A guildie or kinnie (your pick) directed my attention to this thread on the unofficial (old Codemasters') forum that I wholeheartedly recommend reading to everyone who cares or once cared about LotRO.
Aylwen, a former Codemasters / Turbine employee and LotRO player from the first hour, opens our eyes on LotRO's demise from behind the scenes. It isn't a rant, but rather a painfully honest story about bad management and holding up appearances. It's also a story about a group of employees trying to do the best they can with almost no resources. There's even some cool pictures from their working environment.
These parts stood out to me:
On the state of LotRO now:
"(...) in a sense WB's disinterest in LOTRO and sheer wealth has probably spared LOTRO from being shut down. They don't care enough to kill it where a smaller company might have by now."
On the working conditions:
"Basically game development is like everything else: you get what you pay for. Hire and pay on the cheap, offer minimal benefits, unpleasant (to many) working conditions, stay understaffed, and then turn a blind eye and offer little solid central leadership and accountability...forget making a great game, you'll be lucky to make any games at all."
On legendary items:
"Legendary Items sounded good as an idea...and ended up being a train wreck. A grindy nightmare that hosed loot tables, crafting, and the ability of SQL to process data as it was inundated with a bazillion item and relic decons. I had moments in testing them where even the devas didn't know what certain legacies were supposed to do."
On how negative feedback was handled:
"(...) there was never, ever any self-examination when it came to player dissatisfaction. It couldn't possibly be that the devs were putting out sloppy, uninspired work or substituting mindless grinds in place of meaningful, engaging gameplay. There was never a dev fired for poor work-sometimes it seemed like a cabal where if nobody admitted the quality of the game was down, nobody would get blamed for it. That may sound harsh but the game speaks for itself."
On why there is no new endgame content (apparently it wasn't the player council):
"Then there's the old (to use the Aussie expression) baffle with bullshit strategy: rather than just admit, 'we simply don't have the resources to make new raids/revamp pvmp/etc', they hold up metrics data and say, 'well noboby raids anyway, so it isn't a priority...we're just reacting to player trends!'"
Somehow, knowing that it wasn't just an extremely poor design choice to stop developing group endgame content, but that they are simply lacking the resources, makes me feel better about the game. Maybe I'll experience less of a sad what-might've-been feeling when logging in now all these questions have been answered.
I tried keeping the quotes short, but there's just so much interesting stuff. You'd do best to just read it yourself.
And finally, a piece that strongly resonates with myself:
"When I look back on LOTRO as a player, having been away from the game for a while now, my own realization is that it was the community-our closeness, personalities, the sub-plots we created as we interacted (especially in the Moors) that kept me engaged and in love with the game. My nostalgia for SoA through SoM is really about that and maybe it makes the game itself look better than it might have actually been."
The thread shows the demise of a company to a point of no return. It confirms many suspicions I (and many with me) have had about the game: from bad communication ('trying to keep up appearances', but also desperate employees bending the truth because they really want to give their players more) to poor quality of newer content (did they really beta-test this? - now we know they indeed didn't).
But it also shows the incredible things a small company achieved in spite of all odds because of pure devotion and enthusiasm, during their first years in particular. It adds a stunning human perspective to how the game developed through the years. If anything, reading this thread makes me appreciate the amazing times we've had in LotRO more than ever.