The State of the IP

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

There's been a couple posts by my fellow LOTRO bloggers delving into how Turbine has handled the IP. MMeOw has an excellent post about the epic Volume 1 story (don't go if you haven't yet finished that volume) and 2 high road poses a classic time travel scenario to visit on these ideas as well.

I'd like to offer up my opinions on the matter. I think as this game has been growing, the IP has gotten a bit more lost than it was from the beginning. The developers were able to work in their own space without players actively involved with their work - I think that might have been more conducive to keeping focus on the IP they were working on. Now as players are running around the world they've created, there's a whole lot more gameplay related issues they're dealing with than lore issues. As the game is getting more popular, the Tolkien fans that play the game are getting more dilluted into the general MMO playing community that is involved with LOTRO. So, there are percentage-wise, less voices talking about the lore issues than there were at launch or during development.

I think the Rune-Keeper is a perfect example of this. They way Turbine sets up their own lore around the RK makes it fit with the IP. It's like sticking a round peg into a square hole. The peg might be small enough to have four tangential points of contact and it can move freely within the space, but there are still gaps. Those gaps are the difference between what Turbine has done with the IP in the game and what the IP is. Honestly, they could be a lot bigger and I applaude that they've stuck so close to Tolkien's lore.

And yet, I've come to a place with this game that I now view it as a game first and Middle-Earth second. I'm still crazy about exploring Middle-Earth and seeing all my favorite places, but I've lost the idealism of walking those lands via this game. It's not that type of creation - and it can't be if it wants to be a sucessful game. This isn't a virtual environment - this is a virtual playground with various activities like swing sets, jungle gyms, slides, teeter-totters etc. We can quest, craft, do deeds, camp the AH... LOTRO is a game with a Middle-Earth skin more and more as time goes on. That skin is thick and robust, but it doesn't cover the shape of a game underneath.

Is this a "bad thing"? For me, not really. I've already invested a lot of time into this game that my forgiveness of the "little things" is pretty expansive. If they did something big that totally changed the thematic structure of the world - i.e. promoting messages mutually exclusive to Tolkien's own, then I'd cease to apologize for the game. And considering I've gotten my money's worth out of the game with my Lifetime Subscription, I have no qualms about dropping it should such an event happen. I don't think it will though - Turbine is too smart for that, and even if they screw up, it'll be slow enough that they'll see the tsunami coming and (hopefully) change/reverse course. So, no, what they've got now is not bad. In fact, it's a really good game. But for me, LOTRO is a game. I had wanted Middle-Earth, but that dream was unreal. Not with the movies, not with the game - that dream is only within the books, and, I've come to realize, that's where it should stay. There is no other medium best fit to represent what Tolkien created than that which he put it in.

The state of the IP is like the British royalty - they have great respect given to them and many adore them, but they don't hold the real power anymore. The lore of the game is given much respect by Turbine, but the real driving force behind this game is that it is, indeed, a game.

3 Responses to "The State of the IP"

Green Armadillo Says:

I do think that gameplay comes first (see: Swift Travel, which I think should be vastly expanded), but the lore is still a big part of LOTRO's draw. When you look at the new player experience, a big part of what draws players into the world is actually adventuring in The Original, Accept-No-Substitutes, Shire.

Large numbers of heavily armed players slaughtering hundreds of goblins, who have somehow made their way into the Shire itself, stretches the lore. Dozens of elves running around nuking stuff with Runic magic (ignoring the runes, remember how impressed Sam was to actually meet real live Elves?) stretches the lore. Perhaps flying bat-harpy-women, hide-wearing tribesmen who think they're werewolves, and malevolent snowflakes are in some portion of the lore that most of us haven't read, but for the rest of us they stretch the lore.

You're probably right that there will never one single event that breaks the lore so badly that everyone ragequits. Over time, though, these little things may stretch the feeling of the world - the one everyone recognizes as The One Middle Earth the moment they log in - to the point where it doesn't fit as well as it used to.

Thorn Says:

Well put, LOTRO is a game in a solid Middle-Eart skin. But that skin is the main attraction. people come for the lore, but they stay for the game. If the game is bad, no one but the extreme fanbois would stay.

So to keep everyone happily playing, game play must come first, but to keep the original pull to the game intact, they can't bend the lore into something unrecognizeable.

They did a good thing setting the newbie experience in some of the most iconic and well-described areas of Middle-Eart and keeping the lore-stretching parts (wolfmen, angry snowflakes etc.) for the mid and high levels when people have come to accept the game as a game.

Westnovote Says:

You share my view on how one reconciles the fact that the game makes mistakes. The game and the books are different things, and both can be enjoyed in different ways.
I am able to enjoy the films and games whilst always knowing that they are 'visions', imperfect, of Middle-Earth.
It helps to take Tolkien's view of the world. He viewed his story telling as revealing lost truth about a world, rather than mere invention. In this way, all attempts to base story, game and film in Middle-Earth are tasks of interpretation, not creation. Some just do a better job than others. If people make mistakes, then they may be further from the truth than some, but they don't damage the source and can be easily discounted.