Turbine CEO Jeff Anderson Interviewed
By John "Methost" Irwin
Recently I was lucky enough to spend some time with Turbine CEO, Jeff Anderson. Having heard him answer the same questions all day long, I thought I would try for some new ones. The following should give fans a bit of insight in to who is making their game.
Can you tell me the difference between a CEO for a game company and a CEO or any other company?
I think being a CEO of a game company is standing between a lot of different competing objectives, you’ve got creative talent who are passionate about the art and the work they are building, you’ve got the technology challenges of trying to get a platform to support customer service and billing and authentication, you’ve got an engineering challenge and trying to get a game engine, physics and all that working, you’ve got a team of designers and artists who are creating content, you’ve got the business people who need to be doing distribution deals worldwide. I could describe it as being in charge of making a feature film, where you are designing the camera and the film and the actors all at the same time, so it is a complex business and MMORPGs are at the tip of the spear. If you take an FPS and you have to make stories and quests and layer that on top of it, and wow that is hard, so you have to game engine and the story going in and you’ve got the backend and the support and all that stuff and by the time you are done layering on all those things MMORPGs are the hardest possible product to make in the gaming business today, the quality bar is high, the customer demands are high, the launch complexities are high, the consumption of content is high, and it is the toughest I think of all.
How big of a risk is making an MMO?
Well with everything in life, big risk is big rewards. The business model is exciting, so instead of just having one retail sale for 30 bucks, if you can deliver on the experience and bring it all to life, you can fill up the fan base and costumers and player who want to be with you everyday of every month for a long period of time.
I have heard you talk a lot about LOTRO and it sounds like you are pretty “hands on” as far as the game goes.
I joking say that we have two rules at Turbine. The first rule is: Don’t do anything stupid. The second rule is: Don’t do anything stupid again.
I play a LOT and I think that everyone in the company has a responsibility to be “hand on”. We all are really focused on doing the best possible job that we can do. For example, I say down with Cardel who is a lead designer on the project and said “what can I do to help?” But of course I’m not going to go write the quests because I’m probably not as good at that but I do have the ability, being in the role that I am, to do two things batter than anybody. I can mobilize people to fix problems better than anybody else because ultimately they all report to me and I also can maintain a perspective when I look at the whole thing. I can ask, “why are we doing that? I move people to fix problems that I see.
That you see?
Right now we have a really terrific ability to get data out of the game. So I can tell you exactly how many people are playing as Hobbits, how many people are playing Burglars, how many people are playing Hobbit Burglars, I can tell you all kinds of things about who has the most gold in the world, how many items people have … just all kids of things.
Is that information panning out like you expected it to?
Yes and no. Sometimes you see that something is exactly like you wanted it to be. Pretty much, class/race combinations are exactly were we wanted them to be. But sometimes you look at something like an advancement curve and you say I didn’t expect it to take that long.
For example, we looked at the number of quest bestowals there were and we looked at how many of these were actually completed. So we took all 1300 hundred quests that we had at the time, we sorted them and took out the higher level ones. We came up with a completion percentage. Then I went through and played every one of those that had a less than 30% completion percentage. Figuring out what’s wrong with these quests is a lot harder than you would think because most of them are not broken. Many times there are more complicated problems. It might be that it’s a simple vector quest, where you are sent to a new area of content. A bad example of this would be that to complete the quest you have to come all the way back to see me. The challenge is, if I send you all the way there, and it’s the right level area for you, and you like it there, now you are staying there without ever coming back to finish the original vector quest. Now that we know what the problem is, we can fix it.
Another issue is that sometimes you just can’t find the objective. We have you go find this guy in these mountain areas and the directions are so poor that you can look and look and never find the guy. So sometimes the answer is to give better directions. There is no point in even having a quest that’s not going to get completed. It’s really a failure in some ways because we would love to see 100% completion rate.
Can you give us a refresher on the early history of LOTRO dating back to the Vivendi years?
The online version of the franchise has an interesting history. Even within Vivendi it bounced around from Sierra to Universal I think. We ended up working with those guys as a developer/contractor. Vivendi then went through a period of re-organization and they where trying to figure out what they wanted to be. The single player console game became their focus and they said this whole online thing is not for us. So we have an opportunity, because we were already working on the project, to approach them and buy the rights out.
I assume that Tolkien had to approve of the purchase?
Of course. And when we took over the rights we changed the name to Lord of the Rings Online. That was a conscious decision on our part too. We wanted to make sure that players understood what the game was really about. When you talk about Middle-earth, it really undervalues the totality of the intellectual property. The movies have taught us all that The Lord of the Rings is what it’s about and that’s really what we ‘re about too. Middle-earth Online (the name) missed the opportunity to tell the epic story. It would have been a Middle-earth simulator. As opposed to living in Middle-earth, we want to be in the greatest adventure of all time and we want to make you part of the fellowship, part of the adventure, part of the story. You’ll get the chance to fight with Gimli and Legolas and Boromir and that’s just a blast and those things really make you feel like you’re a part of something special.
Is anyone talking about expansions yet? Is it even a doodle on a legal pad?
*laughs* Not a lot … it’s a doodle. We all know that we are ending the “launch” game right outside of Moria. And we really want to do something amazing here. The goal here is just to add more content, and that’s what’s great about this franchise. Instead of just saying “wow let’s go make some new space and random content”, here we get to tell about Mirkwood and here we get to tell about Rohan or Helm’s Deep and go to Isengard. All these places that we can’t wait to see!
How much do you actually get to play LOTRO? Based on some conversations we have had, it sounds like you play quite a bit.
At work or at home? I only have a laptop and one of the reasons that I do is because I want to take my whole computer with me all the time. The second reason is that if I actually HAD a desktop computer, I couldn’t stop myself from playing. And I don’t play during work hours. It has to be at home or on the weekends.
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