Greetings, everyone! πŸ™‚

From its very beginning, the path to Mordor was fraught with peril for those of the Fellowship of the Ring. Likewise, the path toward Mordor taken by Turbine also has its risks and perils. How much development to put toward one aspect of gameplay over another cannot be an easy decision to make!

There have always been some who have asserted that the creation of what would be considered ‘traditional’ group content (Instances and Raids) was a waste of precious development time, money, and other resources.

Recently, some very concrete details regarding this issue, along with a concise statement by Sapience that there will be no more development of this type of content, were given during one of the latest Shield runs through Moria.

Have those who have argued against this type of content been right all along? Has a mistake, on par with that of the Radiance system, been committed by the LOTRO team with the creation of this content?

Let’s have a look πŸ™‚

So, what was this ‘Radiance’, anyway? πŸ™‚

Radiance was a mechanic solely devoted to raiding. The idea was that, in the most dangerous places of Middle-earth, you would need armor forged in such a way that the Dread that would otherwise overwhelm you, from being so near to the great evils of the world and within their lairs, could be held at bay. Radiance armor let you stay standing, and in control of yourself, as you forged ahead into battle against those great evils.

In essence, Radiance was a gating mechanism that guided the player through the storyline of the Instances meant to come before these great battles (Raids). Players were awarded Radiance armor, piece by piece, by working through the various Instances, until they had earned enough of it to try the Raids themselves.

Radiance was not a very popular system amongst the players, and Turbine eventually issued a Radiance Removal Developer Diary that was essentially an unprecedented level of apology to the players for the instituting of the system. Some excerpts from the diary:

The request for Radiance was also made late enough in the Moria cycle that we left no time to respond appropriately to what was delivered. Quickly, we began to slap-patch the system into something that resembled what we originally desired.
We thought we could salvage the work we put into Radiance and have the system gain acceptance. As it turns out, we were wrong –very wrong.
You, the players, hated Radiance. In fact, there has never been such a polarizing and definitively poorly received implementation as Radiance.
At that point we resigned ourselves to pulling out Radiance. We knew it was a failure and we wanted to no longer keep it in the game.
I am happy to report, finally, that Radiance has been removed from the game.
However, this is a point where we need to admit that we made a mistake. And with that mistake in mind we shall forge ahead, mindful of the error that we made and fueled by a desire to never repeat it again.

Clearly, many of these statements closely parallel the decision to no longer continue the production of traditional group content. Was an error in judgement made in pursuing this content? Is an admitting to an error in the choice of creating and maintaining traditional group content also warranted?

To my mind, it comes down to the matter of scale…

So, what sort of scale are we talking? πŸ™‚

In one of the threads that developed as part of a discussion of this matter, Sapience gave some details from which I feel we can determine the exact proportion, to the percentage point, of the player base that partakes in this type of content:

Raiders comprise the smallest, by far, group in our game. PvMP players are far larger and even they are small. in fact together the two groups wouldn’t comprise 10% of the total player base and never have (this is important. it’s not a new thing, it’s a long standing historical fact).

So, we know that the sum of all raiders and PvMP players can be no more than 9% of the player base. In addition to this, we know that the PvMP players make up a ‘far larger’ proportion than the raiders. A 5/4 split would not account for being far larger. We could say it is 6/3, but given the fact that the sum might be less than 9%, and the strong wording regarding how much lower the raider count is than the PvMP count, I think we can safely use 2% as our number. It is likely even lower than that, but we will use that for now πŸ™‚

Now, I am not really a ‘numbers’ person, and many reading this may not be as well. It is one thing to ‘know’ that only 2% of the players partake in traditional group content, but it is another to understand what that really means, to really have a proper perspective on that number. So, I came up with some thought experiments to help me, and anyone reading this, to have a better appreciation for what this means.

1. First, think of someone you know that engages in group content. It may be you, or someone you know. Now…

…name 49 other players who never have engaged in group content. Obviously, it will be harder to ‘name’ them, both due to the number being that much greater, but also because, since they do not engage in as much group activity, they are likely not as widely known. By ‘name’ I more mean to recognize that they are here in these lands with us. When you go to the festivals, for the one person you know (maybe yourself) that engages in group content, you will see 49 other players, on average, that do not.

When you or the person you know who engages in group content may be crafting away at a crafting hall, you will (over time and average) see 49 other crafters there with you who do not. Of course, if you know an additional person who is a grouper, there are another 49 additional players who are not as well. This ratio has been consistent over the whole history of these precious lands, and so these numbers apply at all times throughout that history as well.

