Lord Of The Rings Online: Ask Turbine #6: ESRB, IGE, Euro Access and Cinematics

Most weeks, Turbine CEO Jeff Anderson takes some time to chat with us about Lord of the Rings Online. Usually, we feature “Ask Turbine” as a transcribed Q&A, but this week we’re trying something different. The following article was penned based off this week’s interview with Anderson where we ask questions that the community wants answers to. Remember, you can contribute your questions in this forum thread.

Ask Turbine #6: ESRB, IGE, Euro Access and Cinematics
Interview with Jeff Anderson (Turbine CEO)
Article by Dana Massey

imageIt’s been nearly a decade since Sierra Online first announced an MMO set in Tolkien epic fantasy world, but on April 24th Turbine and Midway will finally bring that game to life in the form of Lord of the Rings Online. On Wednesday, WarCry chatted with Turbine CEO Jeff Anderson about the game as part of our weekly Ask Turbine series, presented today as an article, rather than a Q&A.

Turbine made some negative waves a couple weeks ago when they announced that they and European publisher Codemasters would employ IP blocking to ensure that players played in their designated territories. The move was not unexpected, Codemasters obviously has an interest in protecting their revenue stream, but the plan was met with vocal opposition with the community and forced Turbine and Codemasters to reevaluate their plans.

“Well we launched the plans and we were wrong,” Anderson admitted candidly. He told us that part of the reason they did this was a technical one. It was just easier to make two separate clients that pointed to the separate servers and that obviously Codemasters had paid for the exclusive European rights and they needed to support that. He told us that they proposed IP blocking as a way of protecting those rights and that Turbine accepted, with the assumption that the average fan wouldn’t mind.

“We as a company are very interested in what the community is saying about the product,” he noted. The reaction was fierce. Some noted that they would not be able to play with family members, while entire guilds could be separated. The Internet knows no borders and it irked many that Lord of the Rings Online would. Thus, they and Codemasters worked out an alternative plan that both protects both companies’ territorial rights, but also maximizes the freedom of players.

imageAnderson told us he is pleased with the reaction since the reversal, noting that even some players with no opinion on the separation applauded them for listening to their community. He added that he hopes that listening to the community is a “hallmark” of this product and that even though the community rarely speaks with one voice and often Turbine won’t agree, they will never ignore them.

With where everyone can play sorted out, Turbine has also had to shift focus to the rules and regulations of what goes on once they’re in there. Anderson and Turbine have always been vocal opponents of gold farming operations like IGE. He noted that for Lord of the Rings Online the company’s stance is the same as it has always been: they don’t support it, they encourage players not to do it and it provides them with massive customer service headaches when it happens.

While the focus is on catching the sellers, rather than the buyers, Anderson repeatedly tried to underline his problems with regular people making smaller one to one deals.

“It’s an inherently risky transaction,” Anderson explained. For example, if a player sells their account to another player, the original player can easily just call Turbine, claim their account was stolen and Turbine must always side with the original owner. They cannot investigate whether a transaction was really made. The entire system has the potential for abuse and even player fraud. He added that while they are not actively hunting people who make these one to one transactions, they will ban those who they come across.

imageInterestingly, Anderson noted that it is not the concept of item sales that bothers him. He is not philosophically opposed to the model made popular by Asian MMOs. He just doesn’t feel Lord of the Rings is a product designed for that kind of behavior and as they have no systems in place to support it, they’re forced to draw a bright line of what is right and wrong for the customer support to follow.

The secondary market is not the only controversy likely to be found in Lord of the Rings Online. Tolkien’s characters liked to smoke. In the movies, they danced around this by showing Gandalf blowing interesting shapes through his pipe, but never really talking about it. In the books though, pipeweed was explained as an important part of the Shire’s economy and thus, in the game, players can farm and sell the stuff. For anyone familiar with Tolkien, there is no doubt that pipeweed referred to a brand of tobacco, but its name brings some modern combustibles to mind.

“What makes pipeweed so interesting, its really part of the storyline, the economic fabric of the world itself,” Anderson explained. For that reason, they chose to include pipeweed as both a farmable commodity and allow players to smoke and blow shapes as an emote. It’s signature Tolkien, but likely someone somewhere will get their nose out of join when their twelve-year-old child is caught ‘smoking pipeweed’ in a video game.

imageAnderson revealed to us that the game had already gone through its ESRB evaluation and came back rated “T For Teen”. It also carries the descriptors “Blood and Gore”, “Use of Alcohol and Tobacco” and “Violence”. So there should be no fear that pipeweed crops up as a surprise to anyone, at least in theory. It’s right there on the box.

This week also saw the release of the game’s cinematic introduction movie. Codemasters put it on their website, a culmination of over six months of work for both Turbine and external studios to create. Anderson told us that while the final modeling, animation and rendering was outsourced, the company itself constructed the story, edits, audio and anamatics (a step halfway between storyboards and the final render).

Turbine assumes most people who load Lord of the Rings Online know the Tolkien story and so they used the video to help acclimatize people to their particular focus. Angmar, the main source of evil in the game’s initial launch, was only a periphery in the books themselves. Obviously, not everyone can be a hero, so Turbine built their game around the fight against evil on a grander scale. In Tolkien’s mythology, Angmar is led by the Witch King in the North, the leader of the Nazgul. The movie itself is intended to set the stage and familiarize people with this particular focus of the game. Then, in the second half, it shows how the player themselves gets involved.

The players fight in the larger War of the Ring. Turbine sees players as enabling the Fellowship of the Ring.

“We know there were not marauding Orcs coming down out of Angmar into the Shire [in the books] and the reason for that is you,” Anderson pointed out.

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