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MMO Magic: Turbine Talks Lord Of The Rings Online

Gamasutra sat down with Turbine's Jeffrey Steefel and Adam Mersky to discuss the state of MMOs and the company's own Lord Of The Rings Online, touching on gold farming, content expansion plans, working with Tolkien Enterprises, and the future of online games.

According to its creators, Turbine's The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar is currently second to World of Warcraft for a subscription-based MMO developed in the West - though they are not currently giving out precise subscriber numbers. 

However, after giving Gamasutra a look at the game's Book 11: Defenders of Eriador expansion, executive producer Jeffrey Steefel and director of communications Adam Mersky sat down with us to discuss the state of their game, working with the Tolkien license, and the future of the online gaming business.

How is The Lord of the Rings Online doing since the launch?

Jeffrey Steefel: It's doing well.

Adam Mersky: It's doing really well. We launched back in April of 2007, and we've grown the game [in size of world]. Once we have the stuff that we just showed you, the game will have grown in size over 20 percent. We're already the number two Western-developed MMO that's subscription-based -- basically number two to WoW. We're pretty happy with that position. WoW has obviously done a lot for our industry, but the game is growing well.

When you look at how difficult it is to publish these games -- because they're not just rolling out the title, it's a service you operate 24/7 with customer service, uptime, and all that -- we couldn't be happier. The reason it makes us so happy is because of the response we get from the community. They're just really happy, we're growing, and because we've been able to roll out content in a smooth and stable manner, it really opens us up and frees us up to do some really interesting things in the future, right?

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JS: Yes, it's becoming global, which is something that we really wanted to do. The success we've had in Europe is equal to what we've had in North America, which is something that's not necessarily always the case. We've got this huge, growing community. It's basically the largest online Tolkien presence there is. It's becoming more than just a big game. It's becoming a central place for Tolkien fans, for RPG fans, and for MMO fans to go. And we're just beginning. As Adam said, we're going to start to expand into Asia and a bunch of other territories that we're not talking about yet. And then here in the U.S. and Europe, because they're kind of one and the same in terms of the types of audiences...

AM: Also we launched both at the same time, so time-wise we're in step with Europe right now.

JS: The fact that we're seeing players come in and begin to start bringing in their friends, that's the kind of growth that you want. Housing is going to drive that, and people are going to be building more kinships including people in their own kinship houses, and as we've got more and more of these sticky, social kind of features being added to the game, it encourages people to sort of park in Middle Earth. I think that's going to have a huge impact.

AM: The number one reason people play online games is because their friends do. Because of this growth, I think we're finally seeing this. You get that first wave of adopters in, and then they bring in the next wave. We're seeing players from other games come in and give us a try, and particularly since we've launched the free trial at the end of the summer. Now we're seeing more people come in and bring in their kinships from other games and guilds from other games.

The expansions -- the books that you're putting out -- how many do you foresee? Is that an ongoing thing?

JS: Yeah. This isn't just something we're doing once. This is part and partial of delivering the game. We look at this as serial entertainment.

How frequently do you plan to release expansions?

JS: The kind of frequency that you've been seeing.

AM: I think we hesitate to put dates on it, not "You're going to get one every other month!" because some are bigger than others. Book 11 is much bigger than Book 10. But I think you can expect... we hope to do quarterly-type updates of some sort, whether it's large ones like Book 11 or small ones that still focus on story but are not introducing major features, but are bringing balance and things to the world, and maybe features that bring upgrades to existing systems, as opposed to introducing whole new systems.

JS: And, on the other hand, if the focus is very much... the industry has been much like the Betamax approach. You build the player, you put it out and sell it, and then you keep pumping more tape into it. It's more of the same. We recognize that we have different audiences inside our game. Which is great -- it's what we wanted. But we've got different groups of people who play the game differently who are going to continue playing the game differently, so the updates are not just more stuff.

We take a look at, in each update, how can we satisfy what the next needs are of each of those groups. So, housing satisfies one group of people who want to drive more of their social experience. We've got the raid that we've added and things like that that are driving the hardcore guys who want to make sure they have high-level endgame kind of experience. And then we've got a lot of stuff that's in-between for the landscape player -- the person who really wants to experience the story -- and that's the envelope we keep pushing. It's really more of a platform than a game. It's our own little Tolkien cable channel! (laughs)

AM: (laughs) Always on!


You have the literary license rather than the film license -- how do you see that?

