There's no disputing that World of Warcraft is currently the king of the MMO genre, but Lord of the Rings Online has managed hold its own, attracting a solid user base in a year since its launch.
With the expansion pack Mines of Moria now firmly in the pipeline, we sat down with the executive producer to find out what's next.
Turbine has a reputation for having a non-volatile community. How have you nurtured this?
Jeffrey Steefel: A lot of companies are moving into the online space from packaged goods, where the goal is to get the person to buy the box. And you want the person to have a good enough experience that they buy the next box that will come out in a few years.
Whereas with us, at least 50 percent of the value of subscription is the community itself. The community is the most valuable asset we have and the hugest opportunity we have. The challenge is to really know what they players think, because it's very easy for a small number of people to create the perception of what the players think. The infamous vocal minority.
How do you deal with opinions that are just angry?
Steefel: We still listen to the angry vocal minority, because sometimes underneath all that hate is something that's an issue. But if a bunch of people are saying, "This is terrible, this is broken," then we'll go to our data and if see that a large group of people who start that content don't finish it. If they don't, I know I've got a problem.
How are you going about attracting new players to the game?
Steefel: A lot of that is about awareness. We discovered that when we launched LotRO, not many people in the general populace knew about Lord of the Rings Online. In fact, most people didn't even know it existed. We need to look outside the little bubble that is 'the traditional core gaming market' and figure out who those people are and how to reach them. We've been building virtual communities for fifteen years. So trying to associate those two ideas is very powerful. We're spending a fair amount of time to do that.
Are you moving towards a more casual market then?
Steefel: I think that to get to the broader audience, it's really imperative for us and the industry to start making it so you can get into our game within thirty minutes, or ten minutes, or eventually one day instantly.
Was this something you took onboard when designing the first sequences in the game before launch, or are you going to retrospectively change the beginning due to this?
Steefel: No matter how accessible the game is, getting into it is a bitch. All these games - and you look at the games that are coming out now, you're talking 20-30gb installs before you get to the gameplay. That's overwhelming for someone.
The other problem is that the nature of the game itself. These are very complicated games. How do you turn the overall game of the MMO into the lots of smaller and more accessible paths that people can play, so you don't have to be the killer who wants to get to level 60 as fast as possible?
How do you justify charging for an expansion pack when players have been getting content up until now for free?
It's interesting, cause at the end of the day so much is going online, but retail is still very important. It's still a place where people learn about games, it's a place where if you're not on the shelf, at least from time to time, somehow there's implication you're not viable.