As the beta for Lord of the Rings Online's free-to-play system winds up, players who have previously subscribed will be given early access to the live game from today. For everyone else, it begins September 10th.
Lord of the Rings Online was never a game that needed to go free-to-play to survive. Through word of mouth, it had gathered a strong enough base for Turbine to crank out consistent, meaningful content updates.
But when Dungeons & Dragons Online (a game that did need some help) made the move, its revenue increased by 500%. Let's hope history repeats itself.
It doesn't look like you'll be able to pay for an advantage over other players - most purchasable items are based on convenience. And players will have the option of becoming a VIP member, with benefits such as priority server access and all premium content. However there are a couple of classes (released with one of the game's expansions) only available to paying players.
Although it's been a long time since I've played, my own impression of LOTRO is a game not so concerned with "tricking" you to keep playing, with long dungeons and repetitive grind quests. Rather, the focus is on fellowship and finely tuned combat. You don't have to be a Lord of the Rings fan (although the significance of NPCs like Tom Bombadil will go over the heads of those who've only watched the movies), but if you appreciate good writing, there's plenty of that in the game's quests and lore.
My time as a Loremaster is one of my better MMO memories, it's definitely worth checking out.