As several have blogged, the Lord of the Rings Online(tm): Shadows of Angmar(tm) launch seems to have gone off mostly without a hitch. Seems Turbine has learned the lesson that first impressions matter.
I think a big part of the LotRO release success has been due to two fundamental factors: Open beta rollover and noob instancing. I wonder if other new releases will incorporate either or both of these strategies.
If you pre-ordered the game, you were given a key to the open beta period. Roughly a month from open beta start until general release. As a pre-order customer you were permitted to carry over 5 characters per server from open beta to general release. Turbine capped advancement at level 15 during open beta. Tradeskills could be advanced as far as you wanted if you could get the materials, though the level cap would likely preclude you from accessing high level raws.
A couple of interesting effects. Most folks I’ve seen in chat took the opportunity to try out quite a few characters. If they maxed out another character, they rolled a different race/class and advanced that. I suspect that many people may have spent a reasonable amount of time experimenting with a class that they might not have devoted time to if the player concentrated on their “main” on general release. Some may have found they really enjoy a class they might not otherwise have thought about playing. At a minimum, I suspect they at least gained an appreciation of how other classes work which, IMHO, is vital for developing good group skills. Class diversity FTW!
With an adolescent rather than infant population, most peep’s characters were already distributed across the landscape reducing character concentration in probably all zones except Bree-town on launch day. Couple this with the fact that the resting experience bonus is not tied to a population center and characters can remain out in the field rather than home-based in main towns. Population distribution FTW!
With a rolling start, people also had a chance to gather resources, drops, work on tradeskills, etc. so the early game economy is in a more stable state. Money may be relatively in short supply for complete noobs, but pricing and availability of items on the auction house is comparatively stable. Likewise, competition for new resources is substantially lessened– capped players could start working on their second tier tradeskill items and quests outside the lowbie zone. Supply and Demand FTW!
Finally, for those that don’t know, when you enter the LotRO world, you first complete an introduction instance after which you are dropped into an instanced version of the real world limited to all noobs. This noob world instancing allows several story line driven events to occur before dropping the noob player, now a typically level 5 or 6 toon, into the “real” world. This can be bypassed once you have a level 10 character, but not advisable because of the early gear and advancement make it worth the small commitment of time.
The major effect of this instancing though (aside from the story line) is that all the noobs are concentrated away from the general population, again reducing overall lag in the world. Though I wasn’t in the noob instances on launch day, others I’ve talked to reported not unreasonable lag and only the usual amount of not unreasonable competition for required quest items and drops, named spawn camping and the like.
I’m sure it wasn’t Burning Crusade in terms of sheer numbers, but the combination of these two factors made for a smooth rolling start. I’ve got to think that other games slated for release might be considering a similar strategy (and if not, they should be). From where I’m sitting, Turbine did a pretty good job getting LotRO off the ground.