PC Interview

Connect 08: Jeffrey Steefel (Turbine)

The Mines of Moria, movies, Liv Tyler, and more

Jeffrey Steefel, Turbine's producer of Lord of the Rings Online, was apparently an actor in a previous life, and so it was with the "Scottish Play" nowhere near our lips that we sat down for a few words on Turbine, Lord of the Rings Online, and the MMO genre in general.

How did Turbine first get involved in the much coveted Lord of the Rings license?

Wow. Well, Turbine was first hired by Vivendi who had the book license, to build an online game based on that.

Middle-Earth Online?

That's right. Around January of 04, we decided it was mutually advantageous for us to part ways (they were a little busy with a little known game called World of Warcraft), and it was decided we [Turbine] would take over the license directly. That we would make the game ourselves, fund and publish the game ourselves, and the game you see now has come from that.

An expansion pack (LoTRO: The Mines of Moria) seems to indicate the game has been a success so far, despite the obvious competition. Care to discuss numbers?

Its doing great, that's for sure, though we don't really talk about numbers...

Can we say there are hundreds of thousands of players?

Well, the game is doing what its needed to do, and its done great things for Turbine. The other companies involved as well... I mean, you just have to take a look at how our company is doing to see its doing well.

Another indication is that we've the option of extending the Tolkien license until 2017, and we wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't financially viable.

In a competitive genre, where many MMOs fail, do you believe the license has helped the game be a success?

Certainly the IP helps bring people to the game. Our marketing would be much harder for an unknown IP, we'd have had to work much harder generating awareness. At the end of the day, what makes people stay is the game, in fact, if we didn't make a great game then it wouldn't matter. I bet there are all kinds of cool stats which show that if you rest on the IP too much then the game can be a disaster.

So our focus is on that, we know we have to create s great game - we're looking to create a great title, a compelling world, a polished product. Tolkien helps! It helps a lot! As well as acquiring new MMO players, it also helps because of the content itself.

We've a lot of creative people, very talented people, but I'm sure they wouldn't be offended if I said it would impossible for them to come up with a mythos; characters, worlds, stories, as rich and full as those created by Tolkien. To have that content is great, we've got a world you could go and step into tomorrow. Its beautiful. A great place to start.

How long might LoTR Online last for?

I hope it lasts forever! Or at least until next week... seriously, so far along that it's not a consideration. I mean, we've extended the license until 2017, I have confidence we'll be around then. Beyond that we have no idea, anything could happen, but I think this game will last a long time.

Might there be sequels, perhaps?

Well, I'd be surprised if there was a LoTRO 2, but the content is going to completely expand, we'll launch in new parts of the world, perhaps launch on other platforms. Of course, we have no idea what the future holds!

What do you think about the movie licenses? Would a unification of the 'Rings' licenses be desirable?

It's a mixed bag. We talked about it a lot at the beginning. The advantage of the movie license, combined with the book license, consolidates the IP. Its also a marketing issue. What marketing department wouldn't want that music playing when you pop the disc in..? That said, if we'd had the movie license as well, then it would have put a lot more constraints upon us. We'd have two licenses to serve, we'd have to be very careful. Our creative choices would have been more limited.

Some of the design choices in the film may not be appropriate for a game. If you make a film, you want Liv Taylor in your movie. You just do! A game on the other hand...

...And at this point our all-too brief chat with Jeff Steefel draws to a close, the game maker whisked-off to some other corner of Connect 08 for another round of grilling. We'll bring you more on Lord of the Rings Online, and The Mines of Moria add-on, as we get it.

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