Lordy: Turbine Talk Free LOTRO

It seems that after the success of Dungeons & Dragons Online going free to play, Lord Of The Rings Online is to adopt a similar model. We found out a bit more about what that means by talking to Adam Mersky, Director of Communications at Turbine, and Kate Paiz, Executive Producer for the project. They explained how they see this new model as the logical, mature direction for MMOs, and how removing the subscription could be the best approach for the future of online entertainment.

RPS: Let’s talk about why. Your press release mentions DDO, did that prove the model for free-to-play?

Mersky: For us it has, certainly. DDO we thought would be successful, because we worked very hard on it, but the day before launch, well, you never quite know how people are going to react. It has surpassed any of our expectations, because before we went free-to-play DDO was ranked eleventh out of the most-played MMOs in North America, and now it’s number three. That took four months of it being live last year. It clearly has had a big impact.

There are two truths in our business. The number one reason people play MMOs is because their friends do, and the number one reason they don’t is because of a subscription. Let’s be clear though, we are just expanding into a free-to-play option. There is still a subscription option, and the stores will be optional, you can play the game without ever going to that stuff. That said, the success of DDO clearly validates what we believe the future of online entertainment could be. As soon as we saw that success we made moves to do that to LOTRO. I think you’re going to see this from our competitors. There will be a lot of different flavours, but you will see more of this going forward.

RPS: So this is about population? You need as many people as possible to keep LOTRO alive? Can’t you survive on a hardcore of subscribers?

Paiz: I don’t think we should frame this in terms of saving or needing, it’s about opportunity. The number of players obviously grows, as we saw with DDO, from a free game option. We’re very happy with what we’ve done with LOTRO, but as you say there is a lot more for people in-game with a larger population of players. There are more opportunities for Fellowships to form, a lot more opportunity for players to socialise. This isn’t about saving LOTRO, but about growth. This is where we think the industry is maturing to.

RPS: I suppose I phrased the question in that way because it feels like the idea that the MMO market was going to explode on a subscription basis, and that the other big MMOs were going to share in the millions that World Of Warcraft seems to be have been able to stake a claim on, has been lost. It feels like the other MMOs needed another way if they were going to grab these audiences…

Paiz: We from our perspective we see that there is a stigma attached to paying a recurring monthly charge, and when you are talking about subscribing to two or even three MMOs that stigma increases. There’s a mentality there saying “if i am going to spend this much money then I have to log in”. People feel that if they have more than one of these games going on then they have to dedicate their lives to playing MMOs, and that pressure becomes off-putting. We have listened and we are responding to this kind of feedback: players are saying “please let me access these games and play it my way”. They just want to pay for the content they want.

Mersky: And I am having deja vu here because we were have this conversation just recently. This is where entertainment content is going, right? We were joking that we thank Steve Jobs for kicking open the door, because ten years ago you wouldn’t have been able to buy just that track you wanted to listen to, you’d have to buy the whole album. And that’s what people want: that song you heard on the radio, no more, no less, and that translate over to video on demand, we pay for and view stuff when we want to. This applies to MMOs too. You can subscribe and be the guy who plays thirty hours a week, or you can be like me and have job, family, kids, and have no problem dropping five dollars one evening to unlock some content. I might not be back for a couple of weeks, but I’ve had my fun.

RPS: Okay, so let’s talk about exactly what this means for the game. Exactly what is free?

Paiz: If you come in from the start you will have all the launch content, all the launch classes and races, the two classes that came with the expansion are still linked to the expansion, which you can purchase. Once you enter the game, for free, you can play the first three big regions, which is eight hundred quests. Then as you get up in the level 20 area you enter the epic storyline and you are involved with the fellowship, and you play in support of the Fellowship Of The Ring, that’s all free up to the start of Moria, that is still paid-for content. You can basically walk around the entire West of the world, assuming you are the right level so the mobs don’t kill you. The NPCs who have quests that are related to the paid-for content are still there, but with a locked icon. You can talk to them, read the quest dialogue, and then choose to buy the regions the quests are in. You’ll be able to do eighty to two-hundred quests off that one purchase. We think that if you’re there and you’re enjoying the content you’ll get around to opening your wallet because you want to enhance your game experience.

RPS: What does this mean for the existing playerbase?

