Interviews// Jeffrey Steefel, Exec Producer, Lord of the Rings: Shadows of Angmar (Online)

Tolkien About a Revolution!

Posted 15 Mar 2007 16:10 by
They?ve finally cracked it! A Middle Earth based adventure/role-playing game based in a lovely 3D world you can play online with your mates. For many of us who came of age in the 1980s and were fans of Tolkien - and for the hardcore fantasy nuts who played paper and dice fantasy RPGs (such as M.E.R.P., Middle Earth Role Playing) ? the emergence of a massive multiplayer world, lovingly detailed and based on Tolkien?s epic trilogy really is something special.

Even for the many noobs out there who have maybe yet to venture into MMO territory, yet were mesmerised by Peter Jackson?s recent fantasy epics, Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar (hereafter: LOTRO) promises something very special indeed, a familiar-enough and easy-to-grasp yet massively in-depth fantasy experience you can share with like-minded friends across the world.

SPOnG caught up with Jeffrey Steefel, the main man at developer Turbine, earlier this week to catch up on all things LOTRO. Here?s what he had to tell us.

SPOnG: Hi Jeffrey, nice to see you again. It?s been nearly a year now since we last saw the game and it?s shaping up to be a monster for MMO fans and the legions of Lord of the Rings fans out there. Before we start, can you outline for our readers what your role at Turbine is?

Jeffrey Steefel: Sure, I?m the Executive Producer on Lord of the Rings which basically means that I?m in charge of the development team and the franchise of the game ? both before, during and after launch. So it?s all my fault!

SPOnG: So, quite a job of work then?

Jeffrey Steefel: Yep, not boring. I?ll tell you that much!

SPOnG: David Solari [Codemasters Online Gaming boss] mentioned earlier today his fond childhood memories of playing The Hobbit on the Spectrum. It?s quite a way to come from 1983/84! 23 years on and we?re finally here! It?s Middle Earth as we imagined it as children, and it?s online!

Jeffrey Steefel: Yep! It really is amazing. And it really is the right time for it. I don?t think the tech or the network ? or even the audience? was ready for this until now.

SPOnG: To start off with, the inevitable comparisons with World of Warcraft?

Jeffrey Steefel: Sure.

SPOnG: It?s fair to say that World of Warcraft in its own early days was hardly amazingly original? building on previous MMOs and so on.

Jeffrey Steefel: Yeah, of course, but I think what World of Warcraft did was that it demonstrated a couple of things. Firstly it demonstrated that the market really was not only ready but was hugely zealous for a finished, ready-for-market MMO product that was polished, solid, easy to get into. They didn?t invent a new type of game but they delivered it in a way that was much more packageable for a much bigger audience. To huge effect right!?

It?s the same with all segments of the games industry. It was the same with consoles in the beginning and with PC in the early days. Prior to World of Warcraft the MMO market was very hardcore, very niche. It was a type of game that was built by all of us pretty much for ourselves. It was inconceivable at one point that the market could be as big as it has become and that large groups of people could be either interested in this or have access to it. So, that?s the biggest learning for us from World of Warcraft.

SPOnG: And with that in mind, what?s Turbine?s history and background in the MMO market?

Jeffrey Steefel: Well it depends if you are talking about the people at Turbine or Turbine itself, right? Turbine has certainly been in the MMO market since its inception. Asheron?s Call was one of the original 3D online games to come out. The other being Everquest which I was happy and lucky enough to be a part of at Sony at the time [the late 1990s].

The experience of various people on the team, in terms of reaching out to appeal to a larger audience? I?d say there were two kinds of expertise. One is that by virtue of having worked on these types of games for over ten years now as a company, we understand interface, we understand gameplay, we understand y?know? what works and what doesn?t; what?s understandable to the player and what isn?t.

And then there?s lots of people on the team, like myself, that have a fair amount of experience in a more ?mass market space? ? so when I ran ?the Station? at Sony, our audience there was everything from Everquest through to Jeopardy ? reaching out to a very large mainstream market, understanding how mainstream entertainment works and how much larger groups of people are drawn to things.

Also we have a lot of people in the company who have experience in dealing with and handling other?s intellectual properties, which is a huge part of this, you know? How do you deliver on the consumer?s expectations? How do you ensure that the licensor really feels like you are treating the license the way that it should be treated? I mean, that really is one of the challenges for this IP. It?s been in the works now for around ten years as an MMO I think?
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