Interview: Turbine’s Jeffrey Steefel Talks LOTRO, Design Philosophy, Part One

The Lord of the Rings OnlineTo at last close out our GDC coverage, today we bring you an interview with Jeffrey Steefel, Executive Producer for The Lord of the Rings Online.

Subjects covered included the lessons learned from launch, original vs. licensed titles, the size of the world, and his overall design philosophy.

I generally don’t like posting interviews this long after the fact, but, two outside forces came into play with this one:

First, I was waiting to hear back if Jeffrey was interested in doing any follow-up questions. After being advised to hold my follow-ups for a later interview, I was then going to post this as a Turbine-two-for, on the same day as a companion interview with Kate Paiz from the DDO team.

The DDO interview has subsequently been delayed somewhat due to technical difficulties, so now, LOTRO gets to stand on its own.

Long-time readers of mine (if such a thing exists) may recall that I reviewed the game back when it first came out. And, that after experiencing a brief love affair in part one of the review, I went on to become disillusioned with the seemingly rushed nature of the later levels, and basically nailed the game to a cross in part two.

That analogy would turn out to be strangely fitting, as it seems that before he got into game development, Jeffrey was an actor in the theater who once portrayed the role of Jesus.

I had a long conversation with him about the game prior to our interview… so long, in fact, that I arrived at the Turbine booth at 10AM, and had just enough time to finish my last question before having to run out of the convention hall at full speed to make my next appointment at 11.

I brought up most of the grievances I’d had from the last time I played LOTRO, and he largely seemed to agree with what I was saying. But, he contended that was then. The team had addressed most player concerns, he said, and I should come back and see the changes for myself.

I’ve since taken him up on his offer, and I’ve been playing the game again in preparation to write a part three to my review, LOTRO: One Year Later.

For now, read on for the transcript, or press play to listen to the first half of the interview:

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The MMO Gamer: Here we are on the final day of GDC, at the Turbine booth.

So, to get the ball rolling, for those among our readers who may be unfamiliar, please introduce yourself, and tell us a little bit about what it is you do at the studio.

Jeffrey Steefel: Sure. I’m Jeffrey Steefel, I’m the Executive Producer of Lord of the Rings Online.

I’ve been with the game really since we started, at least in this incarnation of the game. Been there all the way through launch, and I’m in charge of the whole team that builds the game, and continues to update the game and grow the franchise.

The MMO Gamer: It’s been about eight or nine months now since the game launched?

Jeffrey Steefel: Yep, little over nine months.

The MMO Gamer: What would you say the number one lesson you took away from the launch was, in terms of things that worked, and things that didn’t work with the game?

Jeffrey Steefel: Well, there are big things and little things, big surprises, little surprises.

We’ve been hearing an awful lot about solo play from our players, which has been a surprise to us, because we thought we built a game that was incredibility soloable. But, what we’re finding is that people at all levels of the game want to have more solo experiences. That was a little bit of a learning experience for us.

Smaller surprises like the music system, which was just something they were fooling around with for fun before launch and put up, and ended up being something people went nuts over, so we kind of put more time into that and built it up.

There haven’t been a lot of over-the-top kinds of surprises, because we got our big surprises during beta. We spent a lot of time during beta listening to what people were telling us and putting those changes into the game, and pushed on the things that we thought were going to have the biggest impact for launch.

I don’t mean to sound like we actually know what we’re doing, but we got a good sense of it in beta, and I think that really helped us a lot towards launch. So, there haven’t been as many surprises as I might have thought we would have had.

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