Paiz: All the benefits of having a subscription will still be there, because you will get access to all the content, and the expansions. You will also get 500 points to spend per month in the store. Lifetime subscribers will get the same 500 points per month. They won’t be paying any more, unless they choose to spend for more points.

RPS: So what is the beta for? How will that work?

Mersky: That won’t change the way servers are operating now. If you have a character and you log in any time, it will still be there. The beta will take place on a private server and won’t impact on the current service. So go to lotro.com and come sign up for our beta, we will have an announcement in about two weeks. We want European testers too, so please come over and take a look.

RPS: Thanks for your time.


  1. Choca says:

    I have (or rather had) a lifetime subscription to this game but grew rather bored of it. I remember that the community was pretty wonderful though (especially on RP servers) and am pretty worried that this free to play transition is going to kill it with fire.

    • Lobotomist says:

      Actually , destroying the finest MMO community I have seen. And destroying RP. That is my only fear of this transfer.

      On other hand roleplayers will have a game that they can connect for free and just roleplay.

      And roleplay hubs. Like Prancing Pony are not connected to quests and xp grind. So hopefully they will not attract non roleplayers

    • Reiver says:

      I’m hopeful that this will have a positive effect on the community. There’s a great group of players on my server (evernight) but frustration with the game has seen large numbers of old timers drift off. At the moment the community, like the game (or at least the server), is dying. Keeping in touch through MSN and e-mail is ok but there’s some really great people whom i’ve had no contact with for months.
      This willl at least mean they don’t have to renew their sub if they feel like popping in and saying hello. of course it’d be nice if this was accompanied by some significant content that made them want to stick around but at least people will be less likely to dissapear entirely.

  2. Lobotomist says:

    I have been playing LOTRO in beta. Than over a year since the release (its only MMO i managed to play for longer than 2 months) After that i subbed on and off. Mainly to see Mines of Moria expansion ( amazing level design – really unlike anything seen before )

    It makes me very happy LOTRO went F2P.

    Now I will be able to log in when ever I want. Have some nice roleplay in Shire , Prancing pony in Bree , or Rivendell.

    And if i feel like questing i can do it at my own (casual) pace.

  3. Zogtee says:

    Off-topic, I suppose, but I think DDO is coming off very easy here. It was highly anticipated, but the way it was designed didn’t appeal to the MMO crowd and it sank like a stone with lead weights attached. They struggled to keep it afloat for a while, until they finally decided to let it free and that worked for them. The “you never quite know how people are going to react” is somewhat misleading, imo.

  4. Heliocentric says:

    I remember reading articles, lots of them actually but particularly one on penny arcade telling me how “in the future” all worthwhile non indie games will be mmo’s. That a subscription of some sort is inevitable. It was a horrific thought that all gaming would be corrupted by the influence of the grind and drip fed “fun”.

    Good luck with that.

  5. alseT says:

    I think a very important question hasn’t been asked: When the hell will they make DDO f2p in europe?

    And will LOTRO will have the same disregard for european players as DDO. Because I won’t put up with the lag of connecting to their US servers.

    • Heliocentric says:

      I’ve played d&d online for free, or is this one of those times uk=!europe?

    • Baka says:

      Perfectly playable from germany, too.

    • Lobotomist says:

      Actually lag to US is virtually same as to EU. Strange but true.

    • alseT says:


      Really? Because I’ve been following the news and there was some chatter about Turbine buying back the rights to distribution in Europe from Codies, but I didn’t know they already opened the beta for us as well. Is this confirmed?

    • alseT says:

      edit^: Nope. ddo-europe.com still has a free trial option so it’s not f2p yet.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      If you go to the main (/US) DDO website you can download the f2p client and then play it with no problems at all. It doesn’t do anything like check your IP address or ask you for a US postal code before letting you download and create an account.

      I’m still not sure whether it’s Turbine creatively getting around some European distribution issues or whether it’s a genuine mistake.

    • The Great Wayne says:

      Codemasters didn’t put DDO on f2p mode in Europe. Don’t remember exactly the reason.

      That said, Lotro is indeed going for free in europe too, rumors says that Turbine more or less said “this time you don’t screw around and do as we say or you’re just no longer in charge of our products in Europe”.

