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LotRO celebrates second anniversary

LotRO celebrates second anniversary
By Michael Lafferty

Turbine’s MMO keeps getting bigger and better

How do you celebrate your second anniversary of existence? Well, you do have a party, of course, but you also hand out a big ‘thank you’ to the people responsible for being around for two years. When it comes to a massively multiplayer online game, those ‘people’ are the game players.

Turbine’s MMO, Lord of the Rings Online, hit the second year Friday, and in those two years, the game has not only seen numerous content upgrades, but the developer/publisher has been rewarded with continued subscription growth.

The game, in which players create characters who are engaged in the War of the Ring – even as Frodo and the Fellowship are moving the One Ring towards Mount Doom – follows concurrent storylines, but involves the player with the integration of many of the main characters from J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved epic series.

The Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria PC screenshots

On Thursday, Turbine’s Jeffrey Steefel, Executive Producer of LotRO, Cardell Kerr, Creative Director, and Adam Mersky, Director of Communications for Turbine, held a media teleconference to talk about the celebration, as well as addressing where the game is moving to next. In a press release issued just before the call, Steefel was quoted as saying: “It’s been another incredible year for LotRO and Turbine. Being named both 2008 MMO of the Year and Best Expansion of 2008, coupled with the overwhelmingly positive response to the game from fans, has firmly cemented LotRO as one of the world’s premier online entertainment experiences.  Our anniversary is a chance for us to celebrate with our past and present players and enjoy everything that is special about Middle-earth and thank them for their wonderful support with some special subscription options.” 

The subscription options Steefel was referring to is as follows:

From April 24th through June 30th (the time allotted for the anniversary celebration), players can choose any multi-month plan (of 90 days or longer) and lock in a monthly price of $9.99 for as long as they maintain the new subscription plan. But not only that, the game is available for download from the Turbine store for $9.99.

But that’s not all that is happening … During the anniversary celebration, monsters throughout Middle-earth will drop rare items when defeated.  Players can exchange these rare items for a special gift box that will reward them with a variety of in-game items to aid them in their adventures in Middle-earth.

Turbine is also giving players who have active subscriptions as of June 30th a special in-game gift — the Writ of Passage, which provides 20% discounts at stable masters throughout Middle-earth.

Reflecting a bit on the run, so far, of the game, Steefel said the growth of the game has been “driven by the stages of evolution that we’ve noticed these games (as in all MMOs) go through. Our first goal was to launch a triple-A title. We felt very good about what we launched. In the first year of existence it was about establishing a pace.” And that was followed by “paying attention in the first six months about what we saw from players and how we would grow the game.”

And it was not just about adding more story content, but rather evolving the game to create a more robust and well-rounded experience. The game had implemented one of the best (if not THE best) player-generated music systems in MMOs, but the “then added the reputation system and housing system to flesh out the game.

“In the second year we had a game and service that we knew would be around for a long time,” so it came down to pushing “the envelope of what we would do in the game.

“We grew Middle-earth in the game by over 70%, we added lots of new and different kinds of places, doubling the amount of quests in the game, adding 13 books of our story and launching our second epic quest. The game is starting to mature and we understand where we are headed with the game.

“We wanted to make the first part of the game even more compelling … adding things like the quest guide … at the same time focusing on the community.

“We are at the point now, at the end of our second year, we are looking at growth.”

But the growth the dev team is looking at is not merely geared to upper-level characters or long-time players, but rather on every level. Since its launch, the game has smoothed the entry levels, allowing new players time to acclimate to the controls and game climate.

“Everyone who is involved in the game is important to us.”

And yes, there are more regions upcoming as the game moves forward. The next installment in the epic story (the next Book) is due in June and the Turbine team promised that what players are experiencing in Moria right now is merely the tip of that overall gaming experience in that region. There will be new battles, new bosses and new challenges.

As for land areas opening up, the game will be moving into Southern Mirkwood and Dol Guldur (Sauron’s stronghold in Mirkwood).

“The game has moved toward the heart of the War of the Ring.”

And, though stated, no other information other than the level cap would be raised was available.

Cardell mentioned some of the other new elements being added to the game, like the skirmish system. “We are trying to push more to make sure the war is front and center,” he said. “The war against Sauron is multi-front. Ultimately skirmish is meant to be a way for players to be front and center in the war. It will have a good deal of content. It will be very approachable, and players at different levels will be able to play it.

“It’s going to be an exciting new addition to the game.”

When asked how they choose from the depth of content available on the area they will focus on for the next direction the game takes – after the obligatory dart board joke – Cardell said that “we can go in any direction. We have a limitless array of where we want to go. The guiding principle we use, at the end of the day, is that Lord of the Rings is about the ring-bearer. We try to follow the Fellowship but do it in ways that allows players to tell their own stories, to be their own hero. We’re here to make a very, very good game. While we following the Fellowship, we want to allow players to do what the fellowship couldn’t.”

How long does it take them to create a new zone?

The answer is both simple and complex. “A zone has so many different flavors. What we basically do is we figure out where we want to go. We want to make sure we go to places that have a certain amount of familiarity to players. So we decide where we want to go and then we decide what this place is. We start with what is in the books, but from there we draw inferences, based on clues we draw from Tolkien, we say what is this place all about?” A personality document for the zone is created, answering questions for the world builders. What does the place look like? Well it depends on what happens there. And then the epic story is woven through that. Then the world builders start constructing the actual terrain. “When we do it well, which we hope is often, all the elements like the story, the world, the weather, all come together.”

“It’s not just about stepping on the XP accelerator.”

Mersky summed it all up nicely when he said that “one of our strongest features is our community and our players.”

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