6 reactions to the new LOTRO/DDO studio

standing

I’ve had a little over a day to process the rather sudden and shocking news that LOTRO and DDO are being transferred to a new indie studio, Standing Stone Games, and that Asheron’s Call (and AC2) are being shuttered next month. I don’t have a cohesive essay on the subject, but rather a half-dozen internal reactions on this move.

1. Turbine is done as an MMO studio. And it might be done for good.

Once upon a time, Turbine was a shining beacon of what an indie MMO studio could be. It was blazing out titles, with two Asheron’s Call, DDO, and LOTRO. It was on the forefront of the F2P revolution. Then it sold itself to WB, started to get out of the MMO-only business by branching off into MOBAs with the disastrous Infinite Crisis, and shrunk in both size and importance. Earlier this year it made the statement that Turbine was a mobile-only studio, so I suppose offloading LOTRO and DDO logically follows that.

My prediction? Turbine’s mobile games will flop and the studio will be no more in a year or two, tops. This is EA Mythic all over again — remember that studio’s flopped MOBA (Wrath of Heroes) and flopped mobile game (Ultima Forever) and how it offloaded its MMOs to a new indie studio (Broadsword)? Turbine’s done as a relevant studio and that’s sad.

2. I’m really glad that Standing Stone is keeping the devs.

It’s the people who care about these games and have experience with them instead of a brand-new team. Business as usual, just under a new name and with perhaps less baggage? We’re already seeing a little more communication from the team about the games’ upcoming future (such as LOTRO’s avatar revamp, which sounds pretty neat).

3. I’m cautiously hopeful this is a good move for LOTRO and DDO.

Going back to indie roots, shedding the WB overhead and non-MMO side projects seems like the best possible chance for these games to succeed (or not) solely on their own merits. If Standing Stone handles the finances well and keeps it trim, tight, and hungry, I can envision a more functional studio emerging.

4. I’m a little worried about the licensing but not about Daybreak.

Both DDO and LOTRO are tied to pretty significant IP licenses. The studio said that they’re retaining the licensing relationships, but could the Tolkien Estate and Wizards of the Coast look at the now-indie studio handling these games and get cold feet? Renegotiate? I really doubt that Standing Stone will have the resources to create a brand-new MMO from scratch if they lose one or both of their titles.

Daybreak is the publisher for out-of-country operations, and here Daybreak might actually be a solid choice due to its experience in handling MMOs worldwide for decades now. But then again, it’s Daybreak. I’m not getting worked up about it.

5. All of the publicity is reviving interest in LOTRO.

Weirdly enough, LOTRO seems to be coming back into the public consciousness as of late, and not just for Standing Stone. I’ve seen more than a few people saying they want to go back, and it’s always better to see people fleeing toward a game when big news like this hits than away from.

6. I’m sincerely bummed about Asheron’s Call.

Sure, AC probably had a very, very tiny population, but this is a legacy game that goes back to the first generation of 3-D graphic MMOs. Standing Stone should have acquired it and kept the lights on — or Turbine should have made good on its word to turn the source code over to the players to allow them to make private servers. This just sours the start of a new studio.

At least there’s a new home for these players to move into:

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11 thoughts on “6 reactions to the new LOTRO/DDO studio

  1. wolfyseyes December 21, 2016 / 12:12 pm

    The Daybreak thing was an association that gave me pause, but then I realized that their distribution assets could be huge for LOTRO and DDO.

    Cautious optimism for both titles involved; I don’t have a horse in this race, but I know many do, and they should be allowed their games.

  2. Fredelas December 21, 2016 / 12:49 pm

    The Tolkien Estate isn’t involved in LOTRO’s licensing at all, and never has been. Exclusive worldwide merchandising rights for most of Tolkien’s literary works (including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) are held by Middle-earth Enterprises, a division of the Saul Zaentz Company.

    I’ve never been worried about LOTRO’s license from Middle-earth Enterprises. At this point, it costs them just a few hours of their lawyers’ time to rubber-stamp extensions to the license, and there’s virtually no risk involved.

    The only possible reason they could have not to renew the exclusive MMO license would be if another studio stepped in and offered to buy it. They’d probably have to be willing to pay up-front at least as much as LOTRO would earn them in royalties over the next 2-3 years, or however long it would take them to develop a brand new MMO from scratch. After that, they’d have to hope they could match LOTRO’s royalties for another 5 years after launch. There’s substantial financial risk there for Middle-earth Enterprises, and it’s not a risk I’d expect them to take lightly.