    • Starky says:

      I just started playing DDO free last week, on the American servers, and it is fine.

      My Latency from England is usually around 120ms 150 max – which is better than I used to get in WoW most of the time – besides given the pace of the game and that a LOT of the game is client side that latency is almost unnoticeable.

      Play DDO on the American side, most Europeans do now.

  6. Daave says:

    The player base is a great strength of the game, but there was a feeling of stagnation (for me at least) before Moria came out. The low level areas were deserted and getting fellowship together took hours/days of planning sometimes. As the level cap increased with Moria the old end-game content became redundant and people who wanted items for class quests would need several high level friends to help them out.

    Having said that the game remains fond in my memories. Rivendell is breath-taking, and wondering through the halls of Moria is a truly epic experience. If they allow me to access my level 60 dwarf guardian without paying over the odds then I’ll certainly pick it up again, but I suspect it will be a short-term jolt of a slowly dying game and not Lazarus coming back from the dead.

  7. Sobric says:

    Part of me would love to give this a go, but I really don’t have much time for MMOs anymore.

    Added to that, I feel that I’m in limbo in the MMO world – waiting for the “next gen” of MMOs (whatever shape they take).

  8. MultiVaC says:

    This is a really cool model to try out, and I hope it’s successful so that more MMOs will look at other option besides subscription.

    I might actually start playing an MMO. Just saying that makes me feel like I’ve wandered into the Twilight Zone.

  9. Cheezey says:

    I didnt think that LOTRO was that bad when I played a free trial a few months back. It was pretty much a case of “not a bad game, but all my mates are still playing wow” might actually be able to get a few of them to take an interest if its free!

  10. drewski says:

    I’m definitely going to give this a play when it goes F2P. I’ve never played a proper MMOG but this intrigues me, I was just never going to pay a subscription.

  11. Starky says:

    I will play it also, currently just started playing DDO and am thinking about dropping some cash for some store points (if only to get the upgrade from free account to premium removing some chat and gold limits.
    Probably on another character slot.

    I always wanted to play LotRO , but could never justify the sub with so little time to play (usual excuses, work+Uni+social life).

    He’s exactly right though, many of us don’t mind paying for content, to consume at leisure.
    I may only play DDO for 5-10 hours a month, but F2P means I won’t be seeing that as a waste of money as I would with a sub.

  12. tekDragon says:

    I think Paiz needs to re-read the definition of stigma or maybe talk to a speech pathologist to figure out why he says stigma when he means cost.

  13. Fenrir says:

    A blue post really sorta summed this up perfectly.

    “I’ve seen this concern a good bit of late and I’m not sure I fully understand it. This community grew out of a group of people who did not always see eye-to-eye or have the same goals. We have casual players, hardcore players, PvMP’ers, Raiders, Role Players. Most people would tell you those groups cannot co-exist well. Yet, with LOTRO they do. I think it’s far too soon to start judging people. Especially those you have never met.

    Remember, each of ‘Us’ was once one of ‘Them’.”

  14. Weylund says:

    I pre-ordered LOTRO and had a ball with it. I killed my sub when I lost my job a couple years back, and simply haven’t restarted – all MMOs seem a waste of money when you haven’t got the free time to make $15 a month “worth it”. I’ve kept up somewhat longingly with the updates, though, reading what I was missing. I’m looking forward to f2p.

    Now if only WAR would go f2p… and Conan.

    • drewski says:

      WAR is another game in my “intriguing concept and I would quite like to try it but I am not paying a subscription” basket.

  15. Sobric says:

    @ myself (but I know this reply will fail)

    Just reading a little about the future of one MMO on the GW2 blog:

    GW 2 Blog

    Interesting stuff, especially the last paragraph.

    • drewski says:

      I honestly don’t understand the problem people have with the reply system – you click reply, wait for it to load, speke yore brane and then hit “opinion, away”. Works for me every time, touch wood.

      That’s a good link though so thanks for that.

  16. Tei says:

    From this article, It sounds like Turbine has it “right”. But I have not played DDO recently, so I don’t know how the thing work inside the game.
    Again. I applaud Turbine for this.

