Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Shipping incomplete games

A MMORPG is never complete, we always expect more expansions, patches, and updates to add to it. Which necessarily means that the MMORPG industry is in the business of selling incomplete games. Even games that were already huge and didn't have any obvious missing features at launch, like World of Warcraft, have changed since then to contain not only much more content, but also many more features. On launch WoW had a very different UI (e.g. only a single hotkey bar), only half of the content it has today, and all the classes have undergone major rework since. Games with a not-so-good launch, like Star Wars Galaxies, have been completely changed since then (and not always for the better). So if you get into a new game early, you need to be aware that you aren't playing anything close to a final version, and that a final version might never exist.

Like any MMO at launch, LotRO is far from complete. But unlike Vanguard, where the lack of polish was distributed evenly over the whole game, LotRO made sure to make at least the first half of the game polished and more or less complete, and then has content getting thinner in the higher levels. The upcoming content patch Shores of Evendim in June is basically adding lots of level 30 to 40 content, which was previously missing. I would expect future content patches to further pad out the content in the higher levels, before some expansion raises the level cap. I can't see how LotRO would for example add more playable races to the game, they just wouldn't fit in with the lore.

Having this feeling that the upper levels in LotRO are currently low on content is one of the reasons why I'm taking it slow this time. I'm sure there are already level 50 players in the game, but apart from taking a break I wouldn't know what to do at level 50 in LotRO. There isn't much end-game content yet, and the PvP will only get into the swing of things when a large enough part of the population is high enough level to participate on the Free People side. I even prefer to reach level 30 only after the Shores of Evendim are out. I'd rather play other parts of the low-level game a bit more, for example by leveling an alt in a different zone than the Shire.

Now if I was paying for LotRO with a monthly fee, and was "outleveling" the content faster than the developers could add it, I would be angry. But as I paid for a lifetime subscription, I don't feel that I'm losing anything. Have to wait one more month for level 30ish content? No problem, I have all the time in the world. It is not as if that content was actually "missing" from the game, it is only "not in yet". As long as I understand a MMORPG as a work in progress, and not as a product that is final as shipped, it all becomes a question of *when* the content is added, not whether it will be added.
While I certainly agree with what you are saying that a MMO isn't released "finished" I still think that Turbine failed a bit when not having at the very least a more evened out distribution of non-fellowship content over the levels at release. Many MMO's might have some gaps through the levels, and while that might be irritating it's nothing compared to having a huge hole between L30 roughly and L50. It's like it's not even the same game you are playing at L30-50 as L1-30.

I've never thought that devs should concentrate lots of time developing content for the most hardcore players. Even casual players can reach quite high in the levels before Evendim is released though, so having the whole game turn into something else before not even reaching level cap, and with no way of knowing beforehand isn't something that should happen.

Don't get me wrong though. I like the game but hate the forced grouping. I guess I should have known though since it's Turbine and knowing how DDO started out.
"Now if I was paying for LotRO with a monthly fee, and was 'outleveling' the content faster than the developers could add it, I would be angry."


They exhaust the content.

And Turbine isn't delivering new content fast enough.

That's Turbine's problem?

What were they promised?
If a game has a level Cap of 50, i do expect Content from 1 - 50. It is the sudden break in the game that is irritating.
My Character is currently on Hold at Lvl 36, as i want to play the Patch Content, when it is released. If i continue to play now, i will outlevel that part even before it is released, as i cannot stop gaining XP. I may log on here adn there and go mining a bit and work on my crafts a bit, but that is not enough to keep me at the moment.

My Orc hunter in WoW dusted his Cloak off and oiled his X-Bow.

See you on the shores.
I actually enjoy the open-endedness of the MMO genre. I may also be crazy, but I LOVE fellowship quests though I have missed doing many while leveling simply to not wanting to party at that time or not having time to fellowship quest. The lore of LotR is the races of the world coming together to defeat a common evil. It makes sense to include large amounts of fellowship quests if you follow only the lore. The only problem is, it isn't really practical. Being a burglar my strengths are shown within a group setting and not so much solo as the rogue in WoW. While I can accomplish the solo quests with ease, I still find it much more fun to grab 1 or 2 people and pound out fellowship maneuvers (as glitched as they may be). So far I am enjoying my way up to 35 to get my horse but may work on leveling a couple of alts and my professions once I get that coveted mount.
They need to make it available to edit comments...the link in my above post is supposed to go to HERE
I like the transition from solo to group oriented gameplay in LotRO. It's a gradual change that allows players to early on learn how to play their class in groups. In WoW the change is more dramatic and the majority of players reach the end-lvl being completely clueless about how to play in groups. LotRO has a nice smoother curve going from solo to grouping. It's also my experience that the people I group with play better/smarter as they level up in LotRO (...and i mostly play in PUGs!)
I like the transition from solo to group oriented gameplay in LotRO. It's a gradual change that allows players to early on learn how to play their class in groups

It was probably intended to have a "linear" progression of a character from playing solo and learning the basics of the class to a player who have learned how to play the class in a way that contributes to a group.

I think that is a flawed design choice. That is basically stating "when you gain some levels you need to set up groups, because we have decided what you should think is fun at this point".

The design choice should rather be to make solo fun and grouping even more fun, at any level. Part of making grouping fun is also to make it quick and easy to set up and start a group and allow changes to a group over time without causing a major disruption in group playability.

If I can only progress with a group oriented quest if the group needs a dedicated healer at a certain level and it potentially may take a while for a group to get together in the first place, then the design is flawed. That works well mainly when groups consists of people who know each other and can play at the same times and level at roughly the same speed.

There is too much variation among players for this to be a good approach, IMHO. It worked better when the definition of an MMORPG player could be considered a bit more homogenous, but I think today it would be better to rethink design choices in this regard.
I didn't know doing what FFXI does and having semi-regular bi-monthly updates is not delivering it fast enough. FFXI stuck with bi-monthly updates for almost 2 years. why can't Turbine do/attempt the same?
Well, as a LotRO player, I am , due to family illness reasons, mainly a solo/duo player, as I have to take /afks at odd times. Right now, my Guardian is stuck at lvl 31 as he's finished all the solo quests I could find, up thru North Downs and Lone Lands. Whats missing for my toon is Evendim, content that was supposed to ship most likey with the game (look in the manual on page 35, Evendim is on the world map). So now I either make an alt (not likey, as I'm kinda disenchanted with LotRO) or wait it out for the content patch. I guess I wait it out. :(
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