Live LOTRO interview Finished
The Lord of the Rings Online ring-bearer Jeffrey Steefel has been answering your questions about the game.
He's touched on console MMOs to subscription figures to Book updates and what's likely to be in them.
Thank you to all who turned up and asked questions, and apologies to those that didn't get answered.
What follows is the full transcript of our live interview with Turbine's Jeffrey Steefel. The earliest questions and answers are at the top.
Our live coverage has now ended. Here's what you missed: Updating...
Super Moderating Hero: And off we go. First things first, Jeffrey, could you please give us a bit of background about yourself and tell us why you're so famous?
Jeffrey Steefel: LOL! Famous in my own mind anyway!
I am the Executive Producer for LOTRO and have been since we started. I've been at Turbine for about five years. I have been making games since about 1992 across all kinds of genres and platforms.
Working on LOTRO has definitely been one of the high points.
In Europe, LOTRO was released without that much fuss and almost seems to be 'the best MMO you're not playing'. Do you think it's fair to say the game doesn't get the recognition it deserves? And in light of that, do you find it frustrating when people eulogise about another game's 'new' features when those features have been in place in LOTRO for months? (BTW, it's a great game - kudos to everybody involved!)
Jeffrey Steefel: Well, first and foremost, it's fantastic to get the continuous feedback on LOTRO we get that is so positive. The response to Moria has been overwhelming in this regard.
We love our players and the community world-wide, and of course we want more and more people aware of this amazing game.
In terms of things that we have put into LOTRO that may be making appearances in other games in one way or another - there's the old addage about "sincerest form of flattery"...
Super Moderating Hero: What's the uptake been like on Mines of Moria and the new Warden and Runekeeper classes? And how do they sit next to the traditional flock that have had time to be balanced through numerous tweaks?
Jeffrey Steefel: Well it's really too early to tell much about the new classes. We need to see people advance through them a bit and have a few months under our belt looking at the interaction with other class roles.
But the adoption of Runekeeper and Warden has been great and you can see them running all over Middle-Earth right now. Overall, it feels like players are enjoying the new classes the way we had hoped.
The balance overall seems solid, especially after some work we did with the class balancing after feedback during Beta. But as I said, we'll be watching closely through the end of the year to see how things go as the population matures.
Is there any chance that the old maps and quests will be revamped both for new and re-rolling players? Or is new content your focus?
Jeffrey Steefel: I think we've pretty clearly demonstrated our commitment to the game overall since launch.
Where needed, we do go back and alter existing content to accommodate learning, maturation of the community and the industry overall.
We've done a lot, completely revamping Angmar, adding tons of solo content and even revising Epic content to make it more solo friendly...
We are working on some pretty awesome improvements to the earlier parts of the game that we'll talk more about after the New Year.
That said, a big focus of NEW content is to drive to our players what we think they crave most based on where they are in the game experience.
When is the next Book update coming?
Jeffrey Steefel: Soon! Soon!
Seriously, we are already at work on (Volume II) Book 7, which will launch early next year.
Do you still think it's important to release an expansion every year, considering your main competitors, Blizzard and Mythic, have said they won't?
Jeffrey Steefel: We have been driving our content strategy based on our game and our audience. What other folks do is driven by their needs.
The bottom line is that we believe we need to deliver ongoing, quality and meaningful content to our subscribers regularly. This is serial entertainment in a sense, and we all expect it to continue to grow and evolve.
So the Book updates will continue, and frequent expansions as well...
Super Moderating Hero: What about the next expansion - are you still on course for 2009? Is the theme Rohan?
Jeffrey Steefel: So many questions!
We have already begun work on the next expansion. And as always, we'll ship it when we think it's ready and best serves the players' needs.
And I can't talk yet about what it is, but suffice it to say that now we're past the Misty Mountains, the world is full of exciting places to go.
When will we see new Hobbies and what will they be? When are you going to add more monster play battlegrounds?
Jeffrey Steefel: Hey, that's three questions!
We have a lot of great ideas for new Hobbies and when we launch the next one will depend on how it stacks up against other features and content needs from the players.
