Turbine CEO Jeff Anderson is happy with the launch and success of Lord of the Rings Online, which is – in terms of subscribers – the second biggest mainstream MMO ever released. Now, as the company moves forward, they need to solidify that position, keep their players happy and ultimately, look at new ways to grow the game and the company. At AGDC, we learned about some of Anderson’s plans for Lord of the Rings Online and Turbine.
The upcoming Book 11 is Turbine’s top priority. This free expansion is the first of a wave of vastly new content – Book 10, to Anderson, finished the work that the launch began – and concentrates on player housing.
In Lord of the Rings Online, housing will be placed in instanced neighborhoods called “streets”. The streets, within themes, will be roughly the same in each area of the world, but with different names. To access their house, the player talks to an NPC in the correct part of the world and “asks for directions” to, for example, Cherry Street. The NPC then gives those directions when he teleports the player to that street, on which their house resides.
This concept avoids urban sprawl, but maintains a level of congruity within the world and ensures that players can develop a sense of community with their neighbors. Later on, Turbine even hopes to add things like neighborhood upgrades so residents of a street can work together to make their road unique from others. Additionally, thanks to a socket-based upgrade system in which players plug items into various sockets in and outside their houses, each street should quickly develop its own unique look and flavor, even if the base buildings and roads are the same.
While housing has received the bulk of the attention from both developers and fans, players can also expect to see the story of Lord of the Rings unfold a little further. For the first time, players will meet Gollum and can also expect to see their first Balrog.
An expansion pack is not far behind; Anderson hopes the team can launch their first retail upgrade in the next 12 months. It’s far too soon to guess what might be in it, except that it is safe to assume that the geography of the game will expand, just as it did in the books.
As mentioned, Anderson saw Book 10 as the completion of what was already out. He believes elements like session play – where players can complete quests as a chicken – add a level of personality to the game that too many competitors overlook. He told us his development team is instructed to trust their instincts and make sure whatever they work on is most importantly fun.
To him, each Book has moved the game and its systems along in significant ways. Turbine’s goal with the Book concept is to ensure that their fans are never biding their time until the next expansion in a stagnant game. This is a problem many fans have had with World of Warcraft and one place Turbine has, to date, done better.
Turbine isn’t prepared to just churn out content for their new golden goose until the well runs dry, though. Anderson told us they have people at Turbine whose job it is to prototype, actively, new projects. They’re an MMO company, so it’s safe to bet LotRO is not their last MMO.
Like many of their competitors in the MMO space, Turbine now has a portfolio of MMO titles to offer fans, one that can only grow. He admitted that one day, he’d love to see Turbine as a multiple studio juggernaut that competes in multiple online genres, distributes their own products (although he seemed to believe that the future of distribution is online) and offers things like SOE’s Station Pass to its users. All of that though is quite a ways off in the future and for now, Anderson seemed exceptionally pleased with the financial, technical and critical success that Lord of the Rings Online has been for the Boston-based developer.