Warner Bros. has announced that Turbine's The Lord of the Rings Online MMO will relaunch worldwide this autumn as a free-to-play game.
The move will follow the model established by Turbine's successful relaunch of Dungeons & Dragons Online in the US last year, with a large chunk of the game available for free and extra content, items, features and services on sale via an in-game store.
Alternatively, you'll be able to pay a VIP subscription for unlimited access to premium content.
European LOTRO operator Codemasters Online is on board with the change and the new service will launch in autumn across North America and Europe. (Codemasters still operates DDO as a traditional subscription game in Europe.)
Beta testing for free LOTRO begins on 16th June and you can sign up at the LOTRO website.
The press release calls the relaunch a "major update" and refers to the game "extending its award-winning story", but there is no explicit promise of new content alongside the relaunch just yet.
You'll be able to play up to level 50 - the level cap of the original version of the game, Shadows of Angmar - for free. In the LOTRO Store, you will be able to purchase "convenience items", expansion packs, premium content, additional character slots, potions and character customisation options.
We imagine that the content available to buy in the Store will include that currently sold in the Mines of Moria and Siege of Mirkwood expansions, which between them have raised the level cap to 65.
The VIP offering will grant unlimited access to all premium content, priority server access, five character slots, a shared bank slot and a monthly stipend of points to spend in the LOTRO store "for one low price". The price is yet to be revealed.
Warner Bros. acquired Turbine back in April, thus completing its collection of all videogame rights to The Lord of the Rings.
Since its free-to-play relaunch in September 2009, Dungeons & Dragons Online has attracted one million players, boosted revenues by 500 per cent, and even doubled the number of traditional subscribers to the game. A recent survey put it as the third most-played MMO in the US after World of Warcraft and RuneScape.
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