If you'd like to play the best online multiplayer game going for absolutely nothing, Lord of the Rings Online will be available, gratis, from September 10 forward.
It's called "free-to-play," meaning you'll be able to download the game and play all the basic stuff for free, purchasing expansions, quest packs, items, and account services a la carte from developer Turbine's new LOTRO store. Turbine's prior 2006 online property, Dungeons and Dragons Online--once considered a pretty low-performer commercially--went free-to-play in September 2009. Turbine's never disclosed precise financials, but they've repeatedly insinuated that free-to-play probably saved the game from prematurely shuttering.
"Our LOTRO beta program has been a huge success and we want to thank all of our players who worked with us to get the game ready for launch," said LOTRO executive producer Kate Paiz in a press statement. "Our unique pricing model has revolutionized the industry and starting in September, players will be able to choose how they pay for and play one of the world's best online games and we can't wait to welcome millions of new players to Middle-earth!"
"Free means Free!" says Turbine, which--let me help clarify that for you--actually means free up to level 50. The game currently runs to level 65, with plans to extend indefinitely as additional expansions are added. Geographically, you can play east from Eriador to Mirkwood and south to Lorien, though how much of that's walled off (if any of it) in the freebie version, I couldn't say.
According to Turbine, the LOTRO Store comes stocked with "convenience" items, including expansions packs, premium content, additional character slots, potions, character customization tools, and so on. The only potential downside to this is that it means players willing to pay can advance faster than those who can't or won't. Then again, players have been trading their high level characters off the books for years.
If you decide to become a LOTRO VIP--essentially a paying monthly subscriber for about $15 per month, or $30 per three--Turbine says you'll get unlimited access to all the premium content, queue with priority server access, land five character slots, and receive a monthly allotment of points (I'm hearing 500) to spend in the new LOTRO Store.
Want to read more? Check out my interview with Turbine executive producer Jeffrey Steefel just before the Mines of Moria expansion launched back in November 2008.
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