Friday, 14 July 2017

LOTRO's Mordor pre-order deals put in perspective

This week, Lord of the Rings Online announced its upcoming Mordor expansion, including its pre-order options. Whereas other MMOs feed the hype before the release of a new expansion, LOTRO stuck to tradition by causing a huge player outrage with its pre-order offers. Just like in 2012 and 2013, it looks like the player base will spend the last weeks before the release of a major expansion discussing its outrageous pricing rather than eagerly anticipating cool new content.

Mordor expansion pre-order pricing

Let's look at the pricing, and compare it to the previous two expansions:

Riders of Rohan
Helm’s Deep

N.B.: you can find all the pre-order bonuses here on the official LOTRO website. For European players, be prices are 35/£30,- (basic), 75,-/£60,- (deluxe) and 114,-/£100,- (legendary). When pre-ordering, you gain access to the content at August 31st at the latest; if you buy with LOTRO Points (LP), you'll have to wait until "winter". When buying with LP, the basic version will cost 2495 LP; the High Elf race 1000 LP.

Historically, the amount of content in LOTRO’s expansions has steadily decreased. As we can see, the price of the basic edition, however, has stayed the same. The more expensive editions have considerably gone up in price, with the legendary edition now costing almost twice as much as in 2012.

A history of mistrust

It is not the first time LOTRO's pre-order offers cause a stir in the community. Veteran players may still remember the Riders of Rohan pre-order costs in 2012. Back then a essential quality-of-life feature, the sixth inventory bag, was originally exclusive to, and gated behind the legendary edition. Only after a huge player outcry did the developers quickly announce that the bag would be available for separate purchase in the Store as well, upon launch. The pre-order offers for Helm's Deep in 2013 didn't fare much better. So far, each expansion has reinforced the image of the game studio as greedy and out-of-touch with their community. Fast forward five years and nothing has changed.

It's not even the ridiculous price of the legendary edition that's disgruntling most current players: that's obviously meant for fans that want to support the game in any way they can, and it only grants cosmetic fluff on top of the content of the other editions. However, LOTRO's new High Elf race is exclusive to the deluxe and legendary edition. It is used to to push people into buying the deluxe version in a similar fashion as the sixth bag was in 2012.

How expansions are handled in the MMO scape

As we can see from the table above, LOTRO's expansion costs have always been steep. At the time of the game's launch in the late 2000's, a subscription model and money charged for an expansion were the only sources of income for a game development studio. Because of this, higher expansion costs were deemed acceptable by players. However, much has changed since then in the MMO scape. With the introduction of alternative revenue models, such as free-to-play and buy-to-play, the expansion model has been thrown out of the window by many game studios. The focus has shifted to smaller, free updates. In a way, LOTRO's Mordor expansion pricing model still stems from the late 2000's.

To understand why many LOTRO players are upset with the pre-order pricing, we should look at how other MMOs have handled recent expansions.

First off, there's Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR). Although this MMO is strictly speaking free-to-play, it leans heavily on subscriptions. Its last two expansions, Knights of the Fallen Empire (2015) and Knights of the Eternal Throne (2016), are unlocked by subscribing in the month of release (or later). They do not cost an additional fee and if you'd want, you could unsubscribe a month later. The price of a one-month subscription is $15,- or 12,50.

Then there's Guild Wars 2 (GW2). This MMO has one expansion, Heart of Thorns (2015). Similarly to LOTRO, the expansion comes in three editions: a standard edition (30,-), a deluxe version (55,-) and an ultimate edition (80,-). Note, however, that each of these options is cheaper than their LOTRO equivalent. On top of this, GW2 is free-to-play (previously buy-to-play) without the option to subscribe. Because of this, the game studio relies more on the sale of expansions to keep making content; players understand this and are willing to pay more.

Finally, let's look at the market leader: World of Warcraft (WoW). WoW is not free-to-play and relies on subscribers for income. Its latest expansion, Legion (2016), comes in two editions: the standard edition ($50,-/45,-) and a deluxe edition ($70,-/60,-). Costing $10,- more than LOTRO's base package, it's the only MMO that charges more for a base edition. However, it's worth noting that Legion contains way more content than the Mordor expansion: at launch, it came with no less than 9 dungeons and two raids. (LOTRO comes with none.) It also includes a new class, whereas a new race costs LOTRO players $40,- more (deluxe edition). WoW's deluxe edition only adds cosmetic fluff.

