Buy-to-Support?

In the world of MMOs I often hear about people buying things “to support the game”. It might be a Collector’s Edition of an expansion, it might be cosmetic or fun items, or it might even be a subscription.

What I find interesting about Buy-to-Support (B2S) is that it’s very seldom that I hear such sentiments about any other kind of product. I’ve seen The Guardian newspaper asking people to subscribe in order to support it, but I’ve yet to hear people ever discussing how they pay a sub to newspapers or magazines for that reason. Seldom doesn’t mean never though, and there are other examples where B2S comes up, though not with anything like the frequency I hear about it around MMOs.

Personally I think like this with bookshops. I enjoy visiting them, and browsing in them, and like the fact that they exist. I also know that their continuing existence
is not something I can take for granted. So while I know I can generally get books cheaper on Amazon and the like, and for that matter would often be fine with a much cheaper Kindle Edition anyway, I do from time to time buy a physical book in a physical bookshop.

But I am honest enough with myself that I know that my “noble” B2S purchase is not quite as selfless and well-thought out as I tell myself. Imagine a Gollum/Smeagol creature, with one part going: “We wants it! We wants it! We wants it now!” and the other chiming in with, “We could get it much cheaper on Amazon… but we can support this nice bookshop, yesss.”

I assume it’s not a revelation to anyone nowadays that out behavior is generally not as rational as we’d like to think, and the reasons we give for our actions are oftentimes just rationalizations of our fairly primitive urges.

Marketers know this too, better than us poor saps that don’t have to think about these things for a living. Walk down the aisles of a mainstream supermarket, and take a look at how the own-brand “basic” products are packaged. Most of the time everything about them is designed to make you feel “This is the poor man’s version.” It’s actually designed to put most people off from buying it.

No one wants to feel cheap, and no one wants to appear cheap or poor to others. Plenty of people go for the “middle option” in their purchases just on that basis, and sometimes the most expensive option is created mainly for the purpose of making the middle option look attractive by comparison.

Conversely plenty of people want to feel special, or to buy stuff that is some kind of a status symbol and impresses others.

All in all, I suspect that when people say they’re buying something to support a game, that is only a small part of what drove their decision.

How best to support?

If you do really want to support a game, what is the best way to go about it? Voting with your money certainly seems like a good idea in principle. Fredelas had a nice take on this, possibly meant humorously…

Any way in which you give money to a company is of course likely to help keep that company going. However where the money really ends up and what difference it makes can be rather hard to tell. If the company was in no danger of folding, the extra money may simply end up as more profits for its owners.

Perhaps it would be good to think about exactly what signal you want to send to the company. Whatever you buy is among other things a message to the company: “More like this please.” So buying store currency and spending it on precisely the things you most care about seems like a good idea.

If you have cash enough to spare, it might be most effective to buy codes and give them away, ideally to those who couldn’t afford to buy for themselves.

I don’t think our inner Gollums would be thrilled with this though!

“We wants shinies, and we wants them now!!! Gollum, gollum.”

LOTRO: Mixed feelings on Mordor

Mordor… we’re finally about to get there.

It’ll be a momentous occasion in the life of LOTRO, and something which at various times many of us doubted would ever happen. Not only was it a question of worrying if the game would last long enough to reach the Black Land, some of us wondered if we personally would make it to the end.

I myself am very much looking forward to seeing the conclusion of Tolkien’s story in the world of the game. Like with Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom and the downfall of Sauron, the rejoicing will be all the greater for the difficulties endured on the way. and the periods of despair lived through when the quest seemed utterly hopeless.

No wonder then that the announcement of the Mordor expansion led to a festive mood breaking out in the LOTRO community. However, recently matters have gotten a little more complicated.

To quote Ravanel:

Just like in 2012 and 2013, it looks like the player base will spend the last weeks before the release of a major expansion discussing its outrageous pricing rather than eagerly anticipating cool new content.