JS: You couldn't make an MMO out of a movie license. It's just not possible. I certainly can't say anything but good things about what they did in terms of Peter Jackson being able to take fiction that spans 1,400 pages and God knows how much density and complexity, and turning it into something that you can actually tell in a ten or eleven hour period. It's the task that they had, and they did really, really well. But in order to do that, they had to trace a very small path through a very large story in a very large world.

It's the difference between going to Disneyland and walking in the front of the park and spending the day exploring wherever you want to go, or taking the tram ride that takes you to all the hot spots one after the other, but you don't really get to spend time there. The movie license is way too confining for making this kind of world. We're making a world, so we need the whole depth of the literary fiction.

What about restrictions that the literary estate might put on you? Has that affected anything?

JS: It's a double-edged sword, quite literally. The great thing for me and for all of us is that Tolkien Enterprises has been great to work with. And I'm supposed to say that, because you expect to hear that from anybody talking about their license, but I've been doing this for a long time and I've worked with a lot of different licensors -- major film companies and Disney and manufacturers of different kinds of toys -- and I've never worked with a licensor that's as interested in what we're doing and is supportive as they are. They understand that we're making a game, for example, and we have to do things that are not right, necessarily, for the lore, if you take it literally, because it needs to be a great game.

AM: It's a bend-not-break type rule. You bend some things, but there's other things that you just can't go past. We talked about how we implemented PvP, and there were some restrictions, so we came up with what we think is a pretty creative way to enable players who like that kind of play style to experience that without messing with the lore, and without forcing people who aren't into that to have to participate in it.

JS: It also forces you to be more creative. There's good side effects to that. We've had people say, "I've never played PvP before in my life. I thought it was something I wouldn't be into, but because it's a little more accessible and not so big a deal and I can do it quickly and it's in Tolkien's world, it's kind of fun. And guess what? I actually like this more than I thought I was going to, and I'm probably going to try it elsewhere now."

Back to the question in terms of constraints, there are definitely constraints in big things, like magic. Making a role-playing game in a world where there are five wizards and you know who they are and no one else does "magic" -- that's a place where we had to bend, and bend a lot. We just showed you a skill where he's pulling lightning down from the sky to toast a guy. It's really about how you package it.

The reason why I think Tolkien is -- as if he needs me to explain why he's been so successful -- but the reason why the books to me are so successful is because he built a world that feels like it could exist. It has so much internal consistency with the ruleset and how things work, and things don't contradict that anywhere in the book. Things always work the way that they're supposed to work. It feels like you could step out of our world and into that world very naturally, and it would exist. It's not so fantastical that it feels made-up and things don't make any sense.

If we follow the same approach, and we needed to invent a whole new antagonist in Eriador, for example, Angmar was the only choice, because Angmar has been an antagonist there in the past, so it makes sense that Angmar is there. It wasn't an arbitrary choice. Lightning from the sky comes from a species called the Loremaster -- the knowledge of the way that the natural forces in Middle Earth work, and the knowledge of how to harness those and to bring them to your side. It's also good to have some boundaries. In any creative endeavor, there's a danger to having a big white canvas, because you can go in every direction all at once. And also the fact that we know where we're going. We know the world that we have to build forever.

AM: Once we have that frame, you can use more paint on that picture, as opposed to if you had this wide-open space and you could easily get lost in the middle of the process, because you don't have those restrictions to drive that creativity.

JS: And there's a built-in expectation from the consumer. They've got a laundry list of things in their heads that they can't wait to see.

There are a lot of expectations from people who are fans.

JS: Again, it's a double-edged sword. We've got to deliver on it. When they get to Rivendell, it better feel like Rivendell. And it does, I think.

AM: There's debates on forums. I remember before launch it was like, "You know, in the books, it took them six months to get from the shuttle to Rivendell, and it should be totally authentic. If I can just run there in two minutes, this game's going to destroy Tolkien!" Look, it would be great for us if it took you six months to run there. We charge subscriptions! But it's not very fun.

The other thing was the red and the gray squirrels. People were arguing about what color the squirrels were in Middle Earth. The big challenge was delivering a believable interpretation of Middle Earth, because if we didn't do that out of the box, we wouldn't be sitting here talking to you right now. To gain the credibility of the core fans of MMOs and Tolkien -- that was priority one. And we succeeded at that, and now it opens up all these other opportunities, because now we've got the credibility as interpreters of Tolkien's work.

