LotRO 4 Life (?)

Recently Turbine (creator of Lord of the Rings Online) has caused quite a ruckus in one of their gaming communities, Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO). For the uninitiated, DDO is Turbine’s Free to Play game set in the DnD universe of Eberron. They (Turbine) support the game through a hybrid subscription/cash shop model. Players don’t need to pay for the game, but can buy Turbine Points with cash to purchase Adventure Packs and other convenience items for use in the game. Or they can subscribe, pay a monthly fee, and have access to everything (as long as they keep paying).

Until recently, those were the two options. Then Turbine introduced the Offer Wall. I’m not going to link it, as the whole issue with the Wall surrounds privacy of customer data, and Turbine violating its own EULA by giving out customer information without the consent of said customers. Obviously, the community reacted. Badly.

Needless to say, Turbine took a huge hit on the nose over the whole thing. They lost a ton of credibility in the eyes of many, and violated the trust of their customers (which is far bigger than the credibility thing). In a competitive market such as the Free to Play MMO space, losing trust means losing customers, and those customers rarely, if ever, come back. There are just so many other options.

I’m a Lifetime Subscriber to Lord of the Rings Online. Yes, I dabble in DDO and, yes, I’ve spent money in the Cash Shop. I still have points sitting there for future purchases. But I’m not invested in DDO. So why do I care?

Two reasons. One, I do play DDO, and I have spent money on the game; I have an account, and it’s shared with my LotRO account. Turbine has my credit card information. I take security, and my privacy, as seriously as the next Internet user and any implication of impropriety on the part of a business with which I do business concerns me. However, this is a small concern. I didn’t visit the Offer Wall, nor did I have any intention. The chances of my account being shared are slim to none.

Second, and this is the bigger concern for me, is the image the whole scenario paints of Turbine as a company. One of three things seem likely after the fallout of the Offer Wall. Either Turbine was blinded by the money, was careless in their implementation, or they are in serious need of cash.

Greedy, Lazy, or Desperate. None of these look good, especially to Turbine customers.

If it’s Greed, well that’s (somewhat) understandable, and with a lot of work, Turbine can move past this and regain the support of their fans. Turbine is a business, and need to turn a profit to continue to operate. This was obviously a choice made at the Management level – the Developers, who are themselves gamers and who interact with the customers, probably had nothing to do with this. It came from on high. And what are the chances that those at the top of the food chain at Turbine are gamers? That they are “in the trenches”, interacting with their customers? Very slim. So they saw the dollar signs, saw a chance to turn (more) profit, and took it. The mandate came down and someone was left to iron out the details and implement it.

That kind of greed isn’t good, but it can be overcome. They saw the reaction of their customers, and in the interest of retention, took down the worst parts of the Wall.

Laziness would be worse than greed, but again, not insurmountable. Having worked in IT for many years, I understand how complicated systems can get. A violation of the type described on the forums is pretty bad, as is the negligence of passing email addresses and account usernames around unencrypted. Especially without warning, or even notifying, your customers that you’ve done so. That kind of security SNAFU should be an obvious “Never, ever. EVER”.

What makes this more of a worry than greed is, if it can happen once, it can happen again. Turbine’s got sensitive data of mine, and even the implication of a breach of security scares me. Sure, they’ve probably implemented policy to help prevent this from happening again, but the fact that it happened at all…wow.

Last, and of greatest concern, is that they are Desperate. Making this kind of deal, with a company generally acknowledged as “scarcely legal” and the Devil of the Internet, should be a no-brainer for most reputable companies. I have trouble believing that noone at the management level at Turbine was aware of the practices and reputation of SuperRewards. They’re pretty notorious, and why would any company willingly associate themselves with this type of company?

Unless they had little choice. Yes, DDO has a million registered users. How many of those spend money? And how many are just sucking down bandwidth? Even as cheap as it is, bandwidth costs for a million users. And bandwidth is only one of the costs of doing business.

So, why am I worried? I’m in LotRO for the long haul. The longest haul. If it is made possible, I’m going to Mordor. And back again. The future of Turbine is directly related to my ability to defeat the greatest evil ever known to Middle Earth.

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