Ravanel Griffon: LOTRO’s Mordor pre-order deals put in perspective

If you have not yet done so, please do read Rav’s excellent analysis of the Mordor pricing, and how it compares to previous LOTRO expansions and to the pricing in other MMOs. She has a useful comparison table showing the pricing for all editions of the most recent LOTRO expansions. If anything that might even be understating how high the Mordor prices are, since if I recall correctly previous expansions included a 1,000 or more Turbine Points in the bundle, which I count as worth $10 in value.

Suffice it to so say that many are feeling that the pricing is greedy, and the feelgood factor that’s been prevalent in the LOTRO community this year is in danger of being undermined.

Personally I’m not sure if “greed” is the best interpretation, it might just be economic reality. MMO development probably costs pretty much the same whether the game has half a million regular players, or five million. So smaller games are always likely to have to charge more and yet provide less in return for it.

However I very much agree with Rav that if this is the case SSG would benefit from being a lot more open about the situation. They had built up a lot of goodwill from the community and there are lots of dedicated Tolkien fans in the playerbase. Simply asking for people who can afford it to help support the game by subbing or buying the collectors edition would probably work better than pretending it’s great value.

Mordor and Me

Speaking for myself, at this point I’m not sure which edition I will buy, or if I will even buy Mordor at all now. SSG has picked an interesting moment to up the ante with their pricing. Maybe they’re thinking that this is the big climax, and people will be willing to pay whatever it takes.

My thinking is a bit different. I’m assuming that I will be able to see out the end of the Tolkien storyline without even buying the Mordor expansion. It’s the Epic Quest line, which will presumably still be free-to-play, and will most likely be over and done without us even setting foot inside Mordor.

Whether I stick around in LOTRO after that was always an open question for me. Mordor itself is likely to very gloomy, not only in story and atmosphere but literally, in actual light levels. Previous experiences in Angmar and Moria tell me that I’m likely to tire of that pretty quickly.

As it happens, I have already been skipping the grindy parts of LOTRO in recent regions by just doing the Epic Quests, and often doing them overlevel and overpowered as well. That way I get to enjoy the world and the story, while avoiding too much tedious grind.

What SSG needed to do with someone like me at this tricky point was to make it a no-brainer to carry on playing the game, and stroll on into Mordor without a second thought. Instead Mordor pricing has given me pause, and made me think “Maybe I’ll just wait for a sale”. And that might well turn into me taking a long break from LOTRO, and then never getting around to buying it and playing it at all.

But perhaps it’s only fitting for us to be approaching Mordor with hesitation and forebodings!

LOTRO: Finding the Lost Temple

LOTRO has many maze-like places, which some people love and some people hate. Luckily members of the community have made maps for a lot of them, for example the fantastic ones at The Brasse. Such maps have saved me a lot of grief over the years, and I’d like to say a big thank you to all those that took the trouble to make them!

Recently I realized that I had never found the entrance to the Lost Temple in the Trollshaws. You need to find it before you can do the Lost Temple instance, and probably the reason I never did so is that the instance was only created some time after my main went through the Trollshaws, and I never got around to looking for it afterwards.

Now the Trollshaws is one of the most infuriating places to travel around in LOTRO. Unsurprisingly my efforts to find the Lost Temple only resulted in me being the one getting lost, and going around in annoying circles. This time round I wasn’t able to find any helpful maps or useful instructions, so when I did eventually find it, I thought I’d “give back” to the community with my own small contribution. I’m afraid it’s not the prettiest map ever, and next to the brilliant work at The Brasse it looks positively childish. Still it should be enough to save you some hassle, should you ever need to find the Lost Temple, or some of the other nearby sites around Nan Tornaeth.

Instructions

Since the map is a crude effort, I will back it up with some words of explanation.

  • I assume you will start at the Stable Master / Camp Fire for Nan Tornaeth. It’s marked on the map, and you can get a swift travel horse from Thorenhad.

