The Radiance system in LotRO is Turbine’s attempt at a raid progression. It necessitates that a player spends a certain number of hours running through dungeons in order to ‘gear up’ to a level where they are able to tackle the next content in the progression. It works similarly to WoW’s raid progression, except it replaces the more-flexible stat based gating with a less stat-inflating alternative.
The main benefit of a raid progression is that it ensures players experience a wider variety of content, and don’t just cherry pick the stuff with the greatest rewards. Consequently, it helps to maintain the popularity and relevance of this content. Falling back on stereotypes for a moment, Achiever types benefit because it offers them a longer series of challenges to overcome, and the opportunity to get ahead of the curve in an attempt to bolster their fragile self-esteem. Explorer types benefit because it increases the chance that they will find a group to see older content that may otherwise be gathering cobwebs. Socialisers are happy because the other types are happy, and Killers are off ganking or zerging somewhere else in their sadistic indifference.
So everyone loves a good raid progression right? Well, not according to a poll I posted on the European LotRO forums:
|Strongly for – It significantly adds to my enjoyment of LotRO.||18||9.78%|
|Generally for – I like it, but I wouldn’t be too bothered if it was removed.||35||19.02%|
|Generally against – I dislike it, but I can live with it if I have to.||46||25.00%|
|Strongly against – It significantly reduces my enjoyment of LotRO.||72||39.13%|
|Indifferent – It doesn’t bother or affect me.||13||7.07%|
I’ll get the usual caveat out of the way. The relatively small sample (N=184) of EU forum users may not be representative of the entire LotRO-playing population, though personally, I reckon its pretty safe to assume that this is at least a fairly good indication of EU and US LotRO player opinion on this matter.
Working on this assumption, we can see that well over 1/3 of players state that the Radiance mechanic significantly reduces their enjoyment of LotRO, increasing to 2/3 who would like to see it removed. Less than 1/3 of players like the system at all, with only 1/10 stating that removing it would reduce their enjoyment of the game.
So, which factor is turning what seems like a good idea on paper into something so unpopular? The answer is almost certainly the grind involved in the progression. If players were required to beat the content once or twice in order to progress, there’d be far fewer complaints. Indeed, arguably LotRO’s most popular content, the Epic Book series, is just such a content progression. You generally need to complete the books and chapters in numerical order, but you only need to complete them once.
The problem with LotRO’s radiance gated progression is that players are required to run through each instance at least half a dozen times. Assuming you’re an averagely lucky person, you’re looking at over 30 successful hard-mode instance completions at 30-90 mins each before you can consider tackling the interesting raiding content. Factor in unsuccessful attempts and the time to find or organise groups, and you’re talking about a not insignificant time investment.
Every player has a differing tolerance for this sort of repetition, but looking at the poll results, it would seem that the radiance grind is tuned up a little too high at the moment, at least for EU players at this particular point in time. I grudgingly went through the process this time around, just as many players did, but I’m not sure I’ll have the will to go through it again during the next expansion cycle. If I am in any way representative, then this is a dangerous position for Turbine to find themselves in. If by chasing the subscriptions of a seeming minority of players they start to alienate their ‘core vote’, then they stand to lose more in the long run than they gain in the short.
Who knows? Perhaps the bigwigs at Turbine are fully aware of these dynamics and have crunched their numbers accordingly. Perhaps the number of players that might actually unsubscribe from LotRO due to this particular issue can be safely written off as ‘acceptable losses’ against the number of players that it encourages to resubscribe. Perhaps, despite our dissatisfaction, very few of us will actually leave LotRO because of this issue, and will simply be content to impotently voice our frustrations in rambling blog posts. Raiding is only one of many reasons why LotRO is my preferred MMO, after all.
And yes, I know MMORPGs and grinds go hand-in-hand, but I see this primarily as a consequence of a monthly subscription model that thrives on getting as much life out of as little content as possible. A company doesn’t ever want the players to ‘finish’ their game, lest those players get itchy feet and start looking elsewhere.
Wouldn’t it be nice if a long-term consequence of the growing popularity of micro-transaction payment models is that we see a shift from quantity of content towards quality? Instead of being required to invest vast amounts of time in order to enjoy much of the best content, paying for it with our prolonged subscriptions, we could simply pay for the bits that most interest us and jump straight in. It’s sounding pretty good to me right now.