As for battlegrounds, with Moria we started to expand the way they work, and we'll continue to do so.
Now that we are moving East and into the more war-torn parts of Middle-earth during the Third Age, there are going to be lots of opportunities for war-like conflict.
We'll be talking about the future plans for monster play next year...
Theres a huge scope of lore and history and a lot of places you can take the game story wise. Is there any part of the story/events/ characters yourself or the team are personally looking forward to working on and bringing to the players?
Jeffrey Steefel: Oh man, there is soooo much!
It's all very cool and that's the best part about moving out of Eriador. We have amazing things ahead like Fangorn, or Isengard, Gondor, Rohan, Edoras.
The events surrounding The Fellowship as they split up: Wormtongue and Eomer, Sauruman's amassing an army, or armies at Orthanc - it goes on and on!
Are there any plans to join any of the servers up? I really like this game, but on the Euro/Eng server I'm on the; whole place feels barren. Or is there plans to release a console version? wink, nudge, wink
Jeffrey Steefel: In terms of server capacity and operation, that really is managed by Codemasters and they I am sure will do whatever drives the best player experience.
We also think that new classes, content and expansions like Moria will increase the density of existing servers.
"Console"? I'm not familiar with that term...
Super Moderating Hero: Ha, come on, spill the beans - is it a console version of LOTRO or an entirely different MMO you're working on?
Jeffrey Steefel: We're really right now focused on what will make a great console persistent online game. What is it that is particularly compelling about MMO vs. single-player games? What is particularly cool about playing on a console?
How can we bring the best of each together and create a new kind of compelling experience?
This drives tech development, UI capability, design concepts, so many things we are exploring...
Once we have that figured out, then we'll start talking about what content to build it around.
Super Moderating Hero: Why do you think there's been no really successful console MMO yet? Is this the right flock of consoles to make it a reality? Or is there too much red tape?
Jeffrey Steefel: Many reasons, most of which are clearing out now.
The consoles themselves were not well equipped to be online (connection, BB, HD, etc...)
The console companies had no real strategy for a service to contain all of the online play.
The games that were tried for Console MMO were really just a 1-1 port of existing PC games, and trying to map PC controls to controllers, which doesn't work.
But now X360 and PS3 are online and in a big way; Live is really good and Sony is doing a lot of great things to catch up, and we are looking at this as a new platform...
Right then, let's get back to LOTRO. What's the best class for a newcomer to play? What yields the best game experience? [I'll stop asking questions in a minute I promise - Ed]
Jeffrey Steefel: It really depends on what kind of game experience you want.
The newer classes are likely the most complicated, The Hunter tends to be a favorite starter class as does the Champion.
If you want to stay in groups and a bit away from the action a Minstrel is a good choice.
Any plans to allow Dwarves to become Wardens? I was under the impression that the animations were to complex to add to MoM for launch.
Jeffrey Steefel: We're going to see how the new classes settle out before we look at any significant changes.
Are there any future plans to allow for customisation of the user interface or the introduction of add-ons?
Jeffrey Steefel: Not currently, but we are taking a pretty deep look at the Turbine Engine UI system overall and will be making a great deal of improvements over the next year, so who knows?
The game looks simply amazing on DX10, especially for an MMO. Is it important that you keep pushing the bar higher and higher in terms of visuals?
Jeffrey Steefel: We always say that our only real competitor is ourselves, so we're always reaching. We think that Moria is a clear step up from even the stunning visuals in Eriador.
As for DX10, we were an early adopter, and we will continue to utilize the DX10 libraries more and more. So users of DX10 can expect an even better increase in fidelity over time.
What are your views on the current crop of other MMOs out there? How many people do you have actively developing for LOTRO? Is competing against the hundreds at Blizzard daunting?
Jeffrey Steefel: Our team composition is not something we talk about publicly but we continue to grow our capabilities for LOTRO in every way.
Seeing the industry mature with more games coming is a great thing, as it further cements the MMO industry as a leader which is good for all of us.
And we don't really think of it as competing with Blizzard or anyone else, we compete with ourselves. The better we get, the better the experience for our players.
