Earlier today, Eurogamer and Codemasters Online Gaming celebrated the second birthday of The Lord of the Rings Online by giving away 2000 free copies of the game in digital form. These were not trials but full products, complete with 30 days' free game time. They have all gone. It only took around 20 minutes, with five codes claimed every three seconds, you greedy lot.
Those lucky enough to get a code will be keen on what follows: the second part of our chat with LOTRO executive producer Jeffrey Steefel, key designer Alan Maki and head Turbine PR Adam Mersky (part one was published yesterday). Because, you see, Turbine is revisiting the world and streamlining the experience for newcomers. This has begun already, and Alan Maki, the man in charge, goes on to tell us what we can expect next. There's plenty more chatter besides, including which large areas Turbine wants to tackle next - perhaps for a second expansion.
Eurogamer: Of the licenses you do have, are there bits special to you within them that you're particularly looking forward to doing?
Jeffrey Steefel: So many!
Alan Maki: Um, all of it! Ha ha. For me, the Battle of Helm's Deep or the Battle of Pelennor Fields and seeing the majesty of Gondor for the first time. But there's so much for me. I read these books when I was eight years-old for the first time, and I've probably read them every five years ever since.
Jeffrey Steefel: If you'd asked me that question years ago it would probably have been Moria. It's going to be those kind of things. Helm's Deep is definitely one of them, and Pelennor Fields, yep. Gondor and Rohan are less about the individual place and more about the whole experience and the people that live there and the history that they have. It's endless.
Eurogamer: Has your audience changed much since launch? Jeffrey used to think they were more casual than hardcore.
Alan Maki: We still look at our playerbase as being primarily casual-based, but I think a lot of those casual players have become either more hardcore Tolkien types or more hardcore LOTRO players.
Jeffrey Steefel: The whole meaning of the words "casual" and "hardcore" is what your emotional connection to the game you're playing is. People, once they become engaged, become hardcore. They're not hardcore gamers, they're hardcore LOTRO fans or hardcore Tolkien fans. That's why our biggest focus right now is in the early part of the game, because once someone gets to a certain part they become very involved; they become that hardcore, dedicated player.
Eurogamer: I have a level 19 dwarf. Will he benefit from the changes in Book 7? He's bald.
Alan Maki: Right now the changes don't quite get to you. They will in the next Book update.
The first round of changes focused on what we're now calling Tier 1: our first-play experience, levels 1 to 15. We restructured the way quests are given out and the way you are moved around the world; moving you to a quest hub and allowing you to complete that area before sending you off someone else. We took away a lot of the extraneous running that was time consuming and not necessarily fun and tried to get you more into the action of the game so you can learn your character faster. We've done a lot to make the early levelling curve steeper so you can feel the changes in your character faster.
Your character is level 19. In our next book you'll see some changes to that area of the world. It's a massive undertaking but I'm pleased to be working on it, and the reaction so far has been that it's a positive change to the game.
Eurogamer: Are there plans to address every level bracket up to the top end? And if you're making levelling faster at the bottom does that mean you'll raise the level cap again?
Jeffrey Steefel: Yes we are going to raise the level cap at some point, but we're not talking specifically about when.
Alan Maki: We just raised it to 60 for Mines of Moria, so I don't think there's really a pressing need for that.
I'm going to be focusing my next year, or however long it takes, making sure the game from 1 to 50 feels better and flows better overall. Let's say you're questing early on and you start out as a crafter, then you're going to find all your Tier 1 components in reachable places. That carries on into Tier 2. Basically, we're trying to make the world make as much sense to the player as possible, so you're not having to go back to areas you feel you're completely done with.
Jeffrey Steefel: It's a natural evolution. We talked before about how, way back in the beginning before Alan and I were even working on the project, it was a different game - focused on being a virtual world for exploration and experience. We gave players lots of opportunities to do that, which created some unnecessary exposure to the world. And this feels like tightening the experience. It feels like the next evolutionary step; not only is it about the experience being more concentrated, but it's also about being more moment-to-moment and not needing to be in the game for 10 hours to have the next thing that makes me feel like I want to be there.
Eurogamer: Is that the next evolutionary step for Lord of the Rings Online, then?
Jeffrey Steefel: Oh god no.
Alan Maki: No no. The next step is right now a trade secret.
Eurogamer: Oh don't play secrets.
Alan Maki: Unfortunately it has to stay a secret, because some of the things we have planned for the future are going to be evolutionary probably even in the way that MMOs are handled. We're really looking forward to it, but that's all I can say at this point.