Today we're bringing you the second and concluding part of our interview with Jeffrey Steefel, executive producer on The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. We quiz him about the current MMO scene, possibilities of a Lord of the Rings console MMO and the future of the genre...
(Missed the first part of our interview with Jeffrey Steefel? Play catch-up here).
There have been several new MMORPGs announced in recent months. Do you think the genre is expanding too rapidly, and do you think there are developers that are looking at the dollar signs rather than actually taking time to consider what it takes to deliver a game of this type and maintain it?
Jeffrey Steefel: I think it's a couple of things. One, you're right, there's dozens and dozens of MMOs. I think some of them are driven by people who read about these games and go, "Wow, we could make a lot of money. We've made games before. We'll just make an MMO", and they're just going to discover how hard it really is.
I only know that, we only know that, because we have the scars to prove it. This is our fourth MMO - this stuff is hard to do. So a lot of them won't see the light of day.
To your point, some of them will launch, but then the whole process of the running them, operating them successfully, is another huge thing that I think people underestimate. I think that'll have some impact. And then also, some of them will succeed and drive and it's a good thing.
What's happening with MMOs is something that happens with most media. You start out as a narrow niche, but now it's getting broader and it's going to start to segment.
When you look at the audience that Lord of the Rings reaches, it's a very broad audience.
A couple of other key developers in the MMO space we've spoken with recently have both said one thing they'd like to see is developers take more risks in the genre - is that something you'd agree with?
Steefel: It depends on what your goal is. That's always the argument. For example, Lord of the Rings - we made a conscious choice, not to not innovate because we have innovated in some of the gameplay significantly, the whole advancement with the deeds and traits system and Monster Play, but we didn't want to say "This is going to be a completely different kind of gameplay".
Because at the end of the day people are coming to play an MMO as they understand it in the Lord of the Rings universe.
You change things around too much and then it's disorientating, we're losing for people the very thing that they've come to play.
I think there's definitely room for innovation, the question is in what way. Designers need to come up with ways that that whole experience of being online with other people can be innovated, but at the same time the marketing people and business development people need to start figuring out "Who is the market? What do they want? How do we introduce new ideas?"
Innovation is one of those dangerous words. I would say to any developers that say they'd like to see innovation, "Great, they should go do it". I mean that literally. They should go and figure it out. But it takes a lot of money to make these games and that's a lot of risk. How many risks do you want to take when it's something that costs tens of millions of dollars to make?
But yeah, I agree, we need to push the genre forward and there's a lot of capability for that. I want to do it from here.