JS: But there's just going to be some things where, if it was another project or an original IP we've created, it would be "easier", because you could do whatever you wanted to do. But there's always ways to make it happen. The bestiary that Tolkien talked about in the books is too confining for an MMO. There's not enough monsters. There's a lot of them, and they're cool and distinct, but there's just not enough of them. So what do you do about that? Do you just make monsters up? Yeah, kind of, in some respects, but you make them up in a way that they fit into the rules. You don't make monsters that don't make sense in Middle Earth, but they can still be wild and crazy.

AM: Like the Neeker-Breeker, right? It's basically a giant bug, but the name comes from the noises that Tolkien wrote about coming out of a marsh. There's Neeker-Breeker sounds, but what is that? Well, let's just create a monster that would probably be in a marsh, so a giant insect, and we'll call him a Neeker-Breeker. It's still very tied to the lore, but not one of his official pieces of Middle-earth.


From a business angle, do you have any plans for a console version? What do you think of the console possibilities?

JS: Our licenses -- and not accidentally so -- for The Hobbit and the trilogy are massively multiplayer online for all platforms and all regions. We have the ability to do that. We got the ability because we think it's valuable. We want to be able to reach the widest possible audience. As for whether we have a specific focus on that now, not necessarily. But that is definitely an alternate future available to us. But first things first. Before we think about doing anything else other than what we're doing, we have to make sure that we're doing what we're doing for our current audience better than anybody else.

AM: Right. MMO players and PC players.

JS: The market's going to evolve anyway, and this product's going to be around for a long time, so it's going to evolve with the market. Right now, we're still taking the PC game that we built and making sure that it grows into a global audience. That's a big enough focus right now.

I'm curious about the in-game economics of The Lord of the Rings Online. Recently Gala-Net signed on to work with real money traders. I was wondering what you thought about that sort of thing -- gold farming and real money trading -- and how you're dealing with that.

JS: The relationship between in-game economy and real-world money has been a topic of discussion since these games have been online. It's never going away, and that discussion is going to accelerate. There's a lot of people out there right now who make a living in that business. Some of them live in the United States, and some don't. It's the nature of doing business in the online space right now.

We recognize that this is going on, but we also very clearly and officially made it clear that we don't support it, and we don't think that's a good thing for our game, and that it's against our terms of service to do that. And we enforce that pretty significantly. In fact, we spend a fair amount of time and energy figuring out who's doing it with the sole intent of exploiting the game to create income for themselves, and who don't care about the health of the community and the health of the game.

At the end of the day, where our bread gets buttered is from our subscribers, and we need to protect the world that they're subscribing to be in, to be the world that they want it to be. That's our focus. It's like everything else. Where the industry and the world is going, we don't know. There's a lot of people out there experimenting with stuff, and there are certainly companies out there that are trying to take advantage of the situation. Our actions certainly speak for whether we think that's where we want to go. We're not participating in that, and it's a choice to not participate in that.

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There's companies out there like Sony Online for example -- with Station Exchange -- that are experimenting with what's that like. Does it make any sense to create an environment for people where they actually want to be in that kind of environment? I don't know. But we know it's a big issue, and we know that it's not going away, and we also know that it's something that's very delicate and something that should not be rashly fooled around with. Right now, we're staying course. It's a full-time job to try and keep up with it.

AM: Unfortunately, we're a victim of our own success. If you're a successful game, then the gold farmers will come. So we deal with them, and we deal with helping our customers, and we have ways of identifying large transactions and police. The customer service guys probably look at it like that, but I look at it like, "Great! They're gold farmers! That means we're a hit!" I mean, that's how I looked at it at first, but obviously it is a big concern. That's Jeffrey's point. Our concern is to make sure that players are having a great time playing the game.

The appeal of The Lord of the Rings Online is that you're in Tolkien's world and anything that would break that experience would be pretty negative.

JS: It's also hard because -- and I think we've been very successful at it so far -- people have commented that our community feels like a really healthy, self-supported, mature community. Sometimes game communities can be rough, just because of the nature of the competitiveness and the nature of the age range of people playing, and this is a pretty mature, fun place to be a part of.

You mentioned that you have a demographic?

AM: We're trying, now that we've been out for six months, to get an idea of a player profile. I don't know a lot of the details, but when I saw the initial round of research collected, the most interesting thing that struck me is that a third of our player base is over 35. Which I think went back to our predictions at launch, that we were going to bring a lot of people into MMOs for the first time, or bring in people who have never tried one, because they're going to come for Lord of the Rings first and for the MMO second. We also have a strong enough game that's bringing in core MMO-players from our games and our competitors' games to give it a try, because it's a triple-A MMO.

