Last post I talked about having a peek at LOTRO again, the current darling of blognation. I was drawn to give it a shot because of the handy dandy free trial after their new expansion, Mines of Moira. I had no delusions of grandeur of seeing the new content, but rather was curious of the trickle down effect to what changes this game has gone through since it’s release. I was especially excited to try out their new Warden class – reminded me very much of the 300 spartans – shield and spear. I dl’ed the trial, signed up, and off I went.
Although I saw the selection of the class available in the character select screen, and could see how cool I was going to look as a Warden, it would not let me continue past the tease. Took me only a minute to figure out that you can’t play that class without the expansion. Fair enough. Perhaps they had their own special starting zone a la WoW’s new Death Knight, so the expansion was needed. I mentioned it on the LOTRO forums (very nice and friendly place, by the way. Kudos to the community) and a friendly stranger sent me a MoM buddy key trial to see if that would work. It did! Excited once again to enter new lands as a spart- erm, elven warden, I created my character and zoned in.
This is where there was a non-epic fail, henceforth known as a “regular” fail (thanks CM – I concur!) – I was in the standard starting area. The same one I just did as an elven guardian. So to get this straight, not only would I have to buy the game, but the expansion as well, just to play a character class that appeals to me – to do the same basic content? Seems like an error in judgement on Turbine’s part – which led me to start thinking of what exactly “content” is in a game anyway.
In big MMO’s, the subscription fee isn’t for content development it is for “access” to existing content. The box cost of expansions fully covers the content itself. The “access” we pay for is by and large the profit stream for them. While quests, dungeons, new areas to explore are easily considered “content”, is the avatar you experience that content with itself considered “content”? Would be hard to argue yes. Blizzard did it cleverly with the Death Knight by providing it’s own special starting area, and having the class start over and above the initial content (although, they misplaced a number and started them at 2 year old content instead of the expansion content – the numbers are beside each other on the keyboard so I full understand the error). Charging or limiting character classes under a “content” guise is, well, cheap. I suppose this is also why MMO’s don’t develop old and existing areas too much – even they can’t figure out a way to charge for it.
Which leads me to the final part of my fancy title, a solution to MMO payment models. It is all about choices. Offer full subscriptions for those who prefer buffet, but offer a la carte for those who have more discernable tastes. Paying for content not only is a smart cosumer choice, as you can pay for things that you will actually use, but also makes much more sense from a development angle. Studios can develop content based off of demand, instead of “access”. If everyone is buying 5 man dungeons, develop more 5 man content. If everyone is investing in PVP battlegrounds, develop more of those. Even better, if 20% of your playerbase is investing in A, 30% in B, and 15% in C – you just broke down your development budget into sensible chunks to not only drive revenue, but please your customer base. If people want to pay $15 a month to have access to everything, then god bless them, open the pearl gates of full access. Just don’t leave the rest of us knocking at the door.