Lord of the Rings Online has launched Book 11 in North America and Europe, and as their focus shifts to Book 12, they’ve also developed an increased awareness of the game’s global potential.
“I was in Korea two weeks ago at G-Star,” said Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel. “We went there to sign out distribution agreement with NHN, who run Hangame.”
The agreement is the first step in their effort to bring Lord of the Rings Online to one of the world’s hottest MMOG markets.
“They’re about the best partner we could find in Korea,” he said. “They actually have half the country of Korea registered on their game service.”
On top of their millions of users, NHN also operates over 50% of the internet cafes in Korea, which is where most people in that country play their MMOGs, and are the largest public company on the KOSDAQ, which is similar to the NASDAQ in North America. It’s a big chance for Lord of the Rings Online to branch out and greatly expand the number of people who enjoy it, but for it to be successful; many things have to be done very carefully.
“We’ve always thought of this game globally from the beginning,” he said. They have to make the user interface (UI) more familiar to the Korean gamer and completely reconsider the business model they employ in that region. A subscription service simply won’t work in Korea, where the industry is powered off of micro transactions.
For years, North American games have had issues with the divergent business models. The big North American titles are designed for subscriptions and sometimes that makes it difficult to transition when it comes time to expand into Asia.
Another area that games usually have issues is in the art department, where Korean gamers generally prefer more exaggerated, bright palettes. “In building the art, we’ve always kept Asia in mind,” Steefel told us. He explained that even in recent updates, they have introduced larger, brighter, more exaggerated items and gear. He is confident that while the UI, language and business models may have to change for Asia, the art can remain consistent across all regions.
The game, which will also soon launch in China, faces an uphill climb when it comes to what most consider their strongest asset: the intellectual property.
“It’s popular, but it’s nothing like North America and Europe for obvious reasons,” Steefel admitted. Tolkien’s work has a cult-like readership in the Western world and is firmly rooted in European mythology. In Asia, they have their own rich mythology and thus, Tolkien’s work simply doesn’t resonate in the same way. Nonetheless, Steefel is confident.
“The books have been printed, distributed and pretty well read over there in the local language,” he said. “The movies were pretty high up.”
Although the game relies on the book license, it may be the Hollywood blockbusters that do the game the most good. As is often the case, blockbusters around the world are blockbusters in Korea as well. A lot of people saw the trilogy and that has raised Tolkien’s profile in that country.
Steefel expects the Korean version of the game will ultimately run a few weeks behind the North American and European versions, in terms of content. There is an inevitable lag in translation. Due to the importance of the European market and their partnership with Codemasters, they’ve gone to great lengths to make sure Europe – which includes a French and German version – launch all content simultaneously with North America. Japan currently runs a couple weeks behind, and they expect the other territories to do the same.
Turbine has opted to keep translation for the Asian territories in-house and even now as they develop Book 12, they have people who are ready to make the adjustments necessary to launch the game in Korea.
“We’re in the home stretch on finishing development for Book 12, so that’s exciting,” Steefel said. “We try to have a theme for each update, we generally focus on several things for several parts of our audience.”
Steefel was not yet prepared to blow the lid off and unveil everything they hope to accomplish in Book 12, but he did give us one hint.
“One of the things we’re focusing on is customization for all of our players,” he admitted, as he explained that increased customization and individuality would be a cornerstone. He also promises some tweaks and improvements to housing, and an increased focus on live events.
“I think you’re going to see an acceleration of live events activity for players,” he told us. “I personally want to see that ramp up a lot between now and Book 13.”
On top of localization, Book 12 and regular maintenance, the team is also working on support for DirectX10. Book 11 added it to their test server and the first incarnation includes dynamic shadows, self-shadowing, improved particle effects and tweaks like the way water meets terrain.
“The next step is to start building content that specifically takes advantage of DX10 shaders,” he told us. He explained that they will take it slowly to make sure they’re not putting too many resources into something that only a fraction of their audience can enjoy. However, one place they may start is with the addition of displacement maps to specific materials in the world. He gave the example of how they could make stone walls or bricks on houses appear more realistic through this technology.
“The game is best of breed, and as the technology changes, we want to trade right with it and stay best of breed,” he said flatly.
In the next few weeks, Turbine will take the wraps off more of their specific plans for Book 12. Stay tuned to WarCry for all the details.