But the age, I think that's the most interesting. I think when you look at other games, it's a younger crowd. They have their own subculture with leetspeak and all this other stuff, and it's very tough for someone who's not from that community to come in and go, "What are these people talking about?" The accessibility of the game resonates in the community. It's very successful. You can ask for help and there are people there who will help you. It's things like that.

JS: The whole thing tells us that the opportunity that we thought was there is there with this IP and the game we're building, and the accessibility of the game that we're building, which we're continually trying to make better, to really reach out to a broader audience. When we first launched the game, your first audience is going to be your MMO player. Those are the people who are going to understand the game that we're building, who are zealous to have a new one to play, and so there's a lot of focus on that, for the people who want to play these kinds of games.

We're just at the very beginning to get the word out to a much broader group of people. That's why you'll look around and start seeing other people talking about Lord of the Rings in different types of places than you might normally hear people talking about games, because this is something that a larger group of people are going to be interested in. The market's already kind of going that way already.


Right. It does seem different, and I was wondering what you were thinking about really casual MMOs like Habbo Hotel.

JS: It's interesting. I have some experience in that stuff. I worked at There.com for a while, and so I've worked with mainstream audiences and virtual worlds. The word "casual," like everything, has complicated things, because what does that really mean? Does casual mean the amount of money I'm willing to spend, the amount of time I'm willing to invest, or how emotionally connected or committed I am to what I'm doing? Or how hardcore of a gamer I am, or how much complexity I want in the game that I'm playing?

People who are playing Habbo Hotel? They're not really casual, in that they spend lots and lots of time on the Internet doing that. People who play Second Life or There are anything but casual. One of the things I learned at there.com is that a 45-year-old mother of four can be just as maniacally zealous about coming into a virtual world that's mainstream and likes spending lots and lots of money buying new T-shirts for her avatar and a new buggy to park in front of her house or whatever. So there's nothing really casual about it. You don't actually want that.

In a business model like this where we're asking people to pay money for a premium, we don't want them to be casual. Someone who watches Lost or Heroes or whatever religiously every week and reads about it on the Net and can't wait for the next episode to come out -- they're not a casual consumer of content. They're core, because of how much time they're willing to commit and how exciting they are about it.

I think what we're really all talking about is complexity, and how much actual time and money people want to invest. I think there is an opportunity there for people to invest smaller chunks of time, and we try to accommodate that in this game as well, because you have monster play and session play -- ways for you to go in and very quickly play. If I only had thirty or forty minutes tonight to play, I can go in and play, get out, and not feel like...

AM: You don't feel like you have to put in ten or twenty hours a week in order to actually get value out of your experience. You have a great point about the casual. I think we're going to have to come up with a new phrase for it. It comes down to the accessibility of being able to go in and adapt to multiple peoples' lifestyles. Hardcore gamers who play -- and we've got them -- who play thirty or forty hours a week, which I can't even comprehend, and I work for a gaming company... they have a lot more time on their hands. Someone who has a job, family, kids, or is going to school has less time, but still wants the entertainment experience.

So does that make them more casual players? Probably not. But the idea that they can find content that's successful to them and to their lifestyle... I think the whole definition of "casual" became the antonym for "hardcore," and leaves out the idea of finding games that appeal to people and their lifestyles and still be entertainment. If the entertainment starts to take up 70 or 80 hours a week, is it entertainment, or is it your life? It's something we should explore more. It's an interesting topic.

JS: Back to the other question about Habbo Hotel... it's a natural extension in both directions, where the whole virtual world industry is going, versus where the whole Web 2.0 and social networking thing's going. The two things are starting to come together. We talk about it all the time, and people are like, "Web 2.0! The future's really about people being online, connection, and socializing with each other and sharing experiences!" And we're like, "Cool, we've been doing that for ten years! We're already there!" The only difference is, what are the barriers? Do I have to have a nice computer to play it? Do I have to play thirty to forty hours a week? Do I have to pay $15 a month?

There are a lot of MMOs and a lot of specifically fantasy-oriented MMOs out there. Are you worried that the market's oversaturated or that you have to compete with World of Warcraft?

JS: Those are two separate questions! The first question, there's really a couple parts to it. Are we worried that there's a lot of competitors out there? I think there's a list of maybe 80 MMOs that are supposedly coming out over the next several years. Don't worry about that. First of all, there's no point in it. Our job is to focus on doing what we do as great as it can possibly be. I can't control what other people are doing, and if I worry about that all day I'll go crazy. Any creative person -- like people who make movies or record albums -- will say the same thing.