2. Think of a time when you took part in a 12-person endeavor…

Maybe it was the Giant Turtle in Moria, a run through one of the wings of Helegrod to fetch tokens for armor, or perhaps in taking part in one of the LOTRO Players Adventures. Now, consider…

…for the 12 of you that were a part of this endeavor, there are 588 other players who never take part in this sort of content. It is difficult to imagine that kind of scale, but that is how the numbers work out. And, of course, that means that, for every other group of 12 players that does so, there are another 588 players who do not. Hard to imagine, no? πŸ™‚

As difficult as it is, however, it is the case given these numbers.

One final one, and the one that really did it for me, I think because it involves another aspect of the game.

3. Imagine those 12 players that took part in that one 12-person endeavor all have houses in the same housing neighborhood…

Not as a kinship in a kinhall, but separate houses, one for each of the 12. This is certainly not unimaginable as I know more than one kinship who, between their members, owns all or nearly all of the housing in their neighborhood as well. For ease of thought, let us assume their district is the first one on the alphabetical listing.

  • If we assume that every single house is occupied by a different player in all of the districts, and…
  • You were to send someone to look at every single house, both their lawn and inside of each home…

…in the rest of that first district, and in more than the next 22 districts on the housing list, you would not see a single housing item earned through group content play. This one blew me away, especially when you consider it would actually be a far greater number than 22, due to the following:

  • Housing items from group content are quite rare. Very few instances have them, only one person per group endeavor can get them, and many of the items are very, very rare
  • Some may have won such trophies but choose not to display them for a variety of reasons. I am in this group. Who wants some nasty thing in their house, right? πŸ™‚

So, we know that only 2% of the player base engages in this type of content and have an appreciation for that number. But there is still one more thing to consider before we can come to our final analysis.

What percentage of that 2% is here for group content solely and remain only due to that content? How many of these players would have left these lands if the creation of traditional group content had ended years ago? How many will leave now that it has?

Take me, for example πŸ™‚

This is a snapshot of my barter wallet from nearly a year ago…

I also am co-founder and leader of the Skirmish Repertory Company, which performed a full season of all the raid-skirmish theatricals (even Icy Crevasse!), finishing the year with many encore performances of Why Hoarding a Horde of Coins is a Drag on the Economy – The Draigoch Story πŸ™‚

Clearly, I belong in the 2% who engage in group content πŸ™‚

Yet, at the same time, I also:

  • am a member of one of Landroval’s oldest bands, the Green Hill Music Society, winner of Weatherstock’s Crowd Favorite title in past years and which celebrated its 5 year anniversary last year πŸ™‚
  • while I do not compose or arrange music myself, I write lyrics for the songs composed by others to sing at our concerts and other gatherings
  • keep a journal of my travels in these lands and many other aspects of my time here as well πŸ™‚
  • am currently running The Spirit Gauntlet, a solo perma-death campaign told by way of a pictorial journal [Maybe 900 pictures and 60,000 words so far? I do not have the current count πŸ™‚ ]
  • was awarded the Fashionista’s Choice award for 2012, have contributed numerous outfits to the Show Your Outfits thread on the forums, and also have a Fashion page with my journal as well
  • have participated in many of Turbine’s Screenshot Contests and even won a few πŸ™‚
  • am a heavy role-player as well, ever trying to unite the Sun and the Moon, the two aspects of these lands most often seen as diametrically opposed
  • contribute to the Free Peoples’ side in the Ettenmores (though the state of my looking-glass precludes this for now)
  • write Guides to aid the community, Tales to share with others, attend festivals, gatherings, fishing contests, and I had best stop now or this list will go on forever πŸ™‚

My days are filled to here with so many things to do that it is forever a struggle to even see to half of them. While I am certainly a ‘grouper’, part of that 2%, I certainly cannot be defined by that alone.

It is the same with most every person I know who participates in group content as well. They are also musicians, role-players, attendees of social gatherings and festivals, hosts and hostesses of parties, contests, and so much more.

While I am sure there are some who care only for group content and, sadly, will leave, I cannot imagine that very many will. If we use a very conservative estimate, saying that only 50% of the group content audience would/will remain in these lands now that no more ‘traditional’ group content will be developed, we can come to the conclusion that…

…less than 1% of the entire player base would have been lost if this content was never developed. 1 out of 100, 10 out of 1,000, 5,000 out of 500,000.

It is a sad day when even a single person leaves because they are not fulfilled in these lands, of course. Neither the developers, nor the players, should be happy for it. At the same time, what was the cost for producing 7+ years of this type of content in order to retain less than 1% of the player base?

