With Lord of the Rings Online, Turbine may not have delivered the World of Warcraft rival some were expecting - but it did deliver a superior MMORPG, and then serve it with so much new content that we thought it was worth 9/10 not once but twice. Now it's winding up to the release of LOTRO's first expansion, and after getting the lowdown on Mines of Moria, we spoke to executive producer Jeffrey Steefel about where he sees the game's present, and future.
Eurogamer: After its first year and a half, has LOTRO done anything to move MMOs forward?
Jeffrey Steefel: Definitely, in a couple of areas. We certainly see, I like to call them, er... complimentary hommages to some of our features. I mean, it's interesting to see Achievements showing up in WOW. It's interesting to see some of the smaller instances, definitely there's an increased focus on instanced storytelling in general, and I think that's one of the things that we brought to bear. I think we've pushed the industry to continually focus on content updates.
It's also helped just to have another game since WOW that's come out and really succeeded, and that's helped add credibility to the MMO space. These games are so hard to create and to launch that there's been a fair amount of difficulty over the last two years, and so every time another game comes out that demonstrates that the genre works, that contributes to the industry too.
Eurogamer: How do you define success, though, when you don't have ten million players to brag about?
Jeffrey Steefel: The first threshold is, can you make a viable game, 90 per cent of people don't get past that. In some respects success is just getting past that. The next is, do you have an ongoing, viable, profitable business that is growing? Definitely hit that mark.
Are you considered one of the leaders in the space? No question we've hit that mark, in fact most articles that you guys and other write, if they're referencing a couple of MMOs it tends to be WOW and Lord of the Rings
And then, there's another level of success, which is reaching a certain mass-market critical mass, which to be totally fair, only Blizzard has achieved completely so far. We think that we are the game that has the most likelihood of being the second to do that, but we're not there yet.
That's a combination of expanding worldwide like we're doing - that's something that'll help expand the critical mass of LOTRO, it's definitely something that helped WOW tremendously, obviously. It's a challenge, but we're confident that we can get there, especially with something of this broad appeal and high quality.
Eurogamer: Do you think that potential stays open for ever? Doesn't there come a point where your game reaches a natural size and it's not going to grow much more?
Jeffrey Steefel: I think one of the things that's changed in the last four or five years in the MMO industry is that there's been some demonstration that that isn't true any more. It did certainly use to be true, we used to talk about the fact that there was one and a half million people in the world that wanted to play MMOs, period. Back in EverQuest and Asheron's Call days, if you had 500,000 subscribers that was it, you'd reached the natural climax.
We also used to say that whatever you established at launch is pretty much the ceiling. And now there's games out there, like EVE, that have demonstrated that you can grow something slowly, incrementally over time.
I think a lot of those things have changed, and it's really a matter of awareness. There's a lot of people that still don't know this game exists, which to us is astounding. But that's absolutely true. So it's a matter of... some of it is just patience, some of it is being more aggressive about reaching out to other markets.