All things considered, it's clear that LOTRO's prices, especially those of the deluxe and legendary edition, are quite high compared to what's customary in the industry.

It's the thought that counts

Even though the LOTRO developers may choose to live in their own virtual Middle-earth bubble, players are aware of the MMO market and its customary prices. You cannot blame players for being displeased by being ripped off. As a LOTRO player myself, I want Standing Stone Games to continue to work on LOTRO and produce more content, but when the prices radiate such greed, I feel less inclined to do so.

Standing Stone Games (SSG) built up a lot of goodwill by going indie earlier this year. Many players felt that past greedy business decisions were forced from 'above' by Warner Bros. or Turbine. Now SSG is its own studio, we know this is not the case: it looks like SSG brought the same tone deaf marketing team along when making the switch.

Part of LOTRO's playerbase consists of extremely loyal fans that don't play any other games and are willing to pay anything. The Mordor expansion is heavily relying on these people. But the price is high. In doing so, SSG spends some of the goodwill of the community that was carefully built up earlier this year - and karma is easier spent than gained. It's not just the goodies that tempt players to spend money on a pricey expansion: it's also their belief in the game studio and their willingness to support said studio. This is especially the case for an old game that cathers to loyal, veteran players rather than new ones. When charged exorbitant amounts, it's not surprising when players feel insulted and decide to buy the new expansion with saved up LOTRO points rather than spending real money on it.

Perhaps this is what it costs to keep an indie game studio up and running these days. If that's the case, I'd love to know. I bet people would be way more willing to pay more! Sadly, transparency is underrated. If you're going to charge way more than customary for your content, give some explanation to your players why that is, or it'll only come off as insulting. At the end of the day, the only one SSG hurts with overpricing their expansion, is SSG.

Since I like to keep myself in the dark, the pictures in this post are not of Mordor. They are, however, taken not far north of the Black Gate and radiate a similar air of despair that we no doubt can expect to enjoy in the expansion.


  1. "When pre-ordering, you gain access to the content at August 31st at the latest; if you buy upon release, you'll have to wait until "winter". When buying upon release with LOTRO Points (LP), the basic version will cost 2495 LP; the High Elf race 1000 LP."

    Pretty sure this is incorrect.

    Pre-purchase: Get Mordor when it is released
    Purchase with $$$ after release: Get Mordor when you buy it
    Purchase with LP after release: Unavailable until "winter"

    1. Made that part a bit clearer in the text.

  2. That was an interesting read and made the issue more understandable for me... I had read another post about this before and to be honest that author just came off as kind of whiny and I didn't quite get what the big deal was.

    That said, SSG isn't quite as alone with their pricing as you may think: Everquest I & II have settled on $35/$90/$140 for their expansion packages a while ago. I'm guessing DBG has been giving SSG advice on the subject. :P

    1. I immediately thought of the EQ2 expansion prices from last year when I read the OP. It's going to be very interesting to see what prices DBG go for this year. There was a lot of kickback against the pricing structure last time and plenty of "That's It! I Quit!" posts based on the supposed gouging. If this year's Xpack comes in at around the same (or even higher) then I guess we can assume that was bluster and people did in fact pay up. If, on the other hand, the prices are more moderate (or the perks significantly better) then I suppose it means last years price hike went too far.

      Also, when it comes to the pricing of GW2's HoT expansion, the idea that "players understand this and are willing to pay more" is a long way from what actually happened. There was massive and widespread anger at a) the fact there even was an expansion b) the price and c) the fact that it wasn't free. Anet had to cave early on and increase the perks to quell a player riot but even so resentment about the price of the Xpack went on for a long time and still bubbles up even now.

    2. Heh, I wonder what post that was you read, Shintar. Perhaps Syp's on Massively OP? I was upset at first as well and if I'd have written my article in the heat of the moment on the same day, it may have ended up reading similarly.

      I read about the EQ2 pricing shortly after I published the article, and that does indeed sound very similar. I don't want to blame DBG entirely, though, because I feel SSG as a indie game studio have some responsibility in the matter, too. They are the ones that need to have a clue about what's going on in the community.

      I'm worried that SSG will underestimate the value of player goodwill and how much revenue they're missing out on by making people buy the expansion with LP rather than with real money. It wouldn't surprise me as the developers historically have shown a complete lack of self evaluation. That's not meant as a ragey comment, but just as it is. In the words of a former employee:

      "(...) 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."
      (See LOTRO's transformation from behind the scenes.)