  17. Sobric says:

    @ drewski

    I have no problem at home, it’s only at work. I know this wont work, but I also know the process of why it doesn’t:

    1) Logging in helps with standard replies to a post, but as soon as you click Reply to a person it will log you out (as in, you need to fill in a captcha).

    2) Trying without logging in wont work unless you do a normal reply first, as in I could now reply to myself no problem, unless I close the browser.

    3) To get it to work, I need to reply normally to the thread, then go about replying to people, which means filling a thread with useless replies just so you can reply to someone else.

    PS: Also, logging in through the link at the top of the page is very patchy. Logging in through the forums seems more reliable, but still you are often logged out once you click on a “Reply” button.

    PPS: This post is obviously become aimed more at KG/Alec/John regarding the site, rather than at you drewski. Unless you can fix it :P

  18. Dave says:

    I only buy whole albums. Suck it Steve Jobs!

  19. Finn says:

    Only thing that pissed me off with the whole “free to play” in DDO was that classes (monk) and races (warforged) where solely buyable so it’s “free to play but actually the coolest classes and different races aren’t freely available” thingie.

    Ever since Blizzard launched it’s pay-with-real-cash-and-get-a-ingame-horse thing I’ve been disgusted with MMO’s; sure, they are for the most part grind fests but at least you KNEW you could get object A or B via grinding, when certain things show up that aren’t “grindable” and you can really only get them by paying it just feels, for me, like they are simply trying to exploit you a little bit more but hey, it’s only my opinion.

    • drewski says:

      I’m not sure you’re ever going to get away with a “zomg they’re exploiting me” argument when, y’know, they’re giving you a huge chunk of the game for free.

  20. ran93r says:

    I’m going to be checking this out and I may drop some cash for Moria content but that depends how bored I get. I enjoyed being a subscriber but it wasn’t earth shattering. I do need a WAR F2P forum sig though, getting tired of typing it.

  21. Freud says:

    In The Wire the drug dealers often give people the first hit for free. Then you are hooked.

  22. Jeffro says:

    I have played LOTRO since SoA closed beta and I am optimistic that this shift will have a positive effect. I was worried at first but after readin some of the related interviews and stories it seems that this will basically be an enhanced free trial. Players were worried when they started offering that as well and, when it went live, you could scarcely tell that it had. I’m hoping that this is an indicator of how the move to f2p will go.

    Many of us are now starting to feel hopeful that this will be a rebirth of LOTRO and bring many new players into Middle-earth. If you have yet to play this game please beleive what you hear/read about the community. It’s great and many of us will be there to assist when the f2p players need help in the newby zones. If you are in the Shire you might even be helped out by one of my little hobbits. :)

    Best wishes to everyone!

  23. Bassism says:

    I’ve already signed up for the beta, and kinda hope I actually get in.
    I’m a pretty hardcore Eve player, though largely because I can cover the costs of my accounts with in game currency.
    As much as I love Eve, however, I often long for Elves and RP. From what I understand, there is a healthy RP community in LOTR, so it may be just the thing to log into once a week or whatever when I don’t feel like blowing up spaceships.

  24. Nic says:

    I have been playing LOTRO since 2007 with the occasional break here and there. I would encourage anyone who is interested to go to the LOTRO site and pick up the 10 day trial and give it a go. I’d recommend trying several classes and getting them up to level 20 to see if they fit your play style. The community is wonderful and many nights I will log in just to talk to the people in my Kinship (guild) while I do my work emails at the same time. Those of us who live geographically close together have caught up for BBQs and drinks at times. When I have traveled, if I have gone to a city a kinnie lives in, more often than not we catch up in real life. The community is second too none.

    The game content is also (IMO) second to none. You have all the fun of an MMO, but what is truly fun is an epic storyline weaving its way through the quests. Humor is often applied to the quests and it is worth reading them fully for a rich experience. (Something I had to struggle to do at times in WOW.)

    My suggestion to anyone curious would be to do the trial, play several classes to lvl 20-30. If you enjoy the game pick up a subscription now as playing now will give you some rewards once the F2P model comes out. If you don’t want a subscription, you will be in a good position to know what classes to play when F2P comes out. Finally, MAKE SURE YOU JOIN A KINSHIP. The community is for the most part great. Advertise in chat that you want to join a kin. Make sure that you say what kind of kin you are looking for. I am sure that someone will give you a trial.