Eurogamer: Given that you have such an enormously popular and recognisable licence - and that you launched a game that worked well and had learned a lot of what WOW did right - are you surprised you didn't reach a bigger audience straight off?
Jeffrey Steefel: Well, we would love to - but I think it's not entirely surprising, we were targeting the MMO audience at launch, the existing audience, because that's the audience most likely to adopt.
I think there's going to be a huge opportunity over the next two years for this franchise, because in the market itself, the awareness of Tolkien is about to increase quite a bit. As Peter Jackson and New Line and Guillermo del Toro start working on new movies, with the Hobbit coming out in 2011 and another movie coming out probably the year after, that's going to help us a lot because it's going to move everything back into thee forefront. If we'd been launching our game, you know, five years ago - oh my goodness.
Eurogamer: Do you think there's room for other business models in LOTRO's future?
Jeffrey Steefel: I think so... There are some things about the way that we built the game that would allow us to try some different business models. For people that want to have a more casual relationship with the game, and just have fun a couple of hours, a couple of times a week, right now I think we have a difficult value proposition. They're paying a premium price to get a whole bunch more than they actually want. So, maybe there's room to satisfy those people in a slightly different way.
This is a franchise that's going to continue for years and years and years, and there's no way that the singular, monolithic, USD 14.95 a month subscription model is going to last for years and years and years all by itself. I think the answer is, it has to change.
Eurogamer: LOTRO is known for its regular and substantial content updates. Even Blizzard, with a team several times the size of yours, is struggling to keep pace with you in terms of new content. How do you manage that?
Jeffrey Steefel: Pain and suffering [laughs]. We work very hard, we work very efficiently. One of the advantages and disadvantages of being the big monkey and having as much money to spend on people as you want is that I think you don't drive as much efficiency, I don't think you need to.
And also, we're very hungry. We're the David to the Goliath, and we need to distinguish ourselves in certain ways that perhaps Blizzard doesn't. So we need to do better than everyone else, we need to try harder than everyone else and I think that's served us really well.
Eurogamer: Will there come a point where you have you have to take pretty big creative freedoms in with the licence in order to proceed? If you keep up the pace, you're going to get through the trilogy fairly quickly.
Jeffrey Steefel: It'll take us years, honestly, because of the way that we do things, and that we go into so much depth. We're spending so much time in Moria, which is really just one quick stop along the way in the books. We don't really worry about running out of content.
In terms of being able to push things more the further in we get, I think the fiction allows that in some respects. Things get crazier, more warlike, more out of control the further you get into Middle Earth and the War of the Ring, so that opens up a lot of prospects for us.
We're slowly trying new things; the addition of the Rune-Keeper in Moria, a straightforward magic using class, is a pretty big step in that respect. It's not something that a pure Tolkien lore person would accept, it just couldn't exist in Middle-Earth. On the other hand, this is an RPG, it must exist.
So, our Middle-Earth needs to diverge slightly from the literary Middle-Earth, and Tolkien enterprises has been okay with that, I think that they're comfortable with us allows us to push those things a little further.