      As for GW2's HoT expansion: darn, I did know that, somewhere deep down. (Although I didn't find its pricing that offensive personally, especially when having looked at other MMO expansions). It makes one wonder whether MMO players just always want to complain about their expansion's price. In this particular case, though, I do think they have a case, for all the reasons portrayed above.

  3. I do wonder if the pricing will equal less sales over all. I had been contemplating spending money on the expac instead of buying it with TP but currently anything other than the standard edition is out of my budget range. I find that sad since I do like acquiring the cosmetics and some of the other extras when it comes to expansions. So since I'm not where near being able to run the content anyway...I'll probably just use my free store points they give me every month...

    1. That is my worry as well. I like to support game studios by buying their special edition if I can. The cosmetics are a nice bonus that reminds you of having done that. I guess, up to $60 is what I'd be willing to pay; $80 is way out of my league as a student, though. So that just leaves the basic edition. This whole pricing ordeal has left somewhat of a sour taste, though, and it is tempting to do nothing and buy it with LP instead. I think what I'll end up doing is buy the basic edition and buy the High Elf in winter with LP.

      If more people are thinking like us, SSG might miss out on more revenue than they're gaining by the increased prices of the special editions. And - although it's entirely their own fault - that would be a shame because I do wish the studio well.

  4. I think the major problem is the Standard Edition and how it is made up. Aria of the Valar is going to be listed at around 6,500 LP and the Mordor content at only 2,500 LP. If you get 9k LP worth of value from the Standard Edition for $40 then that is good value imo, the problem is how the standard edition has been constructed, what it includes and what it doesn't include.

    Value: Store points are sold in various bundles based on how much you spend, the worst bundle gives you 75 points per dollar and the best one 115 points per bundle. 9,000 LP via purchasing points would be worth $120 to $78, so the $40 is a very good deal in my opinion and would probably still be a good deal during a double bonus point sale.

    The problem for me is that I don't want an AotV and I can't hock it off or give it to someone else, so it is dead weight. I am sure it will be of interest to some players, but I don't think it should have been in the Standard edition.

    If the Standard Edition came with:
    Mordor content (2,500 LP)
    High Elf + slot (1,000 LP)
    1,000 LP (1,000 LP)
    High Elven cosmetic set (a nice looking set so you can spruce up your bland looking high elf)
    Upgraded to the standard pocket XP accelerator (not the new earring one)

    I think that would have been a strong Standard edition and people would have been very happy with it even though it probably would be less raw LP than the existing standard edition.

    Even though the expansion isn't all about the High Elf, it is being released at the same time as the expansion and I think the standard edition should include it. I just don't think the AotV should be included in an expansion worth $40, it is less a Mordor pre-order and more a AotV pre-order when the AotV represents more than 70% of the value of the Standard edition.

    1. You bring up some good points about the Aria of the Valar in the base edition. Personally I won't use it, either; if I buy the standard edition, it's to support the studio and to have access before "winter". But I have a friend that would normally not pay real money for the game, but is thinking about the standard edition because of AotV (however, she'd never consider one of the pricier editions), because she is struggling to level up her characters and wants to do things with her friends at level cap. So while this is a gripe for people like you who want full use out of their money, I do understand why they are putting it in from a business perspective (to tempt people into buying that would otherwise not spend money on it).

      I brought up the High Elf because of the similar marketing strategy in 2012 that enraged people back then, and does now, again. It's extra painful because the High Elf was sort of advertised as coming with the expansion. It's no surprise that putting it behind a $80,- price wall is a huge disappointment to a lot of people; that's simply bad and brand damaging marketing in my book.

      There are lots of forum posts and even some blog posts that are dissecting the pricing details. However, none of them place the pricing in a socio-economical context, so that's what I was trying to go for with this article.

  5. I find all these level-up items to be vastly overpriced. Saying the Aria is worth 6000 TP is irrelevant to me because there is no chance I would ever pay that kind of money for it.

    Including the Aria in the base edition is attractive to me, as I might use it to boost an alt to level cap, either to have a different cap-level class on my current server, or to get to cap level on a new server where I'd like to play.

    I think Turbine/SSG shoot themselves in the foot with pricing these items so high. They might make all the difference to whether I keep playing the game or not, but I'm not going to pay $40-$60 for the privilege.

    -- Pasduil
    (I can't persuade blogger to use my WP identity!)


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