Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment today announced that a fifth expansion to its Lord of the Rings Online free-to-play MMORPG, Helm's Deep, is slated for release this Fall. The new expansion stretches the story into the western plans of Rohan where players will battle for direct control of Helm's Deep, introducing 10 new levels and advancing the level cap from 85 to 95 in the process.
Pirates are nearly as tricky as they are sticky fingered, so maybe it’s time for the gaming industry to get tricky right back. After all, just take a look at the scoreboard. Pirates: one million. DRM: negative three. Desperate times call for desperate measures, though, and Codemasters CEO Rod Cousens has a pretty big trick up his sleeve.
"My answer is for us as publishers is to actually sell unfinished games -- and to offer the consumer multiple micro-payments to buy elements of the full experience. That would create an offering that is affordable at retail -- but over a period of time may also generate more revenue for the publishers to reinvest in our games," he told CVG.
"If these games are pirated, those who get their hands on them won't be able to complete the experience. There will be technology, coding aspects, that will come to bear that will unlock some aspects. Some people will want them and some won't. When it comes to piracy, I think you have to make the experience the answer to the issue - rather than respond the other way round and risk damaging that experience for the user."
Does that sound a bit insane to you? Because it’s really not. Free-to-play MMOs like Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online more or less fit that model to a tee, minus the initial fee for the main game. And that’s working out pretty well for them, from the sound of things – that sound, of course, primarily being “ka-ching.” So applying that model to something that’s not an MMO seems like a no-brainer to us – as opposed to current DRM-based models, which had to have been conceived by someone who literally lacked a brain.
Sauron, you might want to grow another gigantic, flaming eyeball to watch your back, because you're about to make a bunch of brand new enemies. Why? Because this fall, anyone and everyone – graphics cards willing – will be able to play Lord of the Rings Online for the same price as developer Turbine's other wildly successful MMO, Dungeons & Dragons Online. Which is to say: absolutely nothing.
“Turbine’s Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited was the world’s first truly premium free-to-play online game that ushered in a new era of choice for online gamers seeking quality entertainment,” said Jim Crowley, President and CEO of Turbine. “The popularity of DDO validated the extraordinary demand by gamers for quality entertainment they can experience at their own pace and within their budget. Extending free-to-play to LOTRO will offer another premium game to a broad spectrum of fans.”
Follwing in DDO's footsteps, Lord of the Rings Online will also allow players to get a little extra bang if they choose to part with a buck or two. The LOTRO Store will offer expansion packs, extra character customization options, and more, while the game's all-access VIP program will essentially function like subscription fees do right now.
Still though, you're getting close to the entirety of fairly fantastic fantasy MMO without spending a dime. You certainly won't see us complaining.
The MMO market’s not exactly the nicestneighborhood for developers to settle down in these days, but that certainly doesn’t mean carving out a lucrative niche is impossible. Case in point: Lord of the Rings Online. While it may not be the One MMO to rule them all, LotRO is still inhaling customers like hobbits inhale breakfasts. Turbine live producer Aaron Campbell explained:
“If anything, The Lord of the Rings Online is growing. We have no plans to merge servers.”
“And please don’t mention it, it makes me twitch unpleasantly,” he added, probably twitching unpleasantly.
Good to hear that tons of wannabe Frodos and Aragorns are still flocking to LotRO, though. Granted, the game shares a bunch of gameplay similarities with WoW and leverages one of the most powerful brands on earth, so the game's a tad more accessible than other MMOs. But still. Keeping an MMO afloat is no easy task. Good job, Turbine.
“Beginning November 18th players across North America and Europe will journey with the dwarves deep into Middle-earth to reclaim the ancient kingdom of Khazad-dûm from the minions of Saruman,” said Jeffrey Steefel, executive producer of The Lord of the Rings Online.
And no, this isn't a loquacious announcement that LOTRO has slipped to November 18th, 2009 -- but that'd make far more sense than what Turbine is actually doing.
For the uninitiated (aka, those who don't read article titles), WoW: Wrath of the Lich King -- possibly the most-anticipated MMO expansion ever and one of the few 2008 PC releases that can challenge Spore to a bout of sales-fisticuffs and match the game blow-for-blow -- is crashing down the gates (and probably its own servers) on November 13th. Add to that the fact that LOTRO is basically WoW plus little big-footed people and minus about 9 million players, and you have a painstakingly composed financial suicide note ready to go.
Find out why Turbine chose to face the Lich King's wrath head-on after the break.