I will say that what we do is really hard. It's really hard to the point where many of us wake up in the morning and question why we have decided to do the hardest possible thing you could do in the game industry in terms of making product. So it's not something you can just decide to do. It takes a lot of time, money, technology, experience, and expertise, and I think a lot of these companies are going to struggle with bringing these games to the market. In some respects, our job is just to stay ahead of the pack as much as we possibly can. So don't worry so much about that. Now as far as saturation of fantasy, you could say that every game we've ever made is fantasy. You could say it because it's true!

AM: You could also say that every game ever made is based on our fantasy IP, which is definitely true. When that question was asked before we came to market, the easy answer was like, "Dude, it's The Lord of the Rings!"

JS: But that's the ongoing question, right? Wouldn't science fiction be the way to go? Wouldn't cyberpunk be the way to go? Or westerns? Sure, and I think everybody's exploring different types of the genre, because it reaches out to different parts of the audience, but the fantasy audience, first of all, just in terms of fiction and entertainment, is gigantic. It always will be. It's really more a matter of... an RPG in general, any kind of role-playing game, for the most part, in any gaming genre or platform, tends to be focused around fantasy, because there's something fundamental about the way fantasy, as it's been defined, really supports that kind of gameplay. And it's fundamentally tied with everything that started with D&D and Tolkien and everything else, which is ironic -- the two games that we're driving right now.

But also it has to do with the look of those games. Fantasy has a very specific look, and I think that will start to diversify and look different. Even with Tolkien, we have an opportunity to look different. It doesn't look like that kind of high-fantasy look. It doesn't look hyper-real like it looks like if you go out to Golden Gate Park, but it looks like a place that could be real, and that's important.

The other thing is that fantasy is really just mythology. That's never going to go away. Fantasy is at the core of people, and fantasy is always going to be there. Saying, "People are tired of fantasy," is... I've said the same thing in the past, and have we all worried about it? Sure, we all have. "My God, there's too much fantasy! Fantasy's going to get old!" It's like saying the heroic journey is going to get old. "People are so tired of hearing about heroic journeys!" But every movie and every book you see, deep inside it somewhere -- even if it's an action movie or a drama -- is a heroic journey. It's fundamental, and it's not going to go away. I think fantasy's fundamental, so I don't worry about it that much. As far as the competition, I always worry about the competition. Who isn't worried about the competition?

AM: There's nothing you can do about that though, right? Just make the best game you can, and maybe not necessarily beat the competition, but push the envelope in terms of what kind of experiences we can, as an industry, deliver to people.

JS: And I don't think the genre is what attracts people at the beginning, but at this point, if someone's making a decision between whether they want to spend their time and money on WoW or whether they want to spend their time and money on Lord of the Rings, or both, it's not because of what genre it is. It's because they feel like the experience is sustainable, and there keeps being new, fresh stuff for them to do.


Do you see anything coming in the way of competition? Is there any title that is on the horizon that seems interesting?

JS: There's a lot of things coming out that are interesting. I think that the challenge is that, as I said, these things are just so hard to do. They all have a lot of fire to climb through to get there, and it's hard to tell who will get there, but I'm really excited to see what happens with Warhammer and [realm vs. realm] and taking that to the next level. Conan's trying some new things. There's a lot of people trying new and different stuff. Even Guild Wars was playing around with different business models. All of that is interesting and is good for us. Being the one movie that you watch is not necessarily the best thing, because then they won't build movie theatres, and they won't have Blockbuster or whatever.

AM: There's no winners in this. In some way, I have to say that we're all winners, as long as the industry keeps growing. What I think is the interesting story is to look beyond who's doing the cool thing with new gameplay or new game features. Like he said, RvR and Conan have some interesting things, but I think the industry has a lot of cool things coming that may not have anything to do with gameplay. It may have to do with how products are distributed. It may have to do with business models. There's so many ways to innovate and try new things. Do people really compare Lord of the Rings Online and Guild Wars? One's a paid subscription, and one isn't. It's hard to... I think what's going to be most exciting is not the innovative game features that are coming, but the innovation that's going to come to huge distributed network-architectured persistent online worlds.

