It’s not subscription MMOs that are dying, Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online maker Turbine told Eurogamer – it’s antiquated games that insist upon a single method of payment.
“People now in the West expect to have full control over their entertainment dollar and spend it the way they want to,” explained Adam Mersky, Warner’s (Turbine’s owner) digital communications Witch King.
“It’s probably not right to say the subscription MMO is dying, it’s probably more right to say the idea of forcing a player to only have one option for having to consume your content – that’s probably dying.”
Both Dungeons & Dragons Online and The Lord of the Rings Online were rejuvenated by turning free-to-play. Such was their success that now numerous other MMOs have followed suit: Champions Online, EverQuest 2, DC Universe Online, Star Trek Online, etc.
LOTRO’s executive producer Kate Paiz told us “absolutely” more people were playing the game now than ever before. And Adam Mersky said “yes”, LOTRO makes more money now than it ever has.
Mersky also told us “DDO’s doing better than at any time”. This year’s DDO expansion pack, the Forgotten Realms-inspired Menace of the Underdark, will cap what will be the game’s “biggest year ever”.
“While we certainly pioneered [F2P changeover] in the online game space, and the industry is adopting it – this is pretty prevalent throughout the entertainment industry,” Mersky continued.
“You can choose to subscribe to your satellite or cable television service, or you can buy an IP box like a Roku or an Apple TV, and get your TV shows by paying per show versus paying a monthly fee for all the TV you can watch.
“This is going on across entertainment,” Mersky mentioned.
Bubbled Dungeons & Dragons Online producer Erik Boyer: “I would say the mistake that’s going on out there is that people are thinking that free-to-play is something you do a few years after you do the subscription.
“If we were going to release another MMO, we would not come out and – from my perception – launch it as a subscription game. The right choice would be to make it a player-choice of subscription or free-to-play.”
Turbine confirmed work on an “unannounced future project” back in 2009 – but that was before the developer was snapped up by old Barry Big Bucks, aka Warner Bros, in 2010.
That status of that “future project” is unknown, but with LOTRO and DDO appearing to do so well, the pressure to rush any kind of announcement will be minimal.
Menace of the Underdark raises DDO’s level-cap to 25. And in Dungeons & Dragons lingo, that means Epic levels, which grant access to very powerful skills and abilities.
Menace of the Underdark also introduces the Druid class, plus the gloomy subterranean Underdark playground run by Lolth, Queen of the Drow.
Enabling the Menace of the Underdark expansion was LOTRO expansion Rise of Isengard – the game’s “best selling expansion ever”, Mersky told Eurogamer. The point being that Isengard was F2P LOTRO’s first expansion – the litmus test for whether a free audience would gobble up that kind of content. Given the answer, the future roadmap should include a few more.