According to its creators, Turbine's The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar is currently second to World of Warcraft for a subscription-based MMO developed in the West - though they are not currently giving out precise subscriber numbers.
However, after giving Gamasutra a look at the game's Book 11: Defenders of Eriador expansion, executive producer Jeffrey Steefel and director of communications Adam Mersky sat down with us to discuss the state of their game, working with the Tolkien license, and the future of the online gaming business.How is The Lord of the Rings Online doing since the launch?
Jeffrey Steefel: It's doing well.
Adam Mersky: It's doing really well. We launched back in April of 2007, and we've grown the game [in size of world]. Once we have the stuff that we just showed you, the game will have grown in size over 20 percent. We're already the number two Western-developed MMO that's subscription-based -- basically number two to WoW. We're pretty happy with that position. WoW has obviously done a lot for our industry, but the game is growing well.
When you look at how difficult it is to publish these games -- because they're not just rolling out the title, it's a service you operate 24/7 with customer service, uptime, and all that -- we couldn't be happier. The reason it makes us so happy is because of the response we get from the community. They're just really happy, we're growing, and because we've been able to roll out content in a smooth and stable manner, it really opens us up and frees us up to do some really interesting things in the future, right?
JS: Yes, it's becoming global, which is something that we really wanted to do. The success we've had in Europe is equal to what we've had in North America, which is something that's not necessarily always the case. We've got this huge, growing community. It's basically the largest online Tolkien presence there is. It's becoming more than just a big game. It's becoming a central place for Tolkien fans, for RPG fans, and for MMO fans to go. And we're just beginning. As Adam said, we're going to start to expand into Asia and a bunch of other territories that we're not talking about yet. And then here in the U.S. and Europe, because they're kind of one and the same in terms of the types of audiences...
AM: Also we launched both at the same time, so time-wise we're in step with Europe right now.
JS: The fact that we're seeing players come in and begin to start bringing in their friends, that's the kind of growth that you want. Housing is going to drive that, and people are going to be building more kinships including people in their own kinship houses, and as we've got more and more of these sticky, social kind of features being added to the game, it encourages people to sort of park in Middle Earth. I think that's going to have a huge impact.
AM: The number one reason people play online games is because their friends do. Because of this growth, I think we're finally seeing this. You get that first wave of adopters in, and then they bring in the next wave. We're seeing players from other games come in and give us a try, and particularly since we've launched the free trial at the end of the summer. Now we're seeing more people come in and bring in their kinships from other games and guilds from other games.
The expansions -- the books that you're putting out -- how many do you foresee? Is that an ongoing thing?
JS: Yeah. This isn't just something we're doing once. This is part and partial of delivering the game. We look at this as serial entertainment.
How frequently do you plan to release expansions?
JS: The kind of frequency that you've been seeing.
AM: I think we hesitate to put dates on it, not "You're going to get one every other month!" because some are bigger than others. Book 11 is much bigger than Book 10. But I think you can expect... we hope to do quarterly-type updates of some sort, whether it's large ones like Book 11 or small ones that still focus on story but are not introducing major features, but are bringing balance and things to the world, and maybe features that bring upgrades to existing systems, as opposed to introducing whole new systems.
JS: And, on the other hand, if the focus is very much... the industry has been much like the Betamax approach. You build the player, you put it out and sell it, and then you keep pumping more tape into it. It's more of the same. We recognize that we have different audiences inside our game. Which is great -- it's what we wanted. But we've got different groups of people who play the game differently who are going to continue playing the game differently, so the updates are not just more stuff.
We take a look at, in each update, how can we satisfy what the next needs are of each of those groups. So, housing satisfies one group of people who want to drive more of their social experience. We've got the raid that we've added and things like that that are driving the hardcore guys who want to make sure they have high-level endgame kind of experience. And then we've got a lot of stuff that's in-between for the landscape player -- the person who really wants to experience the story -- and that's the envelope we keep pushing. It's really more of a platform than a game. It's our own little Tolkien cable channel! (laughs)
AM: (laughs) Always on!