Turbine continues to grow in capability quality of product and popularity and that is really all we want to see.
Super Moderating Hero: Why are you so secretive at Turbine, both in terms of numbers of subscribers and how many people you have working on the game?
Jeffrey Steefel: We're a privately held company, the largest independent MMO company in North America. So bottom line - we don't have to spill. ;)
Do you have any solution to the fact that the crafting system falls down a bit in lower population servers? Like, if you're after light boiled leather and the AH prices are stupidly high because of a quiet server, it's essentially impossible to get hold of it if you're an armourer. Stuff like that. Can you fix it, Jeff?
Also, do you plan on ultimately having Sauron as a boss?
Jeffrey Steefel: How do you know Sauron is not currently my Boss?
We are constantly looking at the crafting dynamic in terms of pricing, availability of items, and the way the system overall works. We definitely hear players who are not as fond of the interdependent nature of our crafting system and we're looking at ways to make the experience better for those players.
We also think that while not crafting, the Legendary Items system will breathe a great deal of life into the itemisation and commerce in the game.
Are there plans to introduce playable evil characters one day? Perhaps getting to play the game from a whole different perspective in running with the "good" storyline. Maybe with "Goodie" play? Also if LOTR Online did not exist what mmo genre/style would you like see made?
Jeffrey Steefel: Well, the start of playing the evil side is our PvP system and that will grow over time. We also have the Session Play system that can allow you to play baddies like the Troll and there are plans for that system as well.
Also, as I've mentioned, as we move East things become more war-like and that brings a lot of possibility with it as well...
Well, LOTRO is pretty much the MMO I would have liked to have existed as a player. So now that we've made that...
I really am a huge Sci-fi buff and would love to see a successful MMO in that genre someday, but it is very difficult for many reasons. But we'll get there.
When is the Month of the Kinship, and what features have made it in? Any plans for administration of custom chat channels (we use one for alliance) or other features to facilitate kinship alliances?
Jeffrey Steefel: We know Kinships are an area that we need to focus on in the coming year and we have several things in the works...
Are you looking at introducing a more flexible system for housing items. The present system is pretty restrictive both in terms of the number of items you can display - which leads to many interiors looking the same.
Jeffrey Steefel: Always been on the table to make the decoration system for housing more fluid and flexible. The real issue as always will be the balance between that development work and work on other new systems and content like the Legendary Items system, for example.
We have a very productive team, but we can't yet do everything all at once - though it seems like my devs try often to :)
Considering the amount of financial clout it takes to create, run and publish an MMO these days, is it possible for a smaller company to compete in the field?
Jeffrey Steefel: I'd say we've proven that the answer is YES!
Do you plan on getting through the whole story of the fellowship? Any ideas on what would happen once they split up?
Jeffrey Steefel: The whole story will be covered yes, but since we have an extended license now, essentially through 2014 or even 2017, we have some time to get there and enjoy all the chaos on the way!
Are there any plans for flying mounts later (eagles for example)? Is the engine ready for it? How much is the engine capable of that we've not seen? Any examples?
Jeffrey Steefel: The capability of the engine is not static - it expands all the time - case in point, Moria.
As for flying mounts, we'll see - no current plans in that direction for the near future, for lots of reasons, not necessarily technical.
Super Moderating Hero: How long can LOTRO exist in its current state? Would you consider continuing the story as LOTRO 2, or can you theoretically keep upgrading a game and technology underneath it (a bit like the PC market) with expansion instalments? Could you go on forever?
Jeffrey Steefel: An MMO is really a continuing set of sequels, it keeps expanding and growing. Having a sequel does not really make sense (which we have learned firsthand) and the story is so rich it can go on and on.
As for upgrading the game, we are doing it all the time - for example adding DX10 to the game after launch, changing lighting model for Moria, etc.
Super Moderating Hero: Last of all, and we ask everybody this - would you rather have lasers for eyes or be able to turn invisible?
Jeffrey Steefel: I'd go for invisible any day! For lots of reasons, some of which I can't disclose here! [PR agrees]