Speaking at the Tokyo Game Show this morning, Turbine chief Jim Crowley revealed that Lord of the Rings Online is to get a full-featured social networking site late this year.
Crowley showed a site that featured character profiles, friends lists and other data uploaded live from the MMO's game world, and YouTube-style video-sharing features.
He described it as "a version of Facebook or MySpace that sits directly on top of the gaming world. This is a fully-featured, rich, robust social network. It has every single feature that you would find in the major commercial social networks such as Facebook and MySpace."
The site will have live news feeds from the game world, reporting what your friends are up to. There will be profile pages for all your characters showing their histories and advancement, as well as one for yourself. It will also feature friends lists, communication tools and the ability to upload and share screenshots and videos.
"A key element here is the face that the game engine needs to populate all of the game data directly into this social network, so you can share that across the world," Crowley said.
He said it would launch "at the end of Q4 this year".
He added that similar sites would launch for Turbine's other games, Dungeons & Dragons Online and Asheron's Call, in late 2008 or 2009.
In his presentation at the TGS Forum, titled "The collision of virtual worlds, online games and social networking," Crowley argued that MMOs were in an ideal position to take advantage of online social networking trends, and that a new generation of web-literate players would "demand" the openness and convenience of "web 2.0" networks attached to their games.
"Turbine believes that a closed eco-system will have to become an open eco-system," he said. "The MMO needs to learn... to adapt itself to the 'born digital' generation. The MMO needs to step out of its shell and start reaching a much broader and deeper audience."
Crowley argued that social networks like LOTRO's would solve a "business model problem" for MMO developers; how to take advantage of advertising revenues when in-game advertising wouldn't be appropriate.
"It allows you to inject advertising in a way that's not in conflict with the game world," he said. "It's natural to it, something you see across the web 2.0 space."
He also said that he expected the social network would help Turbine make more money by "extending the lifetime value of the customer" by involving them more closely in the game, and driving "viral customer acquisition".