First off, the most recent tempest in LoTRO was the release of War of the Three Peaks mini-expansion. It hasn't been well received because it's pretty much the same size as previous content updates that have been given out free to subbers and lifetime account holders. For example, we got all of Gondor for free, and that's quite a big larger than the Three Peaks area. Yet, SSG decided to charge everyone $20 for access to the new area, and allowed whales to spend up to $100 for collectors editions with fairly anemic offerings. Massively has a good write up on the whole mess. However, this completely bungled release makes perfect sense if we assume that SSG desperately needed to get their revenue-per-player up ahead of the sale of Daybreak to EG7.
Here Begins Wild Speculation
In all likelihood SSG had planned the War of the Three Peaks as a free update to keep players engaged ahead of the release of the next paid expansion: Gundabad. However, Daybreak likely forced a change to these plans in order to demonstrate to EG7 that SSG is a financially valuable asset. Even worse, there may have been a danger of SSG getting left on the cutting room floor by EG7 during the daybreak purchase if they didn't take this chance to show their quality. This scenario would also explain why SSG didn't release full details about what was included in the various mini-expansion packages until the last possible minute. SSG wasn't originally expecting to sell the content, and didn't know themselves what would be included in them until pretty much the day they went on sale. The boar mount might represent a positively herculean effort from some poor designer tasked with adding value to the most expensive package at the last minute.
Prepping for the sale may also explain some of the difficulties with DDO's latest expansion, Fables of the Feywild. It had a pretty rocky development. Originally it was going to come with a raise in the level cap and "legendary levels." However over the summer SSG changed their minds and greatly scaled things back. They stated that it was because they didn't think they could stick to a reasonable release schedule without pruning features. However things may have been a bit more dire than that, they may have had a hard deadline on the expansion release set by Daybreak. Regardless, changing the development goals for the expansion mid-stream appears to have thrown a lot of wrenches into the works.
The consensus that has emerged around Feywild is that it's a weak expansion overall. It has some good quests, some that are only ok and two quests (Needle in a Fey Stack and the Legend of the Lost Locket) that many players are calling out as absolutely terrible designs. Overall the content so far is of about the same size as the Ruins of Gianthold, an adventure pack you can buy for less than 1000 DDO points (though admittedly Gianthold is one of the most generous adventure packs). On top of that, because the highest level loot is the same level as loot from Sharn (the previous expansion), very little of it is an upgrade for most players. In heroics things are even worse, with the level five weapons that the expansion added being much worse than weapons you can easily craft in the same level range. The race that was added, Shifter, has also not been very well received. All in all I have never seen the community turn sour on a DDO expansion so quickly. Just about the only bright spot is the new universal tree Feydark Illusionist, which has opened up some interesting build possibilities and seems well received.
The Future of DDO
The report from EG7 gives a lot of insight into the bottom line of DDO and LoTRO. DDO has about 20K paying players, LoTRO has about 40K. The overall revenue from LoTRO is higher than DDO. However, DDO has the highest monthly average revenue per-paying-player of any game in the Daybreak portfolio. In other words, the income of DDO is disproportionately dependent on whales. That actually makes perfect sense, and may explain some of the design elements of DDO that seem stacked against casual players.
DDO more than almost any MMO I have played has a huge disparity in character power between the haves and the have-nots. I've posted about it before indirectly, but the short version is that thousands of dollars or absolutely crazed amounts of grinding separate a character with maxed out past lives from one that only has a few. A character with 100+ past lives under their belt is practically a god walking compared to a first life character, with much higher baseline stats across the board. Good gear can help a lot, but obviously a character with jillions of past lives also has access to the same gear. So gear can't really close the power gap so much as make past lives a smaller percentage of overall character power (e.g., you'll be 30% behind instead of 50%). Further, these grinds can very easily be bypassed by spending large sums of money. For past lives there is an item in the DDO store called Otto's Box that costs about $40 or $50. That and a $20 heart gets you one free past life. Getting all possible past lives that way, or even just the first 40 or so that you need for a character that's really strong in one role (e.g., tank or DPS), would run into thousands of dollars.
The gear grind is no better. The odds of getting a high end item that is good for your build on any given quest run is astronomically low. On the difficulties that a first life character in found gear can handle (Normal or Hard in epics), the odds are 3% or less on any given run of a quest that has an item you need. However, if a chest doesn't have the piece of loot you want you can also reroll the chest using shards. You will get a few shards just by playing, but the only realistic way to get enough to roll your way to complete item sets is to buy them in the DDO store. All of this combines to make DDO feel like "whales the MMO" if you have any intention of playing it at higher difficulties. It's one reason why I generally only play heroic level (1-20) content (the other being my compulsive urge to roll alts).
Further, given that the only real financial strength that DDO has compared to the other Daybreak games is the high monthly revenue per-paying-player, SSG probably can't really afford to back off of this somewhat whale centric design. DDO will likely remain a game that is uniquely challenging for new players to get going in, both because of the power gap between vets and new players and a steep learning curve.
The Future of LoTRO
On the LoTRO front things are looking a lot better. I would say the future of the game is looking brighter than it has for a long time. EG7 says that they are planning to invest in improvements such as graphical enhancements and console ports to capitalize on the Amazon Prime Lord of the Rings series that is filming now. Amazon also has their own Lord of the Rings MMO in development, but all indications are that it's still years off yet. Even if the Amazon game were coming out tomorrow, it would likely really pale before LoTRO in some ways. LoTRO has more content than practically any MMO out (EQ excepted of course). Every single area described in any detail in the Lord of the Rings books, and many more that were only hinted at, are now present in the game. As a faithful virtual manifestation of a fictional setting, it's absolutely unparalleled. Walking around inside the game is one nerdgasm after another for any kind of a fan of the books. Courses on Tolkien are even taught inside the game.
However LoTRO is also badly showing its age. There are tons of cludgy outdated systems like legendary items, mounted combat and epic battles that you run into as you level through the game. The environments are still holding up surprisingly well for such an old game, but the character models aren't that great . . . even after the recent revamp. Perhaps worst of all is that the game barely runs on Windows 10 systems. Just google "Lotro windows 10" to see what I mean. You get tons of hits for players struggling with the game. Hell just look at this trouble shooting guide some player put together. Having to go through a checklist like that to *maybe* get the game to run is simply absurd. My most recent run in LoTRO ended when the game wigged out and refused to open for the third time in less than two months on a Windows 10 laptop. I couldn't bring myself to spend yet another evening googling and trouble shooting my installation. Despite having fun there when I was able to get it to run, I finally gave up and uninstalled it.
I think LoTRO has great potential, and I hope that EG7 will help it get there. LoTRO has a great IP that is going to get a lot of attention soon, and to my tastes is an amazingly well realized version of Tolkien's world. If EG7 can polish off some of the rough edges, or even get the game to run reliably on Windows 10, I think they could have a real success story on their hands.