Wednesday, 4 March 2015

LOTRO's transformation from behind the scenes

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.


  1. Thanks for pointing this out. I used to be one a regular poster on that community site, but as Lotro declined, it did too. It's a cesspool now of homophobia, racism and misogyny which I could no longer tolerate to be a part of. But! I'm glad to have read what Aylwen had to say. It's great to hear some no nonsense truth for a change (especially regarding raids and instances.)

    1. I had no idea that forum was in such decline. I remember it as being one of the better places to hang out after LotRO transferred to Turbine, as the official forum was quite censored. Then again, I've never been much of a forum person because of the attitudes of people. Still sorry to hear the place went downhill like that.

      For me it really felt like a relief when I read Aylwen's messages. When will companies finally find out being honest breeds a better fanbase than being secretive and lying?

      Off-topic: glad to see you're still around! Are you still gaming?

  2. Aylwen's post are interesting and the first useful information to come from that forum for a while. It has simply become an echo chamber for a group of similarly minded individuals. Like Lothirieth, I seldom go there now.

    As for the "revelations" themselves, I think they simply validate suspicions a lot of us have had for a while. At this point in time all these post really do is show that the days of LOTRO are numbered and that people should enjoy the game as much as they can .

    1. The latter is what I'm trying to do. Somehow for me having read the human part behind it all allows me to feel less sad and annoyed about what-might-have-been. I feel I can now enjoy the story and landscape for what it is.

  3. My fear is that isn't an unique case to Lord of the Rings Online or Turbine but rather an endemic problem for MMOs. At least that is the impression I get for a lot of older MMOs. For instance in EQ2 it seems like every new expansion or even the developers come up with some new grind to do or some other way to annoy the players. Or they come up with some "great" idea they are very excited about then things don't end up going the way they expected and it ends up being abandoned by the next expansion (if not before that). The only thing I can't comment is on raiding since that is not my cup of tea. But everything else... Yeah, sounds like a lot of impressions I had about Everquest 2 and other MMOs throughout the years.

    1. This was picked up by Massively OP and there's a bunch of people working in the MMO industry reacting in the comments confirming what you say.

      I don't play enough MMOs myself to have seen this happen repeatedly, although I'm aware that every gaming company acts secretively to a certain degree and has to do so to protect their interests. To what degree they do this will differ per game, and I always felt LotRO was an extreme case. Maybe it has had such an impact on me on a personal level because it was my first MMO and because I am very much a Tolkien fan. Those two things must've made me ending up caring about it a great deal.

      It really must suck to work in the gaming industry. I for one would really get stressed out by having to act like that.

  4. I barely played LOTRO - I got to around level 30, but it was one of the few games where I kept rerolling and never got anywhere. I'll always remember wondering into the forest near Bree as a level 10-12 with a friend, only to find out it's full of evil trees. We were lost in there for about 45 minutes - good fun though.

    One thing I can't help but wonder is, does this apply to SWTOR:
    "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!'"

    I'm sure the situation isn't the same as with LOTRO, but it's obvious BioWare have been working with limited resources.

    1. Leveling in LotRO is much slower than in SWTOR, so I think level 30 is quite the achievement!

      From my personal experience as a player, I don't think SWTOR is anywhere as close to the problems LotRO faced. Partly it may only seem that way because of their policy of releasing small bits of new content continuously. That way it feels like there's always something going on. In LotRO, however, there was usually one large update or expansion including a raid per year, and that would pretty much be it for the rest of the year. In the end, they implemented randomly generated instances and presented them as endgame content.

      So raidwise, the contrast with SWTOR (with a regular amount of 2 top level raid clusters) couldn't be larger. So far, BioWare has not said anything of the sorts that about raiding. But then again, it becomes a different story all of a sudden if you replace the "raids" of that sentence with "ranked PvP"...


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