LotRO: Unradiant Raid Progression

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.

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14 Responses to “LotRO: Unradiant Raid Progression”

  1. jdw Says:

    I asked a similar question of LOTRO Vault readers, and while my sample size was even smaller than yours (fifty-three!), we ended up with similar results.

    http://lotrovault.ign.com/?dir=sympoll&dispid=35 (if my HTML doesn’t work, I’m going to cry)

    It leaves me wondering why they think this is a good idea. You may be right in terms of “acceptable losses.” Very few “casuals” are going to quit over what they perceive as too-hard content, at least in the eyes of Turbine and many of the more hardcore players, whereas I suspect everybody knows that hardcore players will quit if they don’t find their needs being met. (Perhaps I’m being too harsh?) The thing is, I’m not so certain that this is the case: I’ve seen a lot of threads on the official forums (US forums, dunno about the European forums) from players who are quitting over gear-gating and content which they perceive as too difficult.

    • unwize Says:

      The gating says nothing about the difficulty of the content, and indeed, hardcore Kinships will have a much easier time of it than casual ones. Their stats are generally much better because they have been able to put in the time to grind for specific rare items, and their higher level of radiance from farming the Watcher when it was much easier means they will take smaller morale and stat penalties due to dread. Hardcore Kinships are effectively playing ‘easy mode’ in comparison to the casual Kinships’ ‘hard mode’, simply because they have a surplus of time.

      The hardcore Kinships had all these advantages when The RIft was released, but many casual Kinships (including my own) were trailing them in downing major bosses by a matter of days or weeks, pretty much exposing the lie that hardcore = more skilled. Hardcore in these games will always be more about time investment than skill.

      And as we’ve seen from the poll, only 10% of players would really miss radiance, and we can assume that only a proportion of those would cancel their subscription if it was removed. Radiance, and especially the grind inherent in it, is all about lining Turbine’s pockets. If it works, great, Turbine generates more revenue and all players will hopefully benefit. I can live with that. It’s just difficult to imagine how something so deeply unpopular can be benefiting them at all.

  2. Sebastian Says:

    I have to say that I’ve only just started to play LOTRO, so I don’t really have experience of the exact mechanic that you’re talking about. Now that’s out of the way, I’m an experienced MMO player, WoW, Darkfall and DDO. I like what I’ve seen from Turbine in LOTRO so far, they are educated and knowledgeable decisions (mostly) which give me hope in the longevity of LOTRO.

    1. ‘Gated’ raid-style content where passing the gate does not expand your stats at a huge level, as WoW does which makes gear resets and thus mob toughness a huge step up in each expansion.

    2. Intelligent solutions to Dev-noticed problems. In particular I’m talking about the nerf to Fervour stance for Champions in book 8. Problem: Champions are able to tank without damaging their dps leading to Wardens and Guardians losing spots. Possible Solutions: nerf threat generation (bad, lets champs go 100% without considering hate), nerf damage (boo), nerf Minstrel’s heals (potentially hurting the ability of other classes to tank) or remove some of the effectiveness of healing to Champions (best solution).

    Finally, you posted the poll on the forums (jdw too) which are renowned (and rightly so) for containing trolls and negative persons in a far larger proportion to that which exists in the game, biasing the results significantly negatively against X, where X is anything and everything.

    So while I’m not experiencing the content that you guys are talking about, I have faith that, from a design perspective, Turbine are doing the right thing. The grind might suck, but that’s a different argument.

    • unwize Says:

      The Champion Fervour nerf was something that I supported also. It’s basically a symptom of putting the highest melee AND AoE DPS class in heavy armour.

      Ideally, the way to fix the problem would have been to greatly increase the defence offered by using a shield, either in a much greater armour value or higher block ratings, making shield use an absolute necessity for tanking. However, they’ve balanced and itemised the whole game around the current levels, so the healing nerf was the most effective band aid they could apply without undertaking a vast amount of work. Perhaps they could look at the issue again for the next expansion cycle with appropriate balancing for the next 10 levels of content.

