For a good long while now — years, really — I’ve joined the chorus of voices that have been asking Standing Stone Games to talk to its fans more and be better about leveraging its communication channels. This week, the studio actually stepped up and delivered the sort of comms that we’ve wanted for so long now in the form of an hour-long Q&A session with Executive Producer Rob Ciccolini.
It’s not as if one hour of chatter instantly makes up for months of silence and faulty communication, but you know what? It’s a really good start. While Ciccolini didn’t address every pressing question on the table or answer some topics to my full satisfaction, he did tackle a lot of topics and gave us a much better insight into where Lord of the Rings Online is going than we normally receive.
In today’s LOTRO Legendarium column, I want to give my reaction to some of the topics discussed, especially in regard to what we learned about LOTRO’s 2021 roadmap.
Comms and VIP treatment
If you give me the choice of “good news or bad news first?” I will always want to get bad news out of the way. So let’s tackle the two sorest spots with the community that I don’t feel Ciccolini addressed well.
When he was asked about what SSG was going to do to become better with communication, Ciccolini mostly discussed the snafu about War of the Three Peaks package details (which were kept hidden until the day of release). While that is one example, the question was directed at a broader spectrum of how SSG communicates, and there was no express commitment or specifics about how the studio might improve this. He did touch on the outskirts of some of other examples, but the best answer might be the fact that he jumped on a livestream in November to field community questions. If this is indicative of how Ciccolini and SSG want to improve comms going forward, then I am (tentatively) encouraged.
The other disappointment with the Q&A came when the topic of War of the Three Peaks’ pricing came up, especially in regard to subscribers who viewed this (rightfully so) as a content pack that they were being expected to buy. Again, we can infer from his presence on this stream and his tone that Ciccolini is well aware of the dissatisfaction from this move, but he didn’t back down or apologize for it. Instead, he redirected the conversation to promise that VIP players would see more benefits and a clearer outline of their perks in the future. And he also hinted that more “mini-expansions” will be coming with a similar price point.
Looking ahead to 2021
That said, we kind of got an early producer’s letter with this stream, didn’t we? Usually we’re waiting until spring to get word about the year’s plans for LOTRO, but Ciccolini was liberal with reveals throughout the stream.
In summary, there’s a lot on the table for next year. There are at least one or two updates to come before the expansion, including a mid-level zone (which is a rarity for the way LOTRO has been developed) and some sort of level-agnostic “lost tales” that will offer alternative adventures through Middle-earth. Shades of Bingo Boffin? If so, I’m 100% on board with this! Actually, the scarce details of these updates have me more excited than Gundabad.
Speaking of which, Gundabad got a delay from spring to fall 2021 to allow for more work and the difficulty of developing from home. The Brawler sounds like it’ll be included in this pack, although SSG kept the details of that and its abilities deliberately fuzzy. Ciccolini said that developing a new class was a monumental effort and that the team is very excited about it. Past Gundabad, the River-hobbit race should arrive (maybe late 2021?).
All in all, it’s a solid year of content in keeping with LOTRO’s output these past few years. Hopefully SSG can drum up a lot more excitement about Gundabad than currently exists because it needs to do a better job than it’s done for marketing past updates.
Legendary servers and other miscellanea
I did like hearing Ciccolini’s passion and tone during the stream. His off-the-cuff manner gave me an impression of a studio exec who cares about LOTRO, is trying to do his best under difficult circumstances, and doesn’t resent players for asking the tough questions.
The fact that he was talking to us and answering questions that had gone unanswered for a long time now really highlighted how much SSG dropped the ball this year. One example here was with some of the projects that he’d mentioned in his producer’s letter last spring. That letter mentioned legendary item revamps and a new legendary server, topics that hadn’t been publicly mentioned since then. Now, thanks to this stream, we know that the LI revamp hasn’t been figured out yet and that the proposed fall legendary server isn’t going to happen (SSG is still figuring out what it wants to do with the next special ruleset world).
It’s good to get confirmation and clarification; it’s just frustrating that it takes so long for this sort of thing. If Ciccolini or SSG would put out a monthly update — as many online games do — to keep players up to date on the progress of projects and changing development, that would go such a long way to keeping all of us on the same page.
I do hope that SSG gets tech issues sorted out to allow for old world transfers, which has been needed for a good long while now. I’d also like to see text scaling and UI improvements included, which were discussed without any firm commitments.
All in all, the stream was a good start. It helped to finally have a figure fielding these questions who had the authority and knowledge to answer them, and I encourage SSG to press forward with better comms. After all, the players want to be on the side of the game they love — and if all it takes for that to happen is some frank dialogue, that should be a priority.