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Turbine - CEO Jim Crowley on New Investors

Recently, it was announced that Turbine would be receiving $40 million in equity financing from two different companies, GGV Capital and media giant Time Warner. MMORPG.com Managing Editor Jon Wood caught up with Turbine president and CEO Jim Crowley to talk about what the announcement means and a little bit about the future of the company.

Recently Turbine, the company behind Asheron’s Call, Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online, announced that they have raised $40 million in equity financing from two companies; the first is GGV Capital, a “leader in expansion-stage venture capital investments”. The second, and more recognizable new investor is media giant Time Warner.

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“This is truly an exciting time for Turbine. The addition of Time Warner, one of the world’s largest media companies, and GGV Capital, one of the financial community’s most sophisticated investors, adds a level of access, perspective and experience to Turbine that is singularly unique in the global online entertainment space,” said Jim Crowley, president and CEO of Turbine, Inc. in the announcement press release. “Turbine has an extraordinary team, incredible technology and a growing portfolio of games based on some of the most popular brands ever created. With this funding we are uniquely positioned to change the future of online entertainment as we bring new titles to market, expand the platforms we support and introduce new technologies to sustain self-evolving game worlds.”

For those of you out there, like myself, who aren’t sure what equity financing is, Investopedia describes it as: “The act of raising money for company activities by selling common or preferred stock to individual or institutional investors. In return for the money paid, shareholders receive ownership interests in the corporation.”

In a conversation about the announcement, Crowley told MMORPG.com that the move is not much different from the way that any other company raises capital. They are simply selling equity, which is how they grow their business as they have “major initiatives” coming up.

In terms of their new backers, GGV, among other things, provides the company with more Asian market experience, as the company has what Crowley referred to as “feet on the ground” in Asia. The Asian marketplace may be more important than ever for Turbine as they prepare to launch Lord of the Rings Online in Korea in the second half of 2008 and a later Chinese launch late in the year or in 2009 and GGV provides, “an expertise that most Western companies don’t have organically.”

That brings us to talk a little bit about the more recognizable of the pair of companies in Time Warner. Now, just to give you a little bit of background on Time Warner, they are (obviously) a media giant and among the many projects that they have produced over the years was a little film trio directed by a guy named Peter Jackson. Of course, I’m talking about the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Obviously, the partnership is one that makes sense for both parties. The overlap of IPs alone, without going into too much detail. With the announcement so new, Crowley was unable to give any specifics, but it stands to reason that there might be some cross-promotional work and maybe even a new Turbine IP (Though this is more speculative on my part than anything).

Said Crowley, “I think you can anticipate that over time, maybe not a long period of time, Turbine will be talking about new IPs and other things that will be coming down the line.”

I went on to ask Crowley how much input and control these new backers are going to have over Turbine and its processes:

“Turbine runs its business by doing what we think is right. We have our investors like any other company does, but they don’t control the company. There has been no change in the control of the company, we’ve just become a stronger company with more depth and more experience.”

So, what this really boils down to in the end is what this announcement will mean for the average Turbine customer:

“What it means in a nutshell is that there is tons of fun and entertainment coming down the pipe. Regardless of this announcement, one of the things that Turbine is focused on and wants to do is make sure that current and future players have an extraordinary experience.”

In the future, he said, they have Lord of the Rings Online mapped out on a five year plan so that players will be able to experience new content and / or expansions for the next five years (and beyond, but they do have a roadmap for the next five).

“It assures continuity. Turbine remains devoted and very passionate to insure a steady stream of content coming down in current game worlds and in future game worlds. That’s first and foremost. Secondly, it means that we’re growing in many different directions.”

In their original press release, Turbine said that they would “change the future of online entertainment”. This being a rather bold assertion, I asked Crowley if he could give us an idea of what exactly that means.

First, he told me that Turbine is investigating the world of cross-platform games, meaning consoles. “These worlds are so rich and robust, we do want them to be shared across platforms, both for existing and future worlds,” Crowley said. We should expect more details on the how and when “later on in the year”. He did make a point of clarifying that Turbine will remain dedicated to the PC, but want to make sure that people who want to enjoy the games (present and future) on the console will be able to do that.

Second, Turbine is going to look toward further empowering the user. They want to be able to incorporate user generated content into their worlds. “We think that’s really the next generation of MMOs,” he said. “Where the team is focused, is in the concepts of truly customizing environments… true freeform placement of objects and self-creation of dungeons and landscapes, even modelling and texture assets, etc.” He also talked about giving players more customization not only of their characters, but of the level caps, spells, attacks and other areas of the game. In short, Turbine is investigating ways to give the user more power over the games that they play. They plan to talk more about these concepts over the next few months.

While these ideas that were mentioned above would require a good deal of technological innovation as well, Crowley feels that Turbine is “uniquely situated to solve those technology challenges, just like I think we’re uniquely situated to solve the cross-platform MMO technology challenges. We’ve been here a long time. We’re really on our fifth generation of internal technology here so a lot of these efforts, while they are expensive and hard and require time and careful planning, they are well within our capabilities and we’re very excited about it.”

Third, they are working on issues of accessibility. Right now, with MMOs, it is often if not always the case that players will get their box or their download and then have to spend a great deal of time patching the game. This takes away from a player’s (and if you think about it possibly more importantly, a customer’s) experience with the game. It can also be intimidating to a lot of people who might be looking to try an MMO for the first time. Crowley feels that it doesn’t need to be that way and Turbine will be working toward solving the issue.

“One of our internal talking points is ‘you need to be in the world within a couple of minutes, from the time you click on a web ad (for example) to the time you’re in the world and that’s very do-able”.

When all is said and done, it seems as though the investment announcement from Turbine will mean changes for players, but changes that Turbine hopes will innovate and improve not only their existing titles, but also their future titles. We are told to sit tight for a while and in the coming weeks and months we will hear more about the specifics on how some of these ideas will come to fruition.

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