  • On the western side of this campsite you’ll see a path. In one direction it goes roughly north. Take this path northwards to the end.

  • At the top there are two routes, one to the left (i.e. west) and one to the right (i.e east). The western path goes to the North Trollshaws, but we want to take the eastern path.

  • If you look up as you head down this path to the right, you’ll see a bridge overhead. We’ll be needing to get up to this bridge and cross over it. (It’s the blue parallel lines on the map.)

  • A short way down the path, there is another fork in the road. One fork is off to the left and heads downhill. This goes to the Glamil Falls. We want to take the right-side fork which goes uphill.

  • This path swings round southwards and then westwards, and takes you up to Amon Varadh.

  • In Amon Varadh, continue on the main path, it now circles northwards. Just outside Amon Varadh you come the bridge we saw earlier from below. Cross the bridge.

  • Follow the path round, it circles around a bit west, a bit north, a bit east, and then you come to Minas Ciliant.

  • Go through Minas Ciliant, and just after you come out, there is a stone path heading northeast, and going into Ost Chall.

  • Go in, up some steps. Then you’ll some steps going down towards a door. That is the entrance to the Lost Temple. (The purple splodge on the map.)

Good luck in your travels.

My Playtime in 2015

The year is nearly over, so it’s time for a brief look back.

Streaming Boxsets – The New Hotness

I’ve mentioned a few times that streaming video, and especially watching TV boxsets in their entirety, was the big new thing for me this year. That took up a lot of time that I might have otherwise spent playing games of some kind. Here are some of the highlights that I can remember, with micro-reviews…

  • The Walking Dead – prior to 2015, I hadn’t seen a single episode, now I’ve seen them all, and it’s probably one of my all-time favorite TV shows. I thought I wouldn’t be into it because zombies == horror, and horror has never really been my thing. Instead it turned out to be one of the best post-apocalyptic stories, a genre that I love. Especially love the way it explores how people retain – or lose – their humanity in an extreme survival situation.

  • Downton Abbey – another that I hadn’t seen at all before, and assumed was not going to be my kind of thing, but loved it when I gave it a try. I suppose they’re a lot like hobbits aren’t they? The era it’s set in is the same that formed Tolkien, and the overall atmosphere is not unlike The Shire.

  • Justified – Superb crime drama, great characters, and excellent one-liners.

  • Agents of SHIELD – the best of all the plethora of superhero-ish shows. Interesting characters, and well-thought out storyline. After some of the lame arcs and finales we’ve seen to shows like BSG, Lost etc, a show that seems to have been worked out properly from beginning to end is so refreshing! Also, a lot of fun.

  • Elementary – Continues to be excellent. Remains surprisingly true to the flavor of the original Holmes, while also exploring things like addiction and family in a thoughtful way.

  • Buffy and Angel – I had seen large chunks of them before, but this year I rewatched them in their entirety. Deservedly considered some of the best TV ever made, though not all the seasons live up to that billing. So much of the dialog is so fantastic they’re very enjoyable to rewatch even when you know the plots already.

  • The Flash – I watched Season 1, and the early part of Season 2. In the end I just didn’t have time to fit this into my life! There are so many good shows nowadays that the bar for what I get around to seeing is very very high. In decades gone by this would have been one of the highlights of the week, something to look forward to when it was on. Now, regretfully it has to make way for other things. For the same reason I saw a little of Agent Carter, Arrow and Supergirl but had to drop them.

  • Bosch – another excellent crime drama. Recommended if you like police procedurals and intelligent grown-up stories. A little like The Wire, and some of the actors from that do feature.

  • Outlander – I saw it, but now I mostly remember the landscapes and the music rather than story or characters. The time travel element was sadly neglected in it I felt, and likewise the historical drama aspect.

There were probably others, but that’s all that comes to mind at the moment.

LOTRO

I continued to play LOTRO, but a lot less than in previous years. See Why I’m not playing LOTRO much for an explanation of why not.

