Prior to its release, there was some talk about how Lord of the Rings Online might just be a World of Warcraft clone with better graphics. Even if it were a mediocre game, LOTRO would probably have achieved marginal success just for the fact that it featured Urukai orcs and the occasional Gandalf reference. But criticisms that LOTRO was just another “me too” MMO were soon silenced. In just a little over a month, the game has become quite a success, securing its place as the second largest western MMO operating today. Not bad for a so called WoW clone eh?
But we think the game’s true success is due to the way it was able to step beyond the usual find-the-quest-giving-NPC-and-kill-X-number-of-monsters gameplay - though there’s still a bunch of that - and create a world with personality and flavor fit for both casual and hardcore Tolkien fans and MMO enthusiasts alike. Little details, like being able to compose your own music with in-game instruments, playing as evil monsters in PvP, growing fields of pipe-weed, and earning the coveted title of “Breakfast Connoisseur,” all helped LOTRO stand out from the crowd of generic fantasy-based MMOs.
We recently got to speak with Jeff Anderson, president and CEO of Turbine about LOTRO and the game’s first big update, The Shores of Evendim.
GamesRadar: It seems that due to the time and money one needs to invest in an MMO, it’s not physically possible to play more than one seriously. Yet we’re seeing all these new MMOs are being announced left and right. Do you think publishers and developers are in danger of over saturating the market? Could there be an MMO bubble burst?
Jeff Anderson: Great question. There’s never been an industry where you can be oversaturated with too much great product. The problem is when you get to a point where you have lots of marginal products being released with marginal marketing and marginal support and marginal deployment. Today I think you see very few quality products in development compared to the majority of products which are allegedly in production. But it’s always sort of been that way. And the games business has more or less a terrific market - going back to market economy - [that] votes with their feet for the products they like and the products they don’t like. And we welcome all the competition that we can get because we’re still very much in the growth phase in the industry. And as long as people make quality games that add to the overall experience - what we’re trying to build - nothing could be better. Do I think there’s a glut of poor quality MMOs in production right now? I’d say sure.
GR: Blizzard recently threatened a gold farming website, www.peons4hire.com with an epic lawsuit. What’s Turbine’s stance on second party sites selling LOTRO gold for real currency?
JA:...Philosophically, we don’t have a problem with transacting items in the world. We do that all the time. We have an in-game auction house system where players buy items from other people, and that’s great. It’s part of an in-game player economy. One of the things we’re opposed to is having ways to break the economy which yields an un-fun play experience for everyone else... There’s a difference between allowing transactions and saying that player to player transactions are a bad thing or a good thing, and saying farming is a bad thing or a good thing. We are without a doubt a hundred percent opposed to farming because farming is overall destructive to the play experience for everybody. But we’re a hundred percent supportive of players playing with each other. And the in-game auction house system that we have allows people to do that and transact items between each other today. How do we feel about items being transacted for a real dollar value? I think in the right context it’s a great idea. Currently Lord of the Rings isn’t really set up for that, which then contributes to a lot of the black market/grey market stuff that goes on. But in the future as a company, is it something we’ll look at? Very much so.
GR: Speaking of farming in a different sense. We were pleased to see that the ability to grow pipe-weed ending up making it into the game. Have you received any flak for subtle marijuana references?
JA: Well not only can you grow pipe-weed, but you can smoke your pipe-weed, which is fun too because then it gives you the ability to do different kinds of smoke rings and other kinds of activities... You know, Tolkien never said “Hey. I’m trying to say that this product is marijuana.” And obviously we’re not trying to encourage drug use among the population. What we’re trying to do is do an authentic recreation of the world that Tolkien created and pipe-weed is a strong component of that mythical universe. I haven’t yet seen any rules or regulations [about] the US government banning the use of pipe-weed here in the US.
GR: Hopefully the DEA won’t get involved with that.
JA: [Laughs.] If it turns out to be a problem, we’ll conform to any federal legislation regarding pipe-weed. But today, the goal is to find the charm, value, and personality of Middle-Earth and to bring that to life.