In the Final Analysis…

Radiance…

  • Affected, at most, only 2% of the player base, and likely much fewer than that, as it only came into play during the most difficult raids
  • Affected only three small areas out the entire landscape of Middle-earth: the Watcher’s Lair, Dar Narbugud, and Barad Guldur
  • Was in existence from the launch of Moria (November 18, 2008) until March 18, 2011, so only 2 years and 4 months out of 7+ years so far πŸ™‚
  • The in-game effect of Radiance was very, very slight. The development time was greater, of course, but all in all, it was a very minor system
  • Not everyone in the 2% who were affected by Radiance hated it. I thought it was a good measuring stick to determine how prepared you were to face tougher challenges. A good many went to battle with the Watcher straightaway once Radiance was removed and did not fare very well

When you consider that there were, at least, 588 other players for every 12 who ever ventured into places where Radiance was a factor, and account for the time taken for the battles in those three lairs (maybe 30 minutes, 3 hours and 3 hours, respectively), the cumulative effect on player-time from Radiance has to be so small that it could hardly be measured. Maybe something like .000001% of all the seconds spent by all of the players in LOTRO have been affected by Radiance [that is a wild guess, but you see my point πŸ™‚ ]

Looking back on it now, given all of this, it is difficult to imagine that the complaints against Radiance even measured highly enough to be noticed by Turbine, really. It would be only small percentages combined who would have complained at all: at most 2% of the player base, then the percentage that actually disliked it, then the percentage of those whom actually took the time to complain about it at all, and so on.

To remove Radiance and write a developer diary of an apologetic nature regarding it, under these circumstances, cannot be termed anything but extraordinary.

The Development of Group Content…

I do not think it is a stretch of the imagination, in any way, to say that the development of group content has affected every single second, of every single player, from the very first day of these lands. The time spent developing this content was time not spent developing content for the other 99% of players who would enjoy it. And that development time has always been considerable.

Consider the comments of Sapience and HoarseDev when the question of what it takes to create and test a raid came up in the same Shield run:

“A huge amount of time and resources. It takes animators, it takes artists, it takes QA, it takes play teams, it takes repeated play testing, it takes huge and massive amounts of tech to get all hooked up and tested out. It is incredibly time consuming, most people would be shocked at how time consuming it really is.” — Sapience

 

“Raids are an order of magnitude larger and are vastly more risky than anything else. They are definitely on a level all their own.” — HoarseDev

I realize he may have just been using ‘order of magnitude’ as a figure of speech, but it is likely true that the development of traditional group content takes ten times as much of an effort, more or less, than any of the other systems developed for these lands. The question is, knowing this and knowing that, at most, 2% of the players were using it, consistently over time, why did Turbine continue to pursue it?

That is not all, however. It is very likely true that the development of group content affected virtually every single second of time even before the first day the servers opened. From the initial idea to create a world based on this story, and to the very last day of development before time began in Middle-earth, the developers’ mindset, time and actions were affected by group content and how to bring it about.

How many more regions of Middle-earth would have come to life if the time to produce traditional group content pre-launch had been used for that instead? How many additional hobbies might there have been? How many more musical instruments, quests, story-lines, and,cosmetics? Well, around ten times as much for every moment spent on developing group content, it would seem. But that is not all.

Even though no more new content of this type will be developed, how much time will be spent to maintain it, time spent that could have gone to other things? But that is not all, either.

What has been the cost of gating the best armor and items to wear behind this content, alienating at least some of the other 98% of the player base that does not take part in group content at all? What has been the cost of having currencies like Marks, Medallions and Seals be earned at either a far greater pace or outright exclusively from this content that less than 2% of the player base uses? That is not all either, but it is enough to give an idea of the cost.

In fairness, you cannot blame Turbine for trying this, of course. After all, other games have developed ‘traditional’ group content, and done so successfully. It would not be termed as ‘traditional’ if that were not the case, right? πŸ™‚

But, given what we know, regarding the tiny amount of players who actually used the content, and that it was known that so few used it even back then, why did its production continue for so long? While the developers were wrestling with the relatively small issue of Radiance, an issue infinitely larger had surrounded them that they either could not or would not see. Sadly, it was a costly one for us all.

We are at a crossroads. Looking back we can see what might have been. But, looking forward, now that this difficult decision has finally been made, we can see a brighter future as well. Sadly, some will leave us, and something that a very small percentage of us enjoyed will no longer continue to be renewed.

But, with that time devoted to things that the great majority wish to see, we can look forward to a great increase in those things to come! More regions developed, more quests and stories to be told. More systems that we can all share in as we continue on our path toward Mordor and beyond!

Onwards, to Gondor!

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