Once each month, someone from MMORPG.com sits down with the Lord of the Rings Online developers at Turbine to participate in a conference call. This month it was my turn to take part in our regular monthly talk with Turbine, where they normally share a few new details about an upcoming expansion, a new promotion, an event, or a new feature that they’re particularly excited about. But this month’s interview came at an odd time in Turbine’s development cycle and in our news cycle. They had just launched Book 13: Doom of the Last King which opened up the icy Forochel region in the north of Eriador, and they were too early in the development of Book 14 and the Mines of Moria expansion, which is due out later this year, to talk about those projects in detail. On top of that, I had just spoken to Craig Alexander, Turbine’s VP of Product Development at the New York Comic Con just two weeks before. Basically, there wasn’t a lot of new information available. All that needs to be said about the above topics has either already been said, or isn’t ready for the public, so with that in mind, now seems like a good time to catch up with Turbine and the flurry of activity that has surrounded LotRO’s first year of operation.
Welcome Back Weekend
To celebrate the successful completion of the game’s first year Turbine has been running a few in-game events and the welcome back weekend promotion which began this past weekend. As the name implies, the welcome back weekend is an event where they reactivate old accounts and allow former players to return to the game and see how the game has grown and changed since they last played. The game has grown considerably, 30% in terms of geography since launch, with four free expansions, the latest of which added the final regions of Eriador. Of course events like the welcome back weekend that try to convince former players to start paying for a subscriptions again often raise eyebrows among wary players as these events often occur toward the end of a game’s life or when a game is otherwise suffering from low subscription numbers. I asked if this was anything close to what is going on behind the scenes and the answer was a resounding no. Sometimes a promotion can be the harbinger of doom, and but more often than not, a promotion is just a promotion. This promotion is to mark the game’s first anniversary, and to give former players the chance to come back and explore the new features and areas, and from Turbine’s perspective, hopefully like what they see and re-subscribe. They followed that up with a long list of activities at Turbine that indicate that the game is in very good shape and has an even brighter future.
New Staff and the Korean Launch
Since launch, Turbine has increased the Lord of the Rings Online dev team by 25% in terms of staff, and as the closed beta test begins for the game’s Korean launch, Turbine’s team in Korea has grown to almost the same size as their North American counterpart. To be clear, the Korean team is just for LotRO, just for Korea. They have a completely separate group preparing for launch in China as well. Typically, a developer having more employees post launch than they had pre launch, and launching the game in several major gaming regions are also signs of an MMO’s overall health. They also pointed out that despite Turbine’s swelling ranks, Turbine is still hiring, and anyone who’s interested and who’s got the right skills is encouraged to visit TurbineJobs.com to see if there are any openings that might suit them.
It makes sense that a large team would be needed to launch a game in a new region and fully localize a game into another language while maintaining AAA level quality. But you may be wondering what else they’re working on to justify a large and growing team.
I’m glad you asked.
Turbine has been maintaining a brisk pace in terms of updates. Their latest was Book 13: Doom of the Last King, which launched fairly smoothly, keeping to Turbine’s tradition of smooth launches. We’ve already written at length about Book 13 on this site so I won’t rehash the details here. I asked how fans were receiving the latest update, and they said the reaction thus far has been positive. As I mentioned, this was an odd time in the development cycle for an interview. It was too soon after launch to get a full impression of fan reactions, generally the first week is where they hold their breath, hope no major bugs pop up, and react to issues that may arise.
A new feature that was also introduced in Book 13 was fishing, where players can gather the aquatic bounty of Middle Earth for fun and profit. Fishing is one of those features that, in an MMO, you either get it or you don’t. I’m one of those people that doesn’t get it, and even I’ve had fun fishing. If you haven’t tried it it’s worth checking out, even just for the novelty.
Beyond the Asian launches and the most recent content updates, Turbine is preparing for the next major step for Lord of the Rings Online. Later this year they’ll be launching their first paid expansion, the Mines of Moria, which advances the story out of Eriador, and they promised that in the coming months they’ll be able to tell us a little more about Book 14, Moria, and more.