  3. Aywren Sojourner December 21, 2016 / 1:24 pm

    I’m feeling the same vibes as you on all this. Sad about AC and AC2… but maybe Project Gorgon can give some people a new home, like you said.

    Certainly going to wait and see what happens here. I’m more willing to support an indie team than I was Turbine (their F2P choices kept nudging its way into my immersion, which is a big no-no for Middle Earth and me).

  4. Wilhelm Arcturus December 21, 2016 / 2:25 pm

    I think this is the path forward that gives LOTRO and DDO the maximum amount of time as live games with ongoing development. It isn’t quite parallel to Broadsword taking over UO and DAOC, but only because LOTRO and DDO work with licenses properties, which means somebody else needs to get paid every month, so there is just that much more overhead.

    And there might be a bit of a revival as old players go back to check things out. But I don’t think there is a viable path forward where a 9 and a 10 year old game gets any sort of new player influx. They already played the F2P card years back, and that was the last influx they got. Something like new character models is not going to be a significant draw.

    Meanwhile the budget is going to be tight because, while they won’t have WB looking over their shoulder, they also won’t be able to leverage WB for overhead tasks such as accounting, payroll, HR, and the like. I don’t think the focus on pushing the cash shop is going to abate in any way.

  5. Moxie December 21, 2016 / 2:35 pm

    I’m sad about AC and AC2, and I hate it for those players. It’s not a game I’ve ever had any interest in trying but I know how I felt when CoH was closed, and how I would feel if LotRO had been the one on the chopping block. It would be better if they would release the source code and let it be available for private servers, frozen in time.

    That said – as far as LotRO goes, I’m hopeful. I feel like the WB shackles have fallen off and that this team, if they are hungry and passionate, could make magic happen again. I’m not super-worried about the Daybreak connection – if they’re just publishing it shouldn’t influence the development too much. Their best-case scenario is going to be drawing older players back with the changes and stabilizing their playerbase and income.

  6. ComicRelief December 21, 2016 / 6:52 pm

    From what I understand, SSG was founded by the actual, current LotRO and DDO Devs and other personnel. So it’s not like another company came in and bought the games and/or personnel – it’s the actual Devs themselves that (presumably) bought the rights/licenses/hardware, etc. from Turbine (and/or WB) for DDO and LotRO. This was not an “all of a sudden” thing, either – again, from what I understand, this was months in the works, and not just acquiring the games, but also the formation of SSG.

    I asked one of the LotRO/DDO devs if they had plans on making new titles and the response was (as expected) there were no immediate or foreseeable future goals, but that anything is possible. And since these are the same people (well, maybe not the exact same people, people…) who developed these titles “from scratch”, I have no doubt that the do have the resources (software/hardware wise, at least – perhaps not personnel…yet) to create new title ‘from scratch’. (DDO2, anyone? Hehehe.)

    If I recall correctly, AC/AC2 was an original work by Turbine. I can only guess that SSG either did not want to buy the rights or that Turbine didn’t want to sell the rights to the game (though ‘why’ they would not want to sell is unknown). I do agree that they (Turbine) should keep their word and turn over the code and/or servers to the players to be able to make private servers, but perhaps some higher-up (who was not there when the original promise was made) put the kabash on that, for whatever reason. Which is sad. But as far as I know, SSG has nothing to do with AC/AC2 in its current state, so it is not SSG (again, as far as I know) that is ‘pulling the plug’.
    😉

  7. House of Grouse December 22, 2016 / 7:17 am

    As a dungeons and dragons player from the pen and paper days I will continue to have my VIP as long as DDO runs. And if the company can come up with a good offer to VIP in both games i might even start with LotRO. Getting rid of the fat (WB) is a blessing for the players in the longer term. When most games struggle beyond 3 or 4 years I can see myself playing DDO till I am 90 Good Luck Standing Stones.

  8. baldwinp December 22, 2016 / 8:51 am

    Seems to me that this is a lot like Massively and its transition to MassivelyOP. Syp- you would know best about the challenges that brings and how difficult/easy it is to keep everything going without the previous big-company support.

  9. spagomat December 27, 2016 / 1:27 am

    I just logged in and saw the new Standing Stone logo. I give Turbine a ton of credit for what it has accomplished in the past 9 years, but at this point, I find the SS logo reassuring.

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