North, a The Lord of the Rings title. It’s helpful to share our vision of how Middle-earth is realized in a virtual world and compare notes on their challenges and solutions in bringing Tolkien to life through video games.
How is the Beta going? Are you seeing anything from the Beta that surprises you?
The beta is going very well – we have a very active beta community, and have been very pleased at the huge response from new players attracted by the Free option. While I haven’t yet been surprised by any beta feedback, we take the feedback very seriously and really use it to make the game more fun and friendly for new and experienced users alike. We’re getting great perspective from our players on both the Store and the game, and are using that to tune rewards, drop rates, pricing of Store items, and the general fun level of the content as a result.
Can you share any changes that are a direct result of player feedback in the Beta?
As I mentioned above, we have increased the drop rates and the number of mobs that drop the new stat tomes that are also available in the Store. We’ve also revised the Vault UI to include more chests and to preserve players’ current chest organization as a direct result of player feedback, as well as fixed a wide variety of bugs and usability issues in ways players have recommended. Beta has only been running for a few weeks, and we look forward to a lot more feedback and adjustments as we get closer to the fall.
How long do you anticipate the Beta process will take? Any projection on a release date you’d like to share with the community?
We are aiming for release in the fall, and will run Beta as long as needed to ensure a stable, smooth launch.
What is the relationship like between Turbine and Middle-earth Enterprises? How often and active is ME involved in the design and production of LOTRO? How open or restrictive has ME been to Turbine’s plans and ideas for the game?
Middle-earth Enterprises is a great partner to work with. They review our design documents and also play through the game changes while in development to help make sure that Middle-earth is brought to life in a way that is consistent with Tolkien’s works, and frankly they rarely need to ask for changes. We have built such a shared understanding with them over the years regarding what elements they find appropriate and what things we should avoid, and most reviews are filled with positive comments about the game’s fun atmosphere and well-realized setting.
In your Producer Letter you mentioned upcoming changes to Monster Play, Radiance and the Item Advancement/LI system. Any other tidbits about the future you’d care to reveal?
We’ll be building more options for crafters in the Store that help them circumvent some of the time investment in gathering and managing their resources. We also are looking to bring a House upkeep payment option into the Store for those who would like a break from paying for their house with in-game gold.
Now it is your turn! Is there anything you would like to say to the LOTRO community? The floor is all yours!
I certainly want to thank our players for making the LOTRO community one of the best in the world and encourage everyone to sign up for the Beta at www.lotro.com. We devs rely on players in beta to help shape the content and systems to make them the most engaging they can be, and we value every piece of constructive criticism players can give us!
LOTRO_Fanatik wants to know: What Turbine games do you currently play?
I play both LOTRO and DDO. My mains are both human females – hunter in LOTRO and cleric in DDO.
Burglarblue wants to know: Do you think the subscription-only model is destined to disappear from all/most MMOs, and if so why?
I believe that as the MMO audience continues to grow, we’re going to see more demand for varying payment options. I think that subscription-only games will find themselves limited in the audience they can attract, and believe that most will find it worth their while to support a more flexible payment system. Though, like with online music services, there is a place for subscription options as some folks really like to not have to manage their payment choices – they are comfortable with full access for one consistent price.
Sarawise asks: Will you/the LOTRO team be changing/eliminating the rad system at some point in favor of real item improvement?
We have gotten a lot of feedback on the radiance system, and will be introducing new changes to improve it and make it more enjoyable in the near future.
Adarel wants to know: Any specific plans to improve/adjust existing systems (crafting, animation, etc.) rather than just add new content?
We are always making small improvements to a lot of systems, and do have plans to make some larger changes to systems like Item Advancement/LI and Radiance in the next six months, and monster play in the next year. The Hobbies system is also one that is on my list, but we don’t have a clear timeline for that yet.
Wickedpt asks: Will there be new classes added to LOTRO in the near future, 2010-11?
While we have a lot of ideas for new classes, nothing has entered production yet, so I really can’t give a timeline right now for them.
Doc Holiday asks: How much of the DDO staff has been consulted or is working on the LOTRO F2P rollout?
A few key people, myself included, have come over from DDO to help introduce the Store and the free option into LOTRO. Additionally, we stay in close contact with the leadership team on DDO to understand how the model continues to grow and change based on feedback from their players.
Taltn328 asks: Will the move to F2P mean the end of open Eriador/Moria world design in favor of “instanced” zones eg. Lothlorien/Mirkwood?
Enedwaith has been added to Eriador in an open world way, and we will continue to provide the landscape experience that is such a hallmark of the game. It is very likely that Lothlórien and Mirkwood will be joined into the rest of the world as we develop content east of the Misty Mountains.
Ravenhir wants to know Is LOTRO successful in China? I haven’t heard any news about Asian launch for a long time…
LOTRO has not yet launched in China, and we are working with CDC to get the hybrid business model launched with the service sometime this year.
Thank you very much Kate! We appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and insights into the F2P conversion and beta with Mordor or Bust readers.