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LotRO goes free-to-play: Massively's interview with Turbine

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

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Turbine dropped a huge surprise on the MMO community this morning with the announcement that Lord of the Rings Online is changing to a free-to-play model. Fan reaction was all over the map, and the announcement predictably spawned a stream of questions from every direction. Everyone was anxious to find out how current accounts would transfer, where the decision came from, what will be free, what won't, and so on.

The Turbine staff have, of course, been incredibly busy since the news went public, but managed to carve out some time to chat with us about the future of Lord of the Rings Online. Follow along after the jump to see what they had to say.

Massively: Fans have been speculating about this for a while now, particularly given the success of DDO. Was this in motion before Warner Brothers became involved, or is it a more recent decision?

This is not something that you can just do overnight. We've looked at free-to-play markets for a long time, as we talked about last year. DDO's been a huge success for us; I think the whole industry has taken note and I think our success there is one of the many reasons that Warner Brothers acquired Turbine. As a result of that success with DDO, we confirmed that this is what we believe to be the future of online entertainment, and we've been working on this for LotRO for some time now. This isn't something that Warner Brothers came in and said "Hey, we have an idea! Get it together, you have three weeks." Clearly they're huge supporters of it, and they believe that not only does it have an effect on MMOs, but at the highest level of what we do, it's about providing choice for the player. That, I think, is the core of our philosophy and that philosophy can be applied to a lot more than MMOs.

What brought this decision about? Was it to counter a drop in subscriptions, or to grow the brand?

Well, we definitely liked what we saw in DDO, without a doubt. We saw the community really grow, we saw a lot of opportunity for players who had tenure with the game to provide advice and support for new players. We felt that while LotRO was really doing well as a subscription game, we could really grow the experience and make it a much more rich and full experience for all of the players we currently have and the players who wanted to get in but were turned off by the subscription.

Will we see a more frequent update schedule with this move?

Well, we're definitely going to continue to provide great extensions to the game the way players have come to expect from LotRO. We'll be doing more regions, instances, and level cap increases and things like that. You can certainly look at DDO and see how the updates have continued to be great and very impactful, and I think that's what people have come to expect. Obviously we're focusing on launch and beta right now -- we're not going to talk about what's coming after until we get through this phase, but I think people can rest easy know that they're going to get to Mordor in great time.

Will there be any sort of dual VIP package for LotRO and DDO?

Right now there's no plan to do so. We've got a lot of IPs in the background, a lot of business arrangements with people. From the player perspective it's very simple to create a Turbine Pass, but it's complicated in the background with all the different licensors and distribution partners we have around the world. We clearly see that there might be some opportunities in the future, but right now each game has got its own thing going on, and the only thing they're going to share right now is a similar business model.

Can you give us some hints regarding what sorts of things we'll find in the LotRO store?

Absolutely! We're going to be offering content packs, so a player who comes into the game will have all of the launch races and classes available. The Rune-keeper and the Warden, which were introduced with the Moria expansion pack, will be purchaseable items individually or as part of the Moria bundle. That's one thing you can get. You'll be able to get more character slots. When you get into the game you'll have all of Bree, the Shire, Ered Luin -- that's all completely free. That's about 800 quests, and that includes the epic story up to level 50. There are going to be content packs -- some of the optional quests in a region, each region has between 80 and 200 quests. You'll be able to walk through the landscape, hunt monsters within the landscape and get XP for that, and then choose to purchase the content packs if you wish.

There will also be cosmetic items, convenience items, horses, XP boosts, things like that. It's going to be a very rich offering for anyone who's looking to enhance or ease their gameplay a little bit.

One thing that I want to make sure that everyone's aware of is that we're not selling gear. There may be something like they do in DDO where low-level players can get a foot up when they start the game, if they're a little nervous and looking for a little help, that might be possible in the future. But it's never our intention to sell raid loot or endgame-quality gear and items because we feel like questing and getting that great loot is a big part of the game and we don't want to lose sight of that.

A lot of fans are confused about how lifetime subscriptions will translate to the new business model. Can you clarify that?

In a nutshell, lifetime subscribers will become lifetime VIP. They'll have the same rights and rewards as the VIPs including the 500 Turbine Points a month, but they won't have to pay a recurring fee for it. As we release new content that's free for subscribers, it'll be free for lifetimers.

Current LotRO subscribers can begin accruing Turbine Points well before the relaunch, correct?

Yes, absolutely. Both lifetime and subscribers should be able to do that. As long as you have an active subscription and log in once a month, you'll start earning points today and you'll have a nice little stockpile of points in your account when we launch this fall.

Is there a specific date or month for release?

We're sticking with "this fall," and it's not to be cryptic, but we want to get into the beta and be sure that we're satisfied with the way things are going -- and more importantly, that the players are. Last summer we almost did the same thing with DDO -- we wanted to launch in the summer and we ended up launching in the fall. We had to make sure the store could handle the load, and more importantly we had to make sure when they put money in they got something out. We obviously feel very comfortable with how things are going, but it'll all depend on how the beta goes. Not to pull that old line out, but we'll launch when it's ready.

Thanks for your time!

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