One thing that I did fail to mention in that post… in 2014 I sorted out some knee problems I’d been having. As a result in 2015 I was able to be a lot more physically active and outdoorsy than I had been for a while. So that’s another major reason I ended up not gaming so much – I was actually not home as much!

Anyway, towards the end of the year, the server mergers did give a fresh impetus to my LOTRO playing. For one thing there was the need to decide what to do with my characters, for another the transfer process let me hook up again with kinnies that had already re-rolled onto busier servers. And it is nice to see the consolidated servers buzzing, a lot like in “the old days” when I was first in the game.

At the moment there is a “Triple Bonus Points” offer on Turbine Points and that still feels very exciting. But I can’t decide whether to splash out, as I’m not sure I’ll ever need those TP again. Maybe I will.

Chess

This year I played quite a lot of chess, maybe averaging 3-4 hours a week of playtime, and possibly a similar amount in reading books and such. One of these days I’m finally going to get around to doing a post explaining what I like about chess and how it compares to MMOs. There’s more parallels than you might think!

As usual, I’m rapidly running out of time to finish up this post before 2015 is officially over! Time to wrap up.

A Happy New Year to all my online friends!

Tolkien Themed Questionnaire, Part 2

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Part 1 is here. If you want the questions to do them yourself, they’re here. If you do them, please let me know too!

16. Rivendell or Lothlorien?

“For what?” is the question! I’d feel more at home in Rivendell, so if it’s a question of settling down somewhere, Rivendell it will be. As I said in Part 1 of this questionnaire, I’d love the mountains, the valley and the company.

If it’s for a visit, perhaps even quite a long one, I’d pick Lothlorien. It’s more unique and unearthly, unlike anything I’ve ever seen in real life. But for the very same reasons, I wouldn’t quite belong. Plus while I do love spending time in woods, I’d prefer more open countryside to gaze upon every day.

17. Least favorite character?

Grima is meant to be unappealing, and he is.

18. Have you ever cosplayed as one of the characters? If not, who would you choose?

I never have. It might be fun to try any number of characters, perhaps especially Gimli. Not sure I could pull it off though, not particularly dwarf-shaped.

19. What scene makes you laugh the most?

Not so much the scene as one great line.

“Your bodyguard?”

“His gardener.”

20. If you could meet 3 of the actors, who would you choose?

  • Sam Astin, he’s up to interesting stuff these days.

  • Ian Holm, seems like a nice guy, with a long career to talk about, including the radio version of LOTR,

  • Andy Serkis, because I think it’d be fun. Also – Gollum!

21. What are your top five favorite lines from the films?

Usually I like a passage rather than a line. Mostly a line only makes complete sense or gets its full impact from the context, and that’s what makes it a favortire. So I’ll quote passages and highlight the lines I mean.

1)

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

2)

Frodo: [of Gollum] It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance.

Gandalf: Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.

3)

Frodo: I don’t suppose we’ll ever see them again.

Sam: We may yet, Mr. Frodo. We may.

4)

Aragorn: Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you *stand, Men of the West!*

5)

Gimli: Never thought I’d die fighting side by side with an Elf.

Legolas: What about side by side with a friend?

Gimli: Aye. I could do that.

22. What are your top five favorite lines from the book?

Some of my favorite lines are shared between the books and movies, but I’ll try to come up with five different one this time. (Also both times I decided not to include other lines like “His gardener” that I’ve included in other parts of this questionnaire.)

1)

Bilbo: “I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”

2)

A man may do both,’ said Aragorn. ‘For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!

3)

Theoden: Maybe we shall cleave a road, or make such an end as will be worth a song – if any be left to sing of us hereafter.

4)

Elrond: The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.

5)

Bilbo: I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

There are so many great lines and passages, these selections are a little bit artbitrary. Another day, another mood, I’d pick some different ones.

