Well, it was the half of it, actually. Here's the other half.
Buckle up, it's gonna be a bumpy ride on the Buckleberry Ferry!
The Haunted Cellar
Currently, the LotRO closed beta is featuring the fall festival. I asked why they were doing this, and was told that a new layer was going to be added to this year's event: a haunted house in the Shire. Well, Bilbo's Haunted Cellar, to be precise. In the books, some of Bilbo's relatives attempt to tear through his cellar looking for his hidden riches, but in the game, apparently a few enterprising hobbits have turned the location into a spookhouse full of surprises, laughs and (yes) quests.
Basically, if you're a fan of "fun" haunted houses that are more about atmosphere than actual scares, you're going to freak out in the Haunted Cellar. It features several themed wings (such as the cobweb wing), hidden doors, scared hobbits, treasure chests and loads of cool decorations. Bookshelves slid apart to reveal new rooms, and a fake wall of kegs unfolded to show a chest full of spooky goodies. Take a wrong turn and -- bam! -- you're blind, stumbling through the halls until your vision returns. The fact that everything here is hobbit-sized makes it feel a bit claustrophobic, and that certainly works in the Haunted Cellar's favor to evoke a more personal experience.
While there are several quests associated with the Haunted Cellar, I anticipate that many players will spend a lot of time poking around and admiring the little details. I certainly couldn't stop checking it out, laughing as kooky goblin heads popped out of barrels and ghosts rose up to give me a hearty body tackle. Even the paintings got in on the fun: walk by one, and you may notice a pair of eyes following you.
Of course, I was instantly jealous of how cool the cellar was compared to my own player house, but before I could open my mouth to ask, the devs confirmed that we'll be able to earn special decorative items and cosmetic outfits from this new event.
The F2P switch
Peeking behind the scenes, I wondered how long Turbine's been planning this F2P switch. "Since the beginning of the year" was the short answer to that question, but it came with a caveat. "I think we've known for a long time that we've wanted to give players more choice in how they pay for the game," one of the devs said.
Apparently, the team spent a good chunk of last year wrestling with whether this switch was a good fit for the game, and if it could even be done. DDO Unlimited's success gave them a lot of confidence that these transitions were not only possible, but also beneficial to the game's growth as well.
While Turbine certainly want players -- especially free players -- to spend money on Turbine Points, they've graciously provided ways to earn points in game through deeds. The more deeds you do, and the higher the difficulty in doing them, the more Turbine Points will be dropped in your lap. Unfortunately, deeds already accomplished before this fall's update won't count toward the free points, but they are making that up to players with generous allowances of free points depending on how long players have had an account and other existing factors.
It's a tricky balance, the team expressed. On one hand, they want to take care of their long-term veteran players, but they also want to open up the game to a whole new batch of players so that LotRO continues to grow. They know that they can't make everyone happy, but they honestly believe that this is the best of both worlds.
The new LotRO store, according to Turbine, is all about convenience. By providing player options and catering to their desires, the team hope to have a store that's seen as attractive without being necessary for a rich gaming experience.
One of the ways they're looking to do this is to reduce the grind of the virtue system. If so desired, players can buy an item to help double the speed at which they attain a virtue -- or if they want to save their points, they can achieve it the old-fashioned way. As with other games' cash shops, it's often a tradeoff between time and money, with the same end result.
I expressed the general player concern over whether the store will give the moneybags-player too much of a leg up over others. I was told that they're being careful not to offer any unbalancing buffs or items -- for example, Turbine decided from the start that the store would not sell gear with any stats attached. There will, however, be purchasable tomes that give your character a one-time bump in a particular stat (such as vitality), but these bonuses are more designed to aid a low-level character than a level-capped one.
Many of the store's items could safely be categorized as fluff, and Turbine has plans to add even more emotes, outfits and costumes if there's demand for them.
Unfortunately, there are more categories and items in the store than I have space for in this column, but suffice to say that you can pick up everything from faction mounts to increased vault space to expansion packs. I enjoyed buying a couple cosmetic items for my level one rune-keeper so that he could get a good start in style.
Turbine's marketing team is integral to the store, especially when it comes to advertising and adjusting prices. Part of the beta process is seeing how players respond to the prices for all of the items and benefits, and adjusting the costs accordingly. And yes, as in DDO, we will see weekly and one-time promotions that reward the patient customer.
The future of the game
During the tour, I threw out a lot of random questions about the game's future, so in the spirit of that randomness, here's a list of what else I gleaned:
- Isengard in 2011! The Turbine team really want to do this area justice, so they're spending a lot of time creating it to be as epic as possible.
- Turbine is saving a level-cap increase for the Isengard expansion.
- They're going to continue to roll out content updates on a regular basis, and may actually increase the speed at which these appear.
- Will there be an increase in the virtue level cap? No immediate plans to do this.
- Will we get new character customization options (such as facial hair for hobbits)? Turbine were coy on this.
- Will there ever be new types of mounts other than horses and goats? Probably not, as the IP doesn't allow the team much leeway on this -- even the goats took a lot of effort to make work. No eagle mounts (I asked!).
- New cosmetic models are in the works (not just re-skinned versions of old models).
- Are we going to get a currency bag or something to take the tokens out of our inventories? Long-term, probably; short-term, no.
- Are they going to reexamine the LFF system? "That would be right down the path of grouping and matchmaking solutions."
- One of the possibilities for the future is to visit the dwarves in the White Mountains.
- Future updates will address and streamline itemization.