Two years ago today, players had their first official chance to log into J.R.R.Tolkien's Middle-Earth when Turbine launched Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. To commemorate the event, Turbine held a press conference to talk about where the game has been, and where it's headed.
As you might expect, Turbine has taken this opportunity not only to celebrate their own achievement, but also to give something back to their players. From April 24th until June 30th when someone buys LotRO through Turbine's E-Store, they get it for $9.99. Also, players who purchase game time are able to do so at a discounted price. If they buy in three, six or 12 month increments, then it only costs an average of $9.99 per month. It's also Welcome Back Week for former players who can now log back into the game and play for free with a 25% bonus to experience. At the end of the promotion (June 30th) all active subscribers will be given an in-game item called the writ of passage that makes stable master travel 20% cheaper.
Promotions aside, Turbine was really there to talk about the game. Executive Producer, Jeffrey Steefel, took the stage and laid out the goals of the game over the first two years of its existence:
"The first goal was to make sure that we launched a game that we were proud of that was a leading product in the industry that was high quality and stable, and we really felt like we accomplished that," he said.
"The first year was really about 'what is it about the game now that we have a population in Middle-Earth that we're learning about the game that can make it better?' There was a lot of focus in the first year on how do we flesh out the game to make it everything the players imagined it would be..."
"In the second year, we were very focused on establishing that we are now a leader in the space and this is something that we intended to do for a very long time, LotRO is something that's going to continue to grow and evolve and lead for a very long time so the second year was really focused on making sure that this was something we do on a regular basis, that we continue to drive at quality that we continue regular book updates, put out our first expansion... and at the same time, not resting on our laurels, making sure that we take opportunities where we can."
The physical map in Lord of the Rings Online has grown by 70% since launch through new regions added both in the expansion Mines of Moria and in the game's regular "book" updates. Over the last two years, the quest content in the game has nearly doubled, 13 book updates have been added to what Turbine calls the Epic Story, and new systems like housing, reputation, barber shops, and among others have been added.
Steefel went on to talk a little bit about what we can expect in the third year of the game. He told the assembled media that players should expect more of the same kind of updates that they've seen over the previous two years, with the addition of a new perspective. Turbine is confident that their game has come into its own and that it's going to be around "for a long time to come." They're pleased with the community that they've been able to build in terms of players who have stayed, players who are just joining and players who have left and come back. They feel that this has made for a vibrant and thriving community.
Players should expect to see a continued focus on the game's new player experience and an effort to make smaller party grouping more accessible. Turbine will also be introducing players to new areas of Middle-earth.
"There's sort of a natural progression in what we're trying to do to make sure that we're ahead of the curve, staying on top of what our players want and what the industry needs and at the same time, trying to evolve," said Steefel. "This is a game that's going to be around for a long time. We don't want it to be the game that we launched in 2007 now, or two years from now."
Steefel explained that while content upgrades are certainly part of this plan to continue to evolve, the engineers that work on the game deserve a lot of credit as well, as they continue to push what it is that LotRO's engine can do. This is vital to continued game evolution.
Moving directly into their third year, the first thing that Turbine sees on the horizon is Book 8, the next free update that moves the game's Epic Story along.
This new update will bring players back to Moria to help to settle some new unrest that has risen from the deeps. They promise some new instanced content in this area and will also introduce some small party instances, three to six man stuff, that players have told them has worked in the past. Book 8 will also include some new larger group instances.
Turbine also plans to continue work on enhancements to the advancement paths that they started in the earlier levels and generally to update the rest of the game with what they've learned.
In the next few updates, Steefel revealed that new territory will be unlocked as they move towards Southern Mirkwood. This new area will reveal a major stronghold of Sauron's, Dol Guldor, as players work to stop the forces that threaten Lothlorien and other locations held by the Free People.
Sometime this year, Turbine plans to boost the level cap, though Steefel didn't divulge the exact new number or when players could expect to see it. He also teased a new feature, which they internally call "skirmishes," but didn't drop any hints as to what that feature may be.
"Skirmishes are the natural evolution from the focus on small party dynamic instance experiences that takes it to a whole new level... These are instances that will be dynamic in nature and repeatable. They will be dynamic in that they will be aware of the type of party in the instance and will respond accordingly so there will be a flexibility and dynamic nature to the content itself that will actually respond to how big or small your party is. In addition, you are going to have multiple objectives in these instances that are going to give you many reasons to want to do them many times with different people, different sizes, and different kinds of groups. It takes the idea of a small, sort of contained experience within an instance with a tight party group and takes it to the next level.
"The last thing that's really cool about it," Steefel continued, "is that you're going to be able to train customizable soldiers that you can bring with your party into that space and actually control."
With so many exciting things clearly on the horizon, it is clear that Turbine remains fully committed to Lord of the Rings Online. Year three should be an exciting for the community.