23. Who do you think is the most underrated character?

I think all the major characters are well-loved, so it’ll have to be a non-obvious choice. How about Sauron? He never appears in person, but he permeates the book, and if Tolkien hadn’t done such a great job of portraying him, the whole story would have lost its power. Maybe that’s why the book is named after him.

24. Have you watched any of the animated films? If so, what are your opinions?

Not yet seen them.

25. How has LOTR affected your life?

A proper answer to that would take up its own blog post if not a whole series. But here’s a short version…

When I first read it, about 14 years old I think, I was moved, delighted and enthralled. When I re-read it at various times, I was transported back to Middle Earth, and also to that especially happy period of my life when I’d first read it. In some particularly bad patches of my life, that could be a big comfort.

Also the book’s influenced my outlook in various ways, especially when it comes to dealing with situations that seem frightening, daunting or hopeless. I’ll quote things from the books and movies to myself – like “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish”, or “The day may come when the strength of Pasduil fails… but it is not this day” – and it will help me approach the situation with the right attitude.

Lastly since th movies came out, I’ve got to connect with lots of like-minded people via our shared love of Tolkien, either adding an extra dimension to relationships with people I knew already, or making new friends.

26. Which characters would you want in your Fellowship?

How big would my fellowship be, and what would be its mission? The actual fellowship seems nearly ideal. Though I always found it hard to understand why Glorfindel wasn’t included.

27. Weapon of choice?

I’ve always had a liking for bow-wielding heroes, even before reading LOTR, so I’ll have a bow.

Alternately, if it should be a specific named weapon from LOTR, I’ll go for Sting.

28. Would you have volunteered to destroy the Ring?

Yes, I would. That is if no one more likely to succeed at the task was willing to try. I’m not sure how good of a candidate I’d be as ring-bearer. Possibly I’m hobbitish enough to resist it, but I might be susceptible to being lured into thinking it could be used to do good. But as humans go, I’d probably be a better candidate than most.

29. Who do you think is the most attractive character?

Physically attractive? I’ll say Eowyn, though I could easily have said Arwen instead.

30. Do you own any LOTR merchandise? If so, what is your favorite item?

I own books, DVDs, audiobooks etc, but nothing you’d call merchandise.

31. Have you read the book?

Yes, lots of times. By now you probably guessed that right?

32. Have you ever had a LOTR marathon? Describe your perfect marathon.

Not as such. I’ve had long sessions of watching a movie and then rewatching selected scenes, but never all three movies in one go.

If I was going to have a marathon I think ideally I’d want it over a long weekend, with one of the extended edition blu-rays per day, and having a bunch of Tolkien fans over to watch them with. Allow plenty of time for rewatching of favorite scenes, and talking them over together.

There should be time for pies and walks too.

33. When did you first watch the films and/or read the book?

I was about 14 or so when I first read Lord of the Rings. I saw the films as they came out, a good many years later.

34. What is your favorite film/book?

I tend to think of LOTR as one book. I first read it as a single volume paperback, so that’s how I always thought of it. But of the three volumes, I think Fellowship of the Ring might be my favorite. They all have many great scenes, but maybe FOTR has the most such. and the greatest variety of them too.

I’d chose the FOTR movie for the same reason, and also because seeing Middle Earth done so well for the first time had the biggest impact.

35. Get drink with/marry/fight to the death. (Pick three characters)

Drink – Gimli. He’d be fun to talk and banter with over a beer. Any of the hobbits would be great too though.

Marry – Eowyn. She’d be more fun to live with than Arwen, I’m thinking.

Fight to the death – Tricky. I don’t want to fight any of the goodies, and would I be able to defeat any of the baddies? If I can borrow a suitable Second Age weapon, I’ll fight Shelob.

36. Which scene scares you the most?

The Shelob scene scared me the most when I first read it in the book. I’m not sure anything in the movies really scares me, but perhaps Shelob again. Being in complete darkness with a monstrous spider is hard to beat for creepiness!

