Lord of the Rings Online is a week and a half old and we had a chance to sit down and interview Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel as part of the ongoing weekly “Ask Turbine” series, which now comes your way in article format each week. Steefel talks about upcoming content, technical hurdles, the economy and more.
Based on interview with Jeffrey Steefel (Exec. Producer)
Article by Dana Massey
It’s been a week and a half and Turbine could not be happier with the launch of Lord of the Rings Online. The game tops the charts in the UK, may well do the same in North America and despite its popularity, has not suffered any major technical problems since launch.
“The servers and infrastructure of performed beautifully,” Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel told us.
Lord of the Rings Online launched on April 24th after an expansive Open Beta test. To prepare for that day, they had 11 servers ready to go. Despite the fact that they have not yet had to open a new server, Steefel seemed pleased with the response of the players so far. Even more so, he touted the success of the game in Europe. There had been a certain belief that because J.R.R. Tolkien himself was British that the game would be more likely to succeed across the Atlantic, but they couldn’t know until they tried it. Again, without giving numbers, Steefel raved at the success their partners Codemasters have had.
“So far, so good,” he termed the entire process, “which unto itself is disconcerting.”
In the first week and a half the game has only been offline once and in that case, it was intentionally taken offline by Turbine so they could patch some minor bugs and exploits that had cropped up. Historically, MMORPG launches are train wrecks and Turbine – now on their fourth launch – seems to have avoided that precedent. Overall, Steefel called it the best launch he’d ever been involved in and scored it “9 out of 10”, with 10 being a completely perfect MMO launch.
The technology has not disappointed them, what about the game itself? Steefel told us it was too early to draw broad conclusions, but so far, they have not had many surprises. Players seem to be behaving just as they did in Open Beta and no one has broken away from the pack and capped out their character.
“The content itself, it has been performing the way we expected it too,” he told us simply.
They were concerned that where their Open Beta was capped at level 15 and players could carry those characters forward into retail, that this new class of characters would create new content bottlenecks on launch day. This proved not to be the case and Steefel was thrilled that the head-start actually made things easier for all players, since things like the auction houses already came completely stocked with items.
He believes they’re largely now emerging from the scary zone and can slowly focus their day-to-day attention on improving the game itself. Their next immediate challenge is when they must add new servers. At the moment they do not want to dilute their community, but eventually they’re going to need to expand. Steefel downplayed how hard this will actually be when he pointed out that once you have one functional server, it is not all that hard to add a few more. With all this talk of how things went well, we were determined to dig up a little dirt. So, what is the biggest issue they face?
The economy is apparently that issue. Steefel noted that MMO economies are so large and have so many variables that it is impossible to balance them perfectly and they tend to be one of those things that is nearly impossible to predict without a launched product. So far, he is not unhappy with how their economy performed, but that it will be constantly monitored.
“We’ve had a fair amount of discussion back and forth with our community about the economy,” he told us. They need to make sure that at each level players have the money required to repair their equipment, buy some cool loot and not be awash in coinage. For example, their earlier patch addressed an issue where farmers became the nouveau riche.
With the major land mines of launch deftly avoided, Steefel’s team has begun moving back to content creation. His team is gearing up to begin Live Events later this month, although he admitted that these will largely be smaller one-offs until some more tools and capabilities enter the equation in the first patch.
That patch is coming in roughly six weeks, or sometime in June. They’ve called it Shores of Evendim and it will include a brand new lake area in the Northwest of Eriador. This is the area where – spoiler alert if somehow you have not read the books/seen the films – Aragorn was crowned King at the end of the trilogy. There players will see Aragorn and even an Ent. The area is aimed at levels 27+. They’re also working on enhancements to the music system and epic armor sets for high level characters.
One of the unique and often overlooked features of Lord of the Rings Online is their traits system. This system is a series of background quests that are unlocked by performing specific tasks. These range from killing 20 wolves to simply discovering a new point of interest. In some ways, they remind me a lot of the Xbox Live Accomplishments and while Steefel insists that similarity was unintentional, he has noted that people are collecting these in much the same way.
He noted that one of the beauties of traits is that while many MMOs revolve around large chunks of content that players must achieve, traits come in small bite-sized chunks. This allows more casual players to get that same sense of achievement. They are a kind of consistent reward mechanism that players tackle in their own unique ways. For some achievers, they’ll try to unlock them all and write guides on how to do it. For others, they are something that can just be accomplished while playing, operating solely in the background. The entire system has worked beautifully for them, according to Steefel. He specifically highlighted one trait called “The Undying”. Players get this one for getting to level 20 without a single character death. Good luck!
What’s your reaction to the launch? Tell us in the comment thread.