A few weeks ago we spoke with Turbine as they celebrated the four-year anniversary of Lord of the Rings Online. During that interview, we also discussed the results of adding a free-to-play (F2P) format to their existing subscription business model and of what we can expect from E3.
Unfortunately, Communications Director Adam Mersky and Producer Aaron Campbell were unable to provide at this time concrete numbers and data, but still managed to answer some of our questions. And of course, they were relatively mum on what to expect at E3 next month. Such teases!
Incidentally, our giveaway contest for codes to 500 Turbine Points is still going on! If you’d like to win a code for 500 Turbine Points (worth about $5) there’s still time. Simply visit this link and leave a comment on it to enter.
GAMERETELL: Turbine achieved great success when Dungeons and Dragons Online adopted a F2P format. So far, do you see a similar pattern emerging from LOTRO?
Mersky: Yeah. The game has certainly grown from free to play, there’s no doubt about that. LOTRO had a much larger base when we made the transition, so I think that certainly, additionally, DDO’s percent of increase was very high. But we have seen the same kind of growth, we have seen subscribers grow, we have seen lots of new people coming in. I think anybody can see that when they log in the game. Any region that I go to now, any major center there’s other players running around. And it’s been very good for us.
I think that, much like we did the first year with DDO’s operations, we’re still in optimization mode and that’s – how do players feel about the value of the things in the store? And we’re making adjustments as we go. What things can we do? You know, the LOTRO store is much larger than the DDO store so what kind of feedback is that? Are there too many items? Is it hard to find the items? Things like that are what we’re constantly testing on with players, with our beta community –things like that.
So I think we’re learning new things every day, but in a very simple term, we have seen success like we did with DDO. We’re fully behind this model and we think it works. A lot of people still have the misconception that we walked away from subscription but all we did here was add another option to the existing subscription model. And we think that’s been partially responsible for our success.
Campbell: I think that’s certainly one of the counter-intuitive things in the business…to go free to play and see our subscriber numbers grow.
Mersky: Yeah, the players get in, they see the value, they find the community and then they realize that best value of the game is still to subscribe. And we see them go through that process.
GAMERTELL: Has there been a substantial increase in returned players since F2P, people who have reactivated their subscriptions?
Mersky: I don’t have any hard numbers here, but definitely we saw — certainly at launch — a ton of players come back, because here’s an opportunity for them to come back. Their characters are still there, they may make some decisions if they elect to come back as a free player as far as the number of character slots and they can choose which of their characters they want to access.
But you can see that in all MMOs, right? I mean, re-acquiring players is obviously one of our big goals. But we’re always re-acquiring players. Players play for a while, they leave, they check out something else or life gets in the way, they’ve got things to do, then they come back. Certainly events like our content updates or our big updates like [Rise of] Isengard are certainly big drivers of that where a player may take a couple of months off and come back when something like an Isengard launches. And that hasn’t changed even before we were subscription only.
You count on players leaving and coming back and I think that, over the past four years one of the real strengths of LOTRO is that people always come back. Even though they may be going off to play a different game or something else, we’ve seen lots of players sort of come in and out of the game ever since launch.
GAMERTELL: Who is more likely to use the LOTRO store — free-to-play folks or subscribers (AKA VIPs)?
Campbell: Both free players and our premium players purchase something, and our VIP subscribers all use the store but in very different ways. Folks that are paying their subscription very often are buying things that are going to last on their account, more long-term. They’re also buying cosmetic updates – they’re buying a lot of things that help service them in their long-time gaming experience.
Players who are coming in initially and experiencing pieces of the game are sort of acquiring parts of the game as they go. They’re picking up that they want, they’re picking up the storage, they’re picking up an extra character slot because they want to play an additional character, and those types of things.
GAMERTELL: VIPs get 500 Turbine Points free every month. Do you find that they’re spending them as fast as they’re earning them, or do they tend to accumulate them?
Mersky: There’s no one trend or the other. You’ve got players that do all of those things. The idea here is that by subscribing to the service, one of the perks you get is 500 points a month. We have players that subscribe and spend a significant amount of money in the store. We have players that subscribe and play exactly as they did before and they ignore their points. They play as they used to play, as if we were a subscription-only game. And we have subscribers who gave up their subscription and ended up spending more per month just on the store but they don’t want to have the monthly subscription on their credit card.
Campbell: The one thing I’d comment on is that we were at Penny Arcade Expo in Boston and a good half of the press folks who sat down with us and did interviews, after the interview was over they’d lean over and quietly say, “I’m not gonna tell you how much but I really spent a lot of money in your store. I love your game.” I get a chuckle at that. It’s great to see people who are gaming with us, they’re buying what they want to and they’re playing what they want to.
GAMERTELL: Yeah, I’ve spent a good deal of money on your store (laughs)
Campbell and Mersky: Thank you!
GAMERTELL: E3 is coming up very soon. The big question is — will there be a Rise of Isengard trailer and/or playable demo at E3?
Mersky: We will be making some big announcements at E3. We will be at where we were last year, at the Warner Brothers booth. We’ll certainly be making a lot of big announcements about Isengard and hopefully answer a lot of questions people have. Players should stay tuned around E3 to hear more news about what’s coming up for the rest of the year for LOTRO.
GAMERTELL: I know that it’s still a little further off but PAX Prime is also coming up in the fall and I know at PAX East you guys gave away codes for special mounts. Will you be doing that again at PAX Prime?
Mersky: I can’t guarantee anything because I don’t want to commit and you know, all of a sudden we change our mind but the mount was a big hit, people loved them, and apparently they – I don’t know if they sold but apparently there was a brisk market on eBay for them too, from what I was told. I don’t know what they were valued at but one of the cool things about having a store now is that we can more easily just give items that are of value.
What was cool about the, what we affectionately called “The PAX Pony” here in the office was that you could only get them at PAX. It wasn’t on sale from the store or whatever. The players responded well to it and I don’t know when it will be, but we’re gonna do our best to have another sort-of-unique item for our friends in Seattle.
GAMERTELL: So you don’t know yet if it’s going to be the same horse or have a new design?
Mersky: Yeah, I can’t really comment on that. We haven’t really finalized that. We love PAX, Turbine was one of the original exhibitors at PAX back in the day, we’ve been there since the beginning. We love the fact that they come to Boston now ’cause our whole company gets to go. We had the biggest booth on the floor this year, it was awesome. And we expect to have a pretty good presence in Seattle this summer. It’s not even in the fall anymore, Toni. They moved it up — it’s not on Labor Day weekend now, it’s the weekend before. It’s now in August.
So we’re gonna be coming straight from Germany ’cause we’re gonna be at Gamescom –
Campbell: We’re gonna be getting off the plane and walking right in (laughs).
Mersky: So we’ll be on the road for most of August as a result. But certainly by then we’ll have a lot more information on Isengard, and we’ll be in beta and all that so it’ll be very cool.
GAMERTELL: So you’re saying that you’ll be in beta for Isengard roughly in the summer? Like late summer, like August?
Mersky: Our plan is to go into beta sometime this summer. We’re still on track to ship in the fall but we’re not going to put a date on it. We’re going to ship it when it’s ready and part of that process is getting players to hammer on it for us in beta. We’ll certainly let everyone know when that process starts but I’m pretty confident that by PAX we’ll be on our way.
Site [Lord of the Rings Online]