JS: At a much higher level, the industry's maturing. We're not just, "We make these kinds of games and here's the business model and here's the way it works. It sells at retail, and it's always the same." Hopefully, we're in the position, as an industry, to not make the mistakes the record industry has been making, for example. It's fastidiously hanging on to a model that has never changed. You pay $15 for an album -- and sure it's on CD now rather than a record -- but the model's the same. Steve Jobs -- say whatever you want -- he's the guy who took a stand and said, "No, we're going to break the mold. We're going to do it differently." Yeah, it's risky and people will steal our stuff and all that kinds of stuff...

AM: It changed user behavior. Item-based commerce is huge in Asia, and thanks to Steve Jobs, it's huge here in the United States now.

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JS: And it isn't just about, "We're smart and the record company's dumb," because that's not my case at all. My case is that we're new enough as an industry and that games have constantly had to change consistently that we're used to having the change, whereas we don't have tens of billions of dollars and 60 years of history. It's hard, right? Once you're that far down the road, you're trying to sell records, and you've been selling them for $15 forever, and you make lots and lots of money. If you decide to not do that anymore, you could just about implode. We're not quite there yet, and in some respects, that's an advantage.

AM: In the scale of things, 10 or 15 years when you look back, we haven't even skimmed the surface of where this is going. We're going to be the biggest-growing segment of the entertainment industry. The best example I can give you where we're on the tip of a change here is my five-year-old twin daughters, who don't know what it's like to play a game offline. From when they were two and they sat on my lap, we went to sesamestreet.org and they played Flash-based games showing how to group blue dogs in one pile and red dogs in another to teach them basic skills - to Webkinz now, when they're five, and they've got these little dolls that have their own virtual lives and they put them on stage and they have a bedroom.

Right there, this whole audience -- my children, that generation -- is only going to know about online gaming. So what's it going to be like in ten years when they're fifteen, or twenty years when they're coming out of college? That to me is what's exciting, not what's in front of us where a lot of games are trying to come out and it's very hard. We're seeing a lot of people struggle, and we went a long route to get this game out and worked really hard. There's infinite possibilities. Where is it a game and where is it a virtual world? Things along those lines, and how they change. And who cares? I think it's very exciting.

People look at WoW and they've done amazing things for the industry because they've sort of kickstarted online gaming in a way. We were around with Asheron's Call eight years ago, but they kickstarted an industry that goes so far beyond that hardcore 18-24 year-old gamer. It's not really bizarre that our average is over 35, because the average age of a gamer is like 33 now, right? We're all growing up -- the early adopters. It amazes me to see what world is going to come for my kids, when it comes to how they're entertained, versus how we were entertained at that age.

JS: PlayStation 9 implant?

AM: Yeah, it's going to be goggles and virtual reality. It's amazing. The question was whether we are concerned about our competition. No. We're really not. Anytime someone does well, it's not taking our business, it's just expanding our universe.

JS: Some of the confidence comes from the fact that it's just hard to do right. If it was a simpler, shrinkwrapped game... anybody can't make a good game, but anybody can make a bad game. And not anybody can make this kind of game, good or bad. It's just so hard to get it out the door.

Is it hard from a technology standpoint or game design?

JS: Yes. It's exquisitely hard from the technology. It's hard in terms of the industry learning how to be a service industry, as opposed to just a product industry. That's huge.

AM: Housing is a great example of that, right? It's not just making a house that has hooks and you can decorate and it's real simple. How do you prepare for the fact that on day one when we kick this thing off, one of our big kinships of 1,500 people is going to say, "Party at our house!" and 10,000 people are going to run into one zone? Is it going to crash the server, or are you going to be prepared for that? That has to be a design decision when you're thinking about, "Cool, what kind of rug should we have in the house? And also how many people can we have?" All that stuff. And the technology, in having servers that are up 24/7.

JS: Their game launches with 20-40 hours of gameplay. We launched our game with 500 hours of gameplay, and we've grown that by 20 to 30 percent already. The scope is overwhelming.

AM: It's all that. But billing, making sure peoples' credit card transactions are secure, and making sure they're only being billed for what they asked for, and what do you do with gold farmers? And customer service, and technical support, and oh, a new operating system is coming out with new graphics standards! How do you plan ahead for all that? When you sat down to start four or five years ago with DX 9... DX 10, what was that? We didn't even know about it.

JS: And all games have to deal with that. But absolutely. There's also the Internet. Everything we do goes through this thing called the Internet that we don't control, which is sort of efficient, sort of not, depending on the day or second.

AM: It's an exciting time to be in the online entertainment business. What we're hoping to do is we're building on success, and we're pretty much the largest independent developer of online games in the country now. We started as just a contract developer for Microsoft with Asheron's Call, so now we're looking to build on it.

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