37. Gondor or Rohan?

Rohan, not least for their wonderful theme tunes.

38. Which character(s) would you want as your parent(s)?

I think Sam and Rosie would be great parents.

39. Which characters would you want as your best friends?

Sam is the bestest of best friends. Can there be any debate?

All of the fellowship would make great friends, and so would Bilbo.

40. When was the last time you watched the films/read the book?

I’m not sure. It’s been a few years since I watched or read them in their entirety, though I do read and watch chunks from time to time.

41. Favorite horse?

Bill the Pony.

42. If you could spend a day in Middle-earth, what would you want to do?

There’s lots I’d love to do, but I’ll say a day in The Shire, walking, talking and eating with some agreeable hobbits. Bilbo, Frodo and Sam would be excellent company if they’d show me around.

43. Is there anything you would change about the books?

Dare I meddle?

A way to extract the interesting stories from the Appendices and put them someplace they’re more likely to be read and enjoyed maybe?

Have an extended edition that’s a lot longer and shows us a lot more about the world and its cultures?

44. What do you think is the greatest lesson LOTR has to offer?

Victory, success or even survival might not be in your hands, but how you live your life and how you face up to whatever life brings you always is.

45. What would your dream home in Middle-earth be like?

Make Bag End big enough for me, and I’ll be very happy. Put it near a small river and some woodland too, and I’ll be even more delighted.

46. How would you describe what LOTR means to you in one word?

Po-ta-toes.

Ok, that’s one word that needs a lot of explaining. I’ll give you a less surreal answer.

Resonant.

47. Which death makes you the most sad?

Theoden. He’s like a beloved grandfather by the time he falls.

It might have been Gandalf on the first read through, when I didn’t know what happened afterwards.

48. Favorite behind-the-scenes moments from the films?

I don’t really remember too much of the behind-the-scenes stuff that I’ve seen. I haven’t rewatched it since the movies came out on DVD, so a long time ago now.

49. If you could own any item from the films, what would it be?

Gandalf’s staff. I might go walking with it.

50. If you had the opportunity to meet the Professor, what do you think you would say?

I’d tell him how much I’ve loved his work of course. And then there would be plenty of other things we could discuss. For example: Do Balrogs have wings? What did he mean when he said LOTR was a fundamentally Catholic work? What does he think about his work being beloved by technologists?

Credits: Hobbiton photo courtesy of Rob Chandler (flickr)

NBI 2015 Screenshot Safari – Lothlorien

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The city in the trees, Caras Galadhon in Lothlorien.

This is my entry for the Landscape category of the NBI Screenshot Safari. One of the nice things about this event is that it’s given me an excuse to look over all my gorgeous LOTRO screenshots. It’s hard to pick just one view of Lothlorien, never mind pick just one landscape from the entire game!

I like this view because it both gives a sense of the essence of the place – otherwordly beauty combined with simplicity and naturalness – and also helps to understand how it’s physically laid out. It’s one thing to read about mallorn trees, flets, and a city in the trees, and another to visualize what Tolkien intended. LOTRO does a remarkable job of bringing it to life.

This post is part of the Newbie Blogger Initiative 2015, a month of events to help new bloggers get off to a good start. Read more about the Screenshot Safari event here. You’ll find links to other screenshot posts in the comments at the bottom of that post, and via the #NBI2015Safari hashtag on Twitter.

NBI 2015 Screenshot Safari – A Hobbit in Bag End

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When a hobbit finds himself in the home of the famous Bilbo Baggins, it’s a “Look where I am!” moment, and definitely time for a selfie. Bilbo and Frodo are no longer living in Bag End, but I managed to get past Lobelia and put my feet up for a bit.

This post is part of the Newbie Blogger Initiative 2015, a month of events to help new bloggers get off to a good start. Read more about the Screenshot Safari event here. You’ll find links to other screenshot posts in the comments at the bottom of that post, and via the #NBI2015Safari hashtag on Twitter.