Lord Of The Rings Online: Ask Turbine #5 – Jeff Anderson Q&A

Our weekly community-driven Q&A with Jeff Anderson returns after a one-week hiatus to get questions and answers on Lord of the Rings Online. This week, Anderson talks about some recent beta issues, PvP and the game’s development in general.

Please, check out this thread and post your questions for Jeff. We’ll be asking them in Ask Turbine #5!

Lord of the Rings Online Interview Transcription
Ask Turbine #4
Interview with Jeff Anderson (Turbine, CEO)
Questions from LotRO WarCry Community

Roberto: The most recent beta update (as of this writing) had a lot of play testers in an uproar, mostly over the cash flow situation. Can you explain a bit on the thought processes that go into trying to manage the economy?

Jeff Anderson:: Yes, it was a slip-up. Some of the recent economy changes went too far, making the cost of items and repairs too great and the loot drops too low. It was something that we caught right away and especially appreciate all of the player feedback. Once the community helped us identify the problem, we took immediate action to remedy the problem. I would like to say that things like that will never happen again, but it wouldn’t be true. We make mistakes; but, we pride ourselves on listening to the fans and reacting swiftly. The key for us is to be responsive to the player community.

So what happened exactly? Well, first you need to consider the context. The team is pushing hard finishing up a lot of polish and design adjustments. There are so many people working on the project at once that something people will be adjusting two systems at the same time. That’s what happened here when essentially both ends of the economy where tightened up at the same time, causing an over-correction. While each individual design decision looked like a good one, the combined effect was to imbalance the lower-end economy expensive.

Lepidus: Is this the type of problem that was born out of the way you update in beta and would never replicate at launch?

Jeff Anderson:: Well, at least this problem shouldn’t happen again <laugh>.

We’re in an interesting state right now with the game. The Lord of the Rings Online is so polished and steady that most of the players forget that we are still in closed beta! We are pushing through a lot of changes in these last months and we still need the help of the players in the community. (This was a great example of how valuable beta testing is for us.) So, I think these kinds of changes are alright for beta. Post-launch it is a different world. We have to take a steadier hand. Still, we will make mistakes but the goal is to (like we did here) catch them in the beta cycle.

The main difference is the test worlds. We are launching the first test world for LOTRO very soon; these test worlds are very important to the update process. They enable us to start the phased roll-out of changes to the game — from the development worlds to test worlds to the live worlds. The test worlds benefit all sides. Eager players can sample the new content first on these worlds, and the dev team receives real-time player feedback on the systems, changes and content.

Mattlow: Is there any plan to allow PvP earlier than lvl 40? Perhaps an area for lower level people who want to play around a bit with monster play?

Jeff Anderson:: While obviously players can begin their monster characters once they get to level 10, so you probably mean the Hero races – Man, Elf, Dwarf and Hobbit?

Lepidus: Yes, that’s right.

Jeff Anderson:: Frankly, I don’t see that happening any time soon. We haven’t had a lot of players asking for that. Most players want to advance their Hero up for awhile before they subject them to player-versus-player combat. Of course, if you want to try out PVP combat sooner, you can always have your character spar against another one.

Delmar: Well, doesn’t that then mean that the Ettenmoors might be a little one-sided at the start – especially since there is a level cap of 15 in place for open beta and the level cap of 40 for entrance as a player to Ettenmoors? Won’t there be a lot more Monsters than Heroes at the beginning?

Jeff Anderson:: Yes that’s right. There won’t be a lot of Heroes in the Ettenmoors at launch, and Sauron’s armies will definitely have an upper-hand in sheer numbers. Still, there is a lot to do before the Heroes show up for the counter-attack. (Most players will be focused on their main Hero first anyway.) Monsters can immediate begin adventuring through the many PvE quests like poisoning the water supplies, ransacking food supplies, and collecting Hobbit toes for dinner. All of these quests will advance your monster. Second, you can fight against the many NPC’s who will be protecting the main keep, towers, mines and lumberyards. Lastly, the customer service team may (just at the start) occasionally flip these objective to the Heroes’ side to keep the action flowing.

Mattlow: End game content usually revolves around raids. You’ve spoken of your desire in the past to satisfy multiple play styles in the end game. What is there to do at end game solo, or small group wise, when you don’t have the 8 hours to devote to a raid?

Jeff Anderson:: I have always found the notion of an ‘end-game’ in a MMORPG an oxymoron. The Lord of the Rings Online is an online world which is constantly evolving from players’ actions as well as new content updates. Consequently, we are planning to add new content, stories and adventures to the world in order to keep the game fresh.

Now, I know that I am biased, but I think most people in the industry would agree that Turbine adds more to its games post-launch than any other company out there. We’ve historically been very aggressive about adding new content whether that is with the Asheron’s Call franchise or D&D. In fact, the D&D team is proud to tell you that the game has grown over 50% in just one year! It’s amazing what they have done with that game through monthly updates. And, that traditional of content updates is something that we want to replicate in Lord of the Rings.

But new PvE content is only the start for us. You mentioned Raids and they are another good example. Players love them and we want to make sure that The Lord of the Rings Online delivers those same kind of epic confrontations. So what do you get out of raiding? Raiding is about having compelling, fun experiences and memorable moments. They allow us to create moments that you talk about with your friends for days after they happen – massive monsters, remarkable settings, and (of course!) amazing loot.

Delmar: How finalized are your recipes and such for launch? As a Cook I want to learn how to make more yummy stuff for the hobbits!

Jeff Anderson:: We’ve got quite a bit of yummy stuff in there already (I like pot roast and fried mushrooms as much as anyone!), but at least for now we are pretty finalized on the Cook crafting class. That being said, there is always going to be new content to be rolled out after launch. There is always room for more yum. <laugh>

Lepidus: Are there any specific areas of polish you really want to hit right now?

Jeff Anderson:: We are really focused on two main polish areas right now. The first is performance optimizations. (You can never do enough of it.) In fact, we just completed a very big pass to improve both the server side and client side performance. A lot of changes went in to reduce lag in the social centers, improving frame rate and reducing memory leaks. The second is quality. The team is working very hard cleaning up typos, planting trees in the ground, making sure that NPC’s are behaving themselves, double-checking where quests are pointing, and the like. Polish is all about attention to detail.

Lepidus: At GDC last week, developers were often saying how WoW had changed the way people develop games. Would it be safe to say if this was two years ago, Lord of the Rings would be done and out?

Jeff Anderson:: That’s a really great question. I would like to say “no” but I suppose the more likely answer is “yes.” Here’s why. If you think back a few years, we weren’t even considering some of the innovative features that we finally put into LOTRO. Things like the Deed system, Fellowship Maneuvers, Titles, Family trees, Wikis, etc. — even today these features are ahead of their time. So, if we somehow went back in time we probably wouldn’t have even thought to put them into the game. Essentially, games are a snapshot of the state of development around them (e.g., culture, design, technology, social systems and more). And it is a very difference landscape today as the market continually forces developers to grow and innovate. From a customer’s perspective, that’s a great thing.

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