      Regarding the official forums, they are actually remarkably good in LotRO. Much more pleasant and productive than other games I’ve played. Also, a recent poll showed that over 2/3 of voters were Kinship leaders and officers, and I think a poll there is likely to be a good barometer for overall opinion.

      Regarding the grind, radiance was first sold to us with the ‘cluster’ concept. Basically, you’d get a cluster of instances that you needed to obtain gear from, and after doing so you could access the cluster’s raid instance. Most people were just about ok with the idea until Turbine added the Book 8 instances and raid as an addendum to the original cluster, rather than a separate cluster entirely, thus creating a raid progression that locks more and more people out of the new content unless they are willing to undertake a significant grind.

      I think a great proportion of players are looking back to the halcyon days of The Rift, which had no entry requirements beyond hitting the level cap. Casual Kinships thrived under such a system because it meant they could easily pull new players in to fill rosters without having to worry about helping them through long and difficult grinds. They see the radiance grind as Turbine effectively giving the finger to casual Kinships and players, essentially the players that sustained LotRO during its first 18 months.

      • Sebastian Says:

        I have no further comments on the radiance grind, I can’t because I haven’t seen it nor the history behind it.

        Your comment on the forums is interesting because, while they are better than WoW (significantly better in fact) I still read an awful lot of negative commentary in them. Again, time in game could be a factor due to the recency of a class ‘nerf’ leading to the trolls out there.

        I love the idea of raiding being available to time limited players (clarifying which interpretation of casual I use, time limited players not players who put no effort into learning to play or optimising the gear/traits available to them) because I myself am time limited (yay blogs at work!).

        If there are 12 raiders (it appears that the 24 man’s are not favoured any more) how long would it take to kit them out with the required radiance? Also, how long to kit out a new lvl 60 if the rest of the kinship has the radiance?

  3. Brian 'Psychochild' Green Says:

    I think the big problem is that the gear you get radiance on is so limited. If there were more options, I don’t think it would be quite such a big deal.

    Why does Turbine “not care”? I suspect part of the reason is that they figure most raiders aren’t going to be playing LotRO when there are other games known for their raiding. I’m playing LotRO because I like the setting. Maybe I’ll do raiding, but if I really want to do that I could just go re-activate my WoW character or work on my EQ2 character. My gut is that most people are the same way and they’re focusing their efforts on the parts that people really do like: the epic quests and setting.

    Obviously, I don’t speak for Turbine, etc. Just my own thoughts.

    • unwize Says:

      Yes, I think they see their raid content as something to keep a certain type of player busy until the next chunk of landmass/questing/story content.

      The problem is that they developed a very large appetite for casual raiding with The Rift, and now they are making it very difficult for casual Kinships/players to have that level of fun again. Radiance is an arbitrary barrier that is prevent a seemingly large proportion of LotRO players from having a lot of fun right now, and possibly for months to come. Is it really a good idea to wilfully frustrate so many of your players and arbitrarily prevent them from having fun?

  4. Degwarg Says:

    Seems like a lot of the most disaffected players are lifetimers (like myself) who are little more than dead weight on the servers…they get money from us for expansion boxes and that’s about it. Not much incentive to keep us around, sad to say.

    Turb has our 200 bucks (and it’s paid for itself by now, I will admit) and they seem to be hunting for fresh blood. Nothing wrong with that in principle, I suppose, but their new direction doesn’t seem to be making much of anyone happy (on the forums at least)…small handful of fanbois are the only ones defending radgating tooth and nail these days.

    • unwize Says:

      Yes, it would be interesting to see a breakdown of lifetime subs in this poll. Hmm, perhaps another poll is in order…

      I don’t regret buying a lifetime sub, but it is a shame that by doing so I forfeited much of my power to influence Turbine’s decision making. Perhaps I should just be happy that I’ve effectively been playing the game for free for months now!

