Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down for a phone conversation with Jeffrey Steefel, the Executive Producer of Turbine's hit game, Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar.
By the Numbers
While Jeff, not surprisingly, wouldn't talk about exact figures, the success of the game is difficult to deny, just look at the shelf of your local game store. I know the EB down the road to me has an entire shelf dedicated to the game.
While he wouldn't talk about specific numbers, Jeff did say this: "We are tracking to the plan we had for bringing this game out into the market. We know we launched successfully... and now we're looking at how we can reach out to a larger audience."
"We're growing in every possible direction," said Jeffrey, speaking about the game's success. He went on to tell me that not only did they have a simultaneous launch in North America and Europe, but that the game has been as successful with the Europeans as it was here in NA. "This IP has a native resonance with them in the same way it does for North Americans."
Beyond those two markets, Germany, I am told is a big market for the game and with the game already launched in Japan and a Chinese launch coming up (as well as other parts of Asia), the future looks bright for this game in terms of overall subscribers.
A Horse is a Horse
For this interview, there were a number of different questions that I wanted to ask that really didn't have too much in common, so I'll get right to the point; horses. For those of you out there who might not be aware, when you ride your own horse in Lord of the Rings Online, you auto-dismount whenever you are hit. On the surface, this doesn't seem like a huge problem. The game isn't built for combat on horseback, so there is a system in place to prevent it. The problem comes when even the slightest tap from a weak creature you have no intention of fighting will effectively unhorse you.
Jeff reassured me that Turbine is aware of the problem and is currently looking for an appropriate way to solve it. Mounts are something that they are paying a good deal of attention to in relation to the game's future:
"We have to take mounts to the next ten levels by the time we get to Rohan. As we're working on how to do that, we imagine that some of the fruits of that will work their way into the existing game over the next year."
Session Play (General)
Session Play is a feature that is being added to Lord of the Rings Online that will allow players to inhabit the bodies of either Rangers, Trolls or... Chickens. If you haven't heard about Chicken Play yet, be patient, we'll get there.
Session Play is different from Monster Play, the game's current PvP (or PvM) system, which allows players to inhabit a monster character that is persistent and can be upgraded. In Session Play, not only is your time limited, but the inhabited creature is not upgradeable.
"Why then," I asked, "include Session Play?"
Jeffrey told me that Session Play was added with an overarching goal for the Lord of the Rings Online team in mind: "How can we continue to provide smaller, more finite gameplay experiences to a wide variety of players?"
Trolls and Rangers
The logic behind the addition of Trolls and Rangers is that it allows people to play elite characters, "it lets you inhabit one of the elite monsters and elite heroes of Middle Earth."
The problem, Steefel says, is that often, when they come to the game, people are looking for two, totally conflicting experiences. First, they want to play an MMORPG, with all of the conventions of that genre. You start off weak, and you work your way up. Second though, people want to be Aragorn, they want to be Legolas. They want to do all of those cool, epic things they've read about or seen on the screen. With Session Play, LotRO hopes to let the players have their cake and eat it too.
Nobody Calls Me Chicken
When I asked Jeffrey about Session Play as a whole, I told him that it was probably best if we broke it up between the Troll and Ranger information and the Chicken Play aspect. After all, the rationale had to have been totally different. As it turned out, the reasons behind adding Chicken Play to the game were similar to those of adding the Troll and Ranger Play. They wanted to give as many people as possible, as many ways as possible to experience Middle-Earth.
"It's been a goofy idea that's been floated around since we started talking about Monster Play," Jeffrey told me when I asked how this idea came to pass. Apparently though, the idea grew on people, and Chicken Play was born. It might be a silly idea, but it's a silly idea with a purpose:
"You read Tolkien and what you get is the darkest most epic most grand thing possible, but in the end... he had a sense of humor," Steefel said. "The more we can add that into the tone of the game, the better." Jeffrey did admit though that Chicken Play was largely born out of the fact that they had already created a Session Play system, so the development of this aspect wasn't a gargantuan undertaking. It isn't likely that they would have built an entire system simply to allow Chickens to be played.
We talked a little bit about the idea that some people had said that Lord of the Rings Online had a chance to kill Blizzard's popular World of Warcraft.
His response was simple: "Why would we want to do that? We're a different game from WoW. We want the market to be alive and growing"
"Our goal," he said, "is to be the second most successful MMO, period."
"This," Jeffrey said of all of the work and planning that is going into continuing to expand and grow the content in Lord of the Rings Online, "is the beginning of a very long franchise."