LOTRO Legendarium: What Daybreak’s sale revealed about LOTRO

LOTRO Legendarium: What Daybreak’s sale revealed about LOTRO

Just when I thought we were getting to a quieter point in the year where I could engage in a leisurely wrap-up of the year in Lord of the Rings Online. But nooooo. No, Daybreak had to go and get itself sold off to Enad Global 7 — and in so doing, pulled off the covers of a whole lot of information about SSG and LOTRO that we totally need to talk about this week.

If you missed the news, on December 1st we reported that Daybreak Game Company — and all of its subsidiaries and properties — had been sold to Sweden-based EG7 for the sweet tune of $300 million. In the process of this sale, a full investor presentation was posted with plenty of details and reveals that SSG had kept from us over the years.

So what did we learn about Lord of the Rings Online — and what does it mean for our game as we turn the corner next month into 2021? Let’s hash it out together!

Official confirmation of Daybreak ownership

Ever since Standing Stone Games “partnered” with Daybreak back in 2016 to have the latter publish its two MMOs, we have strongly suspected that this was more than a mere partnership. Direct questions as to whether Daybreak actually owned SSG went unanswered, but now we know that yes, Daybreak did, in fact, buy SSG and bring it into its corporate structure four years ago.

This clarifies a lot of business decisions that SSG has made over the past few years, especially in regard to its silence over certain events and topics and how the studio has handled its pricing structure for expansions. We all know that Daybreak was calling the shots for LOTRO, but now it’s kind of a relief to have it right out there in the open. I’m just a little peeved that — as with so much with Daybreak/SSG — this was hidden or obfuscated from the pubic for no discernable reason.

I’m glad it’s there, that Daybreak and SSG can’t deny it, and that we can all move on with our lives.

Who’s heading up Standing Stone Games, anyway?

We also discovered this past week that Executive Producer Rob Ciccolini isn’t the big cheese at the LOTRO factory. I asked him several years back whether he was the CEO of the studio and he dodged the question, saying that they didn’t really do things that way. Now I know that was a load of hooey because SSG does, in fact, have a CEO: Jack Emmert, who also heads up the substudio running DCUO and another unnamed project.

Of course, we have absolutely no idea how much Emmert involves himself in the day-to-day operations of SSG. His could be an honorary title for the organizational chart, or he might call Ciccolini once a month to touch base and provide guidance.

It’s simply interesting for who Emmert is. This is a guy who’s been in the MMO business for a long time now, heading up titles like City of Heroes, Marvel Universe Online, and Star Trek Online. He’s not universally respected by the veteran MMO community (let’s just say that he carries a lot of baggage around with him), but the fact that he’s kept a low public profile for years now kind of washes that out.

LOTRO’s finances and population

It was like Christmas came early in the Massively OP offices as we combed through this report. Really. I can’t tell you how incredibly rare it is to get such plain specific numbers about MMOs, but here we were treated to so much, and you can bet that I raced down to see what was under LOTRO’s section.

It turns out that it’s pretty dang solid. LOTRO has 108,000 monthly active users, out of which 41,000 are subscribers (or possibly lifetime VIPs). Its year-to-date bookings come to $9.9 million, which put it above other Daybreak properties like EverQuest II, Dungeons and Dragons Online, and PlanetSide 2 (but less than EverQuest and DCUO). In the Daybreak portfolio, LOTRO accounts for 14% of its bookings for this year.

The MMO is also at the #3 spot for Daybreak’s ARPPU (average revenue per paying user), at $51.90, with a 17% monthly payer conversion.

That 108K number sounds just about right to me. I had assumed that LOTRO was somewhere in the 75K to 125K range, and for a 13-year-old MMO, that’s pretty fantastic. And as for the finances, I’ll repost a comment from Bree here:

“Those are great numbers for an MMORPG that isn’t a top-tier AAA title and has long since recouped costs. 40% subscriptions on a game that can be very easily played as an F2P is extremely good. Those aren’t retention numbers; those are conversion numbers, and they’d work out to over $7M a year just from subs.”

All in all, it’s not a picture of the most popular game in the world but rather one that’s doing well for itself, all things considered. It could be much, much worse, if you think about it. (Editor’s note: It’s also worth considering that we don’t know for sure whether lifetimers are counted among those subscriptions; if they are, it would certainly change the profit equation and conversion ratio here.)

Could LOTRO be coming to console?

I doubt it, personally. Our headline on this came from an intriguing brief mention on Daybreak’s future pipeline, which lists a “LOTRO upgrade” for 2022 that is summarized as thus: “Planning visual and technical updates for LOTRO for PC and nextgen consoles to capitalize on Amazon’s highly publicized large investment in LOTR TV series.” (Emphasis ours.)

It’s really easy to throw ideas out there and put on a big front, especially when you’re selling a company and want investors to be all excited, but there’s just about no way I can ever see a LOTRO console version happening, regardless of what EG7 is telling investors right now. The game’s just not set up for it, and even the devs in a recent livestream expressed strong doubt over whether this was something that could be done. I mean, sure, throw enough money a game’s way and anything is possible, but the sheer amount of funding and manpower needed to take LOTRO as it is and reshape it for a console is considerable.

Now, I really like the sound of making the game look and perform better! That we desperately need, and if EG7 wants to pour some money into that, I’m not going to complain. But LOTRO on the PS5? I can’t see it. Of course, me saying “I can’t see it” means that everyone’s going to take that as a dare and now make it happen.

Peering through the veil into the future

When the sale was announced, SSG — along with every Daybreak team — quickly got out there to give assurances that the sale would have “no impact” on the games. That’s nonsense, of course, just a PR move to settle people down who might otherwise freak out. New owners could mean a lot of changes, both good and bad.

But personally, I don’t see a reason to panic. In fact, a new owner with bigger pockets and a strong reason to want Daybreak and its subsidiaries to succeed could be highly beneficial to LOTRO in the long run.

In the meanwhile, I’m simply content having more pieces of the SSG puzzle moved into place and hearing that the studio has a producer’s letter in the works for early 2021. We are definitely ending this year on an exciting note, and I would rather err on the side of optimism that our virtual Middle-earth has a bright future ahead.

Every two weeks, the LOTRO Legendarium goes on an adventure (horrid things, those) through the wondrous, terrifying, inspiring, and, well, legendary online world of Middle-earth. Justin has been playing LOTRO since its launch in 2007! If you have a topic for the column, send it to him at [email protected]

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