I’m not playing LOTRO very much at the moment, and a piece on LOTRO Players got me thinking about why that might be. Brax’s post is in the form of fanfic, an in-character letter, and I commented in kind…
It may be the cursed power of Sauron. The closer I get to his realm the wearier I feel and the more it seems my will to fight on is sapped. The loss of many of our brave friends and cheery kinfolk weighs heavily also. But I yet hope to press forward in this quest, little by little perhaps, resting as I must to gather my strength.
I hear rumors that the scattered forces of the Free Peoples will soon be rallied into several great armies. If this be true it may prove a great boon, and will raise my spirits much. With such combined forces we may hope to battle on and perhaps even live to see the downfall of Sauron. Or if that proves finally to be beyond our resources, at least to make an end worthy of song.
On reflection I think the reasons why I’m not playing LOTRO so much these days are more varied and complicated than what is implied by that comment, though what I said there is an important part of the overall picture too.
I’m not playing MMOs, I’m doing other stuff!
One thing to start with is that unlike some people it’s not that I’ve switched to playing some other MMO. I’m spending a lot less time playing MMOs overall, and since LOTRO was my main game, it’s most noticeable there.
Reading books and watching boxsets has been taking up a lot of my leisure time since Christmas. I’ve also played a fair bit of chess, and I’ve dabbled in a MOOC or two as well. I hadn’t seen any of The Walking Dead or Downton Abbey before Christmas, and now I’m totally caught up with both series. That’s probably well over a hundred hours of spare time accounted for right there! And there were a few other shows where I caught up a season, or at least watched a few episodes.
Streaming video is a newish thing for me, and has that extra excitement that comes with finding a whole new toy box to explore. It was about a year ago I got a Chromecast and that made the whole streaming thing much more attractive. Over time I’ve discovered more shows and more streaming services.
The hobby lifecycle
Hobbies and interests tend to have a lifecycle with me. I guess it’s not unlike the lifecycle of a relationship. There might be an initial checking-it-out phase, followed by a falling-madly-in-love phase, which leads to wanting to spend as much time as possible with the totally amazing beloved. And that can last for quite some time, but in due course it goes to a more mellow phase where I retain much love and affection, yet don’t want to devote my whole existence to that one thing.
MMOs – and LOTRO specifically – were that new love for me three and a bit years ago. I still like them now, but not in quite the same way as in the first year or two, where the game was the activity of choice for many hours on most days. Meanwhile the new hotness is The Walking Dead, Agents of SHIELD and suchlike. But diving into great boxsets will have its lifecycle too I’m sure, and maybe then I’ll return to more intensive MMOing.
It’s not just me, it’s you too…
All of the above are reasons why I probably would have been playing less now regardless of whatever had happened with the game itself. However it’s not all just about me and my hobby lifecycle, a good deal of the change in my playing habits has to do with LOTRO itself.
People are very important of course, and the banter and friendship was a big part of what kept me coming back regularly. But friends and kinnies have their own hobby lifecycles, or they have changes in their real world circumstances etc. So over time there are less and less of the familiar faces around, and they’re around less often. What’s more some of the people that still do play regularly have done their own DIY server merger by re-rolling onto more populated servers. Now I’d join them, but the very fact that I’m not playing so much now makes it difficult to re-roll and level-up all over again. If LOTRO had something like the technology in other MMOs where I could hop to another server easily, it would be a big help to me.
The proliferation of changes to game mechanics also don’t help. I still haven’t properly figured out all the skill changes that came in with Helm’s Deep, and I’m largely clueless about essences. Add in lots of small changes throughout the game, like changes to housing storage, making various crafting materials obsolete etc, and it’s pretty hard to really get back in the game and feel totally at home without devoting masses of time to working out the differences. After Helm’s Deep I rapidly went from feeling proficient with quite a few classes to not knowing what the heck half the skills do exactly on most of them.
Then there’s the grindiness that can be excessive. I’m not sure that LOTRO is really that much worse than other MMOs in this regard, but I guess the more familiar you become with an MMO, the more the repetitiveness of combat may weigh on you. The worst case is when you have to kill many mobs, the kills are time consuming, and yet there is no stimulating challenge in the fights. Too many quests seem to land me in this scenario.
There are things Turbine could do to get someone like me back and more active in the game. Easy and free server transfer is one thing I already mentioned. Another would be ways to insta-level my alts, or otherwise bypass unwelcome grind.
However to the extent that LOTRO has anything like that, it’s all by spending rather big bucks in the cash shop. $50 for the Gift of the Valar to get half-way to the level cap for instance! Or I could get rest XP by subscribing, and buy various XP and deed boosts to cut the grind some.
The problem is that those things might seem worthwhile to someone who was already heavily playing the game, but at a point where I’m not playing much, spending that kind of money seems ridiculous to me. It’s a Catch-22 situation. You have to spend money to maybe make the game as fun as it used to be again, but if you’re not having that fun already, why would you spend lots more money on the game?
We may yet, Mr Frodo
Let’s not overdo the gloom here! I still have good friends who play plenty of LOTRO, and it wouldn’t be surprising if I got back into it with them sooner or later. I’ve had quite long breaks before, and gone back with relish afterwards. It seems that Turbine are working on plans for server mergers, and the option of a free server transfer could be a real blessing. There’s still plenty of good content that I’d enjoy doing, and if it were easier to get caught up and play with the people I’d like to hang out with, I’d be glad to do just that.
I have plenty of love for Tolkien and LOTRO, and one way or another I’m likely to be around to see the end of all things, whenever and wherever that comes.