We speak with Jeff Anderson, CEO of Turbine Inc.

Recently, I had a chance to chat with my buddy Jeffrey Anderson, the CEO of Turbine Inc. The first portion of our discussion was just him sharing some info on the future for Lord of the Rings Online (which you can look for in another article in the next few days). After that, though, things got serious* as Jeffrey and I discussed Lord of the Rings Online, the current MMO market, Halo, and the art of bribery

*or not.

Jeff: Hey, Brendon. If you have any questions or have anything you want to talk about go ahead.

Brendon: Actually, Jeff, I wanted to conduct an impromptu interview of sorts for the site. Ask a few questions, get some answers, etc. Mostly about the game [Lord of the Rings Online] so far and all that stuff I’m sure you’ve talked about a million times.

(Laughs) No problem. My wife has told me the only thing I like talking more about than Lord of the Rings is Lord of the Rings.

I know how that feels. When the game showed up here my girlfriend looked at the game and goes, “I won’t see you for at least a week will I?”

(Laughs) That’s awesome. That’s awesome.

I’ve got a few models and such a guy from SideShow Collectibles has given me when we run into each other at Comic-Con and those fun places. I’ve been a fan for a long time, but things like that make you look like a huge fan even if you aren’t.

(Laughs) Sweet. Well, you know it’s hard not to be. You’re talking about one of the best franchises with a great foundation. The imagery we all saw [when making the game] just makes it all the more exciting. I’m just glad now we have a shot to show that the world has much more to do.

One of the things I wanted to ask is along those lines. I mean, Turbine started out with games like Asheron’s Call 1 and 2 which were unique IPs created basically for the game, and right after AC2 you guys went into Dungeons and Dragons Online and now Lord of the Rings. Do you think it’s harder to develop a game where you’ve already got that huge fanbase established for the IP?

Hmmm… You know, I think they’re harder in different ways. With a new IP, the worst thing you can say to a designer is, “Okay, what do you want to do?” It sounds like it’s going to be exciting, but at the same time people don’t realize how totally hard it’s going to be to sit yourself down and create an entire working world quickly, so you’ve got that challenge.

Working with a big brand license, you obviously need to work closely with the licensor and they have expectations of things they want, or rules and guidelines of things that won’t work. For us one of the biggest ones was that we couldn’t have wizards running around in the game, besides Gandalf and a few others.

That was probably something that took a while to figure out as well, because spellcasters are always one of the staples of a fantasy-based MMORPG.

Yes, exactly right! So we had to say alright, how are we going to do magic in the game, or have stuff like magic that isn’t quite magic. Or how are we going to deal healing in the game that’s the same as healing but isn’t technically healing?

You guys seemed to get around that one by using morale.

Yeah, and the reason behind that… At first you might think, “Yeah, that’s kind of stupid geeky Turbine stuff,” (laughs) but the real reason is that we couldn’t have people casting magic healing all over the place. It just doesn’t work that way. So we needed to come up with another way of expressing the same mechanic. It’s kind of like Rocky in the ring, you know, in Rocky IV, and he sees Adrian in the corner and he’s inspired and comes back to fight harder and win the day.

We saw morale as kind of a way to pay attention to how you’re doing in the battle, and if your morale falls you’re defeated and useless, you know. It’s kind of a combination of a death mechanic and a yield mechanic. So I now can inspire you, which is our way around healing.

I’m not sure if it’s smart to compare the game to the later Rocky movies (laughs)

Oh, okay. It’s like the first Rocky, then (laughs). But I think mechanically that’s what we have to do to deal with those kinds of problems with the license. I mean, if you don’t have a license, you don’t need to think twice about that kind of stuff, right? You live in your own world and make it then you’re done with it.

Those are the types of challenges. On the one hand it’s incredibly intimidating making a world from scratch, but the freedom of expression is complete, while with a license you need to be very thoughtful and work closely with them, but it really helps to constrain the issues down to a very finite set, and it gives you a lot of focus early on.

Yeah, it’s definitely a double edged sword. You guys have that lifetime pass which is something relatively new for an MMO game, which you’ve told me before a bunch of people took advantage of…

It was huuuge. We actually had three times the number sign up for that than we thought.

Yeah. What I wanted to ask you was, with that, you were saying earlier about how there might be an expansion, so will you offer that choice to people who pre-order the future expansion(s) who may not have been around for the initial launch, but came in a year or two down the line?

Which offer are you talking about?

The lifetime subscription.

Well, that’s a great question. And, um…hmm… Well, I’ll tell you what. I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this, but that’s one of the benefits of being me (laugh). You know, we haven’t really talked about this, but yeah, we’re planning on making a similar offer available to players. It’s going to be on a different pricing plan than the $199, just because that was for the founders, but we will be making the lifetime option available for new players.

It hasn’t been announced or launched yet, but it will be coming out shortly.

Speaking of pre-orders and founders, I took part in the beta since it first came live, and I noticed there were so many more people the beta than I anticipated, so were you guys surprised by the amount of people showing interest and dedicated to the game that long before it came out?

Well, not only was it massive, but we had probably the largest pre-order campaign…

Yeah, the game was number one on Amazon months before it was released.

Yeah, right? I mean, it rocketed. So that’s been awesome. I’d love to say we should take credit for that, but you know, it’s a great plan. People love Tolkien, and what we did — this is a credit to my guys — they delivered on the expectation. And the expectation was high. When you read the reviews, everyone says — you know it kind of hurts my feelings a bit, but it always starts out with, “So many things could have gone wrong with this game” (laughs). I mean, as a company is that really how you want the review to start? But I think, people going into it, they realized what a daunting task we had accomplished with this license.

The second most used line is — and I like this — something like “This game rocks, but it could have gone wrong” (laughs)

It certainly doesn’t help that you guys picked something as popular as Lord of the Rings. First D&D and then Lord of the Rings, were you guys trying to challenge yourselves? (laughs)

You know, as they say, everything worth doing is hard. People want to get lucky in life, but I think it all comes about due to hard work. Everyone put a lot of time into making this great. What’s that other saying… If you’re not going to go big, go home, you know.

So how long exactly was the game being worked on before, you know, the beta and everything started?

Too long (laughs). Yeah, too long… Many years. Yeah, a lot of time. I think our official company word on that is over four years in development. It goes way back in some ways, though, right?


You can probably count it as far back as when we got the license acquisition from Vivendi.

I remember when I got told that was happening.

And we were really working on it with the developers even before that. There were a few things they wanted to do differently, put a little different spin on it, so there was a bit of a restart at certain areas. But those guys were great, too. There was nothing wrong with the direction they had, we just had a different vision we wanted to do, you know.



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Author: Brendon Lindsey View all posts by

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