  5. fingolfinfelagund Says:

    Well said. I think it is important for the community to continue to give turbine grief over radiance gating until they see the error of their ways.

    I’m really hoping that they go back to SoA style raiding in the next expansion where once you hit the level cap, you can go start learning the raids. And don’t even get me started on the legendary lottery (seriously, when can I trade in my tier 6 glory dmg bonus for tier 6 fervor hmmm?). Or the champ nerf.

    And let me pre-empt those who say you shouldn’t raid if your a casual player: go play wow.

  6. unwize Says:

    @Sebastian

    Forum negativity isn’t in itself a bad thing, as it at least gives some feedback to the devs, constructive or otherwise. I’d say the range of opinion on the LotRO forums, Turbine’s and CM’s, is pretty good, and probably fairly representative of overall player opinion.

    Regarding the acquisition of radiance, you need 70 radiance to tackle the latest raid instance added in Book 8. You can now get 30 of that pretty easily by running the two new 3-person instances added in Book 8. You’d need to run and successfully complete them 4 times each, but all 3 players would get the +15 radiance armour piece at that point.

    You’d then need to get the next 40 radiance from running 6-person instances on hard mode, but only one person in each run gets a +10 radiance piece, meaning 6 runs of 4 instances to gear up everyone. All of the hard modes are quite challenging, but one, the Dark Delvings, is notoriously difficult now, and you absolutely need this particular piece to hit the 70 target. The majority of hardcore (or time-rich) players will have obtained this piece before Book 7, when the final boss was much, much easier.

    There are another couple of options for getting you to the 70 threshold. First, you could to the Turtle liar raid as often as possible and pray that you get a very rare drop of the Dark Delvings coin and that you win the roll for it. Or you could get yourself to 50 radiance to fight the Watcher (reduced from 60 radiance before Book 8), and manage to win one of the +20 radiance pieces that it drops. The Watcher is a very tough fight for a casual Kinship, as they’d need to spend many evenings trying to crack it, so this isn’t all that feasible. Again, many hardcore players obtained these pieces before Book 7 when the fight was far, far easier.

    Assuming your Kinship is already geared up and you can find enough of them that are willing to run through all of those instances again with you, and assuming you beat them all first time, you are talking about 12 instance runs of about 30-60 mins each. However, those are pretty big assumptions!

  7. Degwarg Says:

    The one-coin-per run rubbish leads to all sorts of incredibly frustrating situations…Once I was in a good group that did Forges 5 times before the guard had to log. I lost the roll every time, the only one who didn’t win the chest piece. Gee, how fun. Not blaming him, either, he has a life to live, I blame Turb’s BS radgrind design…

    6 pieces, 6 diff instances, potentially 6 players rolling each time. Then you have those times where you spend an hour looking for minstrel and he only has time for one run. Or they roll on a coin they already have. Or some bugs accidentially die in 16th and the whole thing is blown, etc etc…what a mess.

    What was so great about SoA is you could buy or even get lucky mob drop of Helegrod pieces, very expensive, but I got a couple Aurochs that way. Mix that with teal Galadhrim and you have a nice Riftable toon.

    I wish I could return to LOTRO, but it just feels like torture anymore, I used to complain in SoA, but it was never bad enough that I flat-out uninstalled like I did recently. Doubt if I will be back unless we see radical changes, which isn’t likely to occur before new games like STO and ToR show up…window’s closing fast for this POed customer.

  8. Gating, and Barriers to Change « Welcome to Spinksville! Says:

    [...] Unwize talks about raid progression requirements in LOTRO [...]

  9. mbp Says:

    Wow great Poll Unwize, i wonder if Turbine will take notice of the groundswell of opinion it represents.

    I guess I made my own mind about radiance when I opted to take a break from the game rather than running hard mode dungeons. That said I do appreciate that the more dedicated players like to have a progression path. The Rift was great for the reasons you mention but ultimately the hardcore ended up babysitting the casuals through content they had run over and over and maybe that was ultimately unsustainable.

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