Gambling on game design

Been quiet around here, but as you can see from Tipa’s widget over on the right, I’ve been playing the heck out of LOTRO. LOTRO seems like a pretty divisive MMORPG – people hate it or they love it – and frankly I haven’t been in the mood to debate the merits of a game I’m enjoying. I’ve just been playing, and having fun, and enjoying the experience without deconstructing it. It’s been a nice, relaxing change of pace.

Then I decided I wanted a Summer Festival Horse, and I ran into a system so infuriating that it almost made me walk away from LOTRO for a while (one of the joys of being a LOTRO Lifer is that walking away is easy since you know it’ll be there when you feel like coming back, with zero hassles).

Y’see, there used to be races that let you win a Summer Festival Horse, but I guess those generated a lot of ill will. People would think they’d come in first but the game would say they were in second, due to latency/lag or whatever. I’ve seen this in just about every MMO I play..if you play next to someone, your character on their screen is always behind where it is on your screen.

But I digress. For this Festival they removed those races and instead put in a couple of 3rd party races. There’s a hobbit’s pie-eating contest/race, and a dwarf’s drinking race. You place a bet on which contestant will win. If you bet right, you get 12 Summer Festival Tokens.

But in order to bet, you need Race Tokens. You can get 2 of those via a zero-effort quest (just talk to an NPC) but that quest is on a 2-hour cooldown.

The actual races run about every 12-13 minutes, I’d say. 10 minutes after a race ends, a new one begins, and races are 2-3 minutes.

With me so far? Get 2 tokens. Go to the race location. Wait up to 10 minutes for a race to start. Bet on a contestant. Win or lose. Wait 10 more minutes for another race to start. Bet. Win/lose. Then wait ~1:45 for the Race Token quest to cool down.

Duplicate this: there’s one race outside Thorin’s Hall, the other on The Hill at Bag End. So you can travel back and forth to maximize your time.

It takes 56 tokens to get a Festival Horse. So you have to win your bet on 5 races. There is zero strategy to the races – at least that’s what they say: that it’s all random.

It took me 22 races to win the number of tokens I needed. My win/loss ration was 4-18, but at one point I was 0-9 & had determined that the game was rigged against me! To say I was frustrated would be quite an understatement. I left LOTRO running all day, actually setting a timer so I’d know when to come back and get Race Tokens again.

Now, LOTRO defenders will tell you there are other ways to get Festival tokens: You can fish for them. But my character has a lousy fishing skill, and you can only improve your fishing skill 10 points a day. There are 4 fishing quests. 3 of them are 20 minutes long, and 1 is 10 minutes long. During these periods you can catch special “Festival Fish” which you can turn in for tokens (4 fish/token, although there are rare fish worth 2 tokens each). This would be a fine alternative except that these quests have a 14-16 hour cool down, so effectively you can do them once/day. I did do them all, which is why I had 56 tokens after winning 4 races.

LOTRO defenders will also tell you the new races are fun social events, and that may have been true with the Festival began. But when I was doing them during the day, I was the only one doing them, so it was boring as hell waiting for the races to begin.

I would urge Turbine to make some changes to these races. Some suggestions: let the players influence the race in some way. Maybe cheering for your contestant could help them go faster or something? Give the user some kind of feeling of control. Second, give tokens for more than 1st place. How about 1st place: 10 tokens. 2nd place: 4 tokens. 3rd place: 1 token. Lastly, let us save up ‘losing tickets’ and cash them in for a consolation prize of a few tokens.

Basically do something so that a player on a bad streak at least feels like he is making some kind of progress. Lose 9 of these races in a row and let me tell you, it’ll drive you to a very unhappy place. I felt like Sally Brown after Linus convinced her to wait for The Great Pumpkin instead of going trick-or-treating.

Anyway, to sum up my rant: sending players through such a huge time sync and taking all control away from the outcome of the event just makes the player feel bad about your game. I know this is a ‘stop-gap’ while you try to get the real races working, but it needs to be tweaked before the next festival!

In the end, through sheer stubbornness, I got my Festival Horse (shortly after midnight. I’d started working towards it before morning coffee). Yay! I actually just bought my regular horse the night before (which is why I started going for the Festival horse so late). And then today (with more tokens from fishing and some left-overs) I added a Summer Cloak!

Screenshots or it didn’t happen:



Aside from this occurrence, I’ve been having a hell of a good time in LOTRO this time back. Saving up for my horse was a good short-term challenge. Normally I think you’d have the $$ to buy a horse by the time you hit level 35 (when you get the ability to ride) but I’d been paying 50 silver/week in rent for long stretches when I wasn’t playing (and therefor not generating any income) so I was way behind the curve on savings.

I’ve also been *gasp* grouping with people. PUGs. And so far, no bad experiences. Since tuning into the global LFF channel my appreciation for the game has changed. For the most part, the folks that hang out on that channel are happy to answer questions and have interesting discussions on how to play and or ‘build’ various classes.

I started a 2nd character and have been experiencing the new “New Player Experience” with him. There’s a lot less running back and forth, which I know people hated. But at the same time, now it all feels much more like a WoW-style “theme park” experience. You’re carefully shunted from one NPC to the next, spoon fed quests and passed along. I guess that’s what people want, but I was surprised to find that I rather missed roaming around Breeland.

7 thoughts on “Gambling on game design

  1. It is still possible to get sidetracked, I did so many quests that I was hopelessly over-levelled as I finally returned to STrider. 😉

    You are right, the festivals and festival quests in MMOs are often quite dumb. In Guild Wars they are grind and farm your ass of events, and such things as the horse racing stuff also makes one wonder what they were thinking.

    In WoW the festivals have become to-do-lists for the achievement/meta-achievement lists, and I really dare to say, how about setting up a HUGE tent and giving players unsellable free beer coupons and let some famous people make appearances. Galadriel could be talking about the latest fashion trends or something like that.

  2. BTW, my trial account is still running, but one can only play so much and I already exhausted myself in Aion this weekend. Going to play some LOTRO later this week though.

  3. That summer festival sounds pretty bad, like WoW’s idiotic Valentine’s event only with more travel to make absolutely sure that you can’t do anything with the character and still make efficient use of your cooldowns.

    Then again, the race model was also pretty silly. My LOTRO character has a mount from one of the festivals (the fall harvest one I think?) that I got in like an hour total by running the race uncontested at offpeak hours and doing like 2-3 quests.

  4. If players could affect the outcome, people would just game the system, by having someone pick a horse and ask everyone to cheer that horse (to maximize the impact on the horse).

  5. Yeah, but so what? That’d be a great community building experience. You’d still need to sit around for 4 races, which means 15-25 minutes at Thorin’s Hall, then a trip to The Shire, and 15-25 minutes at The Hill.

    This isn’t epic raid loot we’re talking about. Just a pretty new skin for your existing horse, really.

  6. That sounds really repetative. I wouldn’t have gone that far for a horse color. They should have made more events, and made them more varied, then given the award for completing all events once. MMO’s have a weird design scheme, that is all based around awarding the players who are the most willing to devote as much time as possible to the game for a simple reward.

  7. Yeah, honestly I thought the horse you got was better than the standard horse (faster or something) so I stuck it out. But apparently it’s just prettier.

Comments are closed.