When The Lord of the Rings Online years ago I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. The concept of a free-to-play MMO was still in its infancy, and since I was paying a regular subscription fee back then, I didn’t really think about it. Fast forward years later though, as free-to-play has become more of the norm these days, LotRO seemed quite prescient at the time.
However, while the MMORPG set in Middle-earth was posing as “free”, and technically The amount of nicking and dimming the developers implemented made the experience a nuisance.
It’s funny to think about as I have multiple copies of the physical releases made by LotRO, but without a subscription fee, at times I didn’t have access to what I had already paid for on the disc. The way monetization was handled throughout the MMO felt like one of the most expensive MMORPGs to jump into.
At least until now.
Since the pandemic began in 2020, Standing Stone Games has seemed pretty generous with its content, giving it away for free for a period of time. It allowed a lot of new players to come in and get access to many of them The Lord of the Rings Online Content vaults without spending any money and potentially make them get more when they run out.
SSG has also felt downright greedy at times, as the War of Three Peaks “mini-expansion” debacle felt like a way to deny VIP spend one of the key benefits of subscription: access to content releases at no extra cost while on subscription active.
However, the most recent producer letter shows the monetization changes that many of us were hoping for. Standing Stone Games in advance Lord of the Rings Online 15th Anniversary is making much of its content, including previous paid DLC, free for all players, period. Additionally, races like the High Elf, as well as classes like the Rune Warden and Warden, which were previously locked behind paywalls, are now free. This is in addition to the changes introduced with the recent release of Rangers and Ruins.
In fact, Standing Stone Games has created a free trial that allows players to experience Middle-earth up to level 95 – a enormously amount of content.
For an MMO that’s been giving away free content during the pandemic, it’s not that shocking that it’s giving away content for free again. But the sheer volume, and the fact that this is a permanent change for all players now and in the future, is a huge departure from the standard free-to-play model LotRO helped define.
Even VIP players are not left in the lurch. Now as part of the subscription, the latest enhancements such as Minas Morgul and War of the Three Peaks are available as part of the sub, although the latest Fate of Gundabad is still one that you must buy.
It’s such a breath of fresh air, honestly. Seeing a title with what appear to be thousands of hours of content made available for free, especially a title that has become notorious for how badly it wanted you to break into your wallet anything is such a great thing. Many will look at this and see desperation, and sure, an aging MMO that makes more of its content available can exude that vibe. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. In the latest investor report, SSG’s parent company, EG7, advertises it LotRO as a “key value driver”.
Considering the success of other MMORPGs, it’s not difficult to draw parallels between the free trial version of Final Fantasy XIV and what The Lord of the Rings Online might try to do here. One of the most important drivers of FFXIV Popularity was its incredibly generous free trial. By offering free play, period, up to level 95, with seemingly no paywall barriers along the way, LotRO puts itself in the driver’s seat to attract new players as they enter the latter half of its second decade.
Another benefit this could have is bringing older players back to Middle-earth. As someone who owns a ton of the content through sales and more, it’s still annoying when I level an alt and realize I don’t own Angmar (despite having three physical copies of it Shadow of Angmar). Which felt like an abrupt “pull your wallet to continue” point that propelled me into my arms FFXIV or EVE On-line, just won’t be there anymore. And it’s refreshing to think about.
This change does not mean that we will see a complete overhaul of the LotRO shop though. There will still be cosmetics and convenience items that border on what some see as pay-to-win. But it’s a change that’s a step in the right direction. Providing a large amount of its content, really free, could see LotROs Population will increase exponentially as the Amazon TV show launches later this year. And with so many things planned for the MMO in the future, from graphical overhauls to potential console ports, it’s a sign the studio isn’t slowing down. It feels more like they’re adapting to the next wave of MMO players.
And it’s refreshing to see.
https://www.mmorpg.com/editorials/lotros-monetization-changes-are-such-a-breath-of-fresh-air-2000124592 LotRO’s monetization changes are such a breath of fresh air