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Interview: Turbine Talks Multiplatform Initiatives And The Future Of PC Retail

Just after opening a West Coast studio, Turbine CEO Jim Crowley tells Gamasutra about the LOTR Online maker's "very significant console initiative," why PC's growing weakness at retail "is not a platform issue; it's a distribution issue," and how T
Lord of the Rings Online developer Turbine has often suggested in recent months its strong interest in bringing its massively multiplayer titles to consoles. And the Massachusetts-based company's recent West Coast studio launch seems aimed at gathering more developers with the chops to aid such an effort. "We have a number of new things under wraps that we’re not ready to talk about yet, but I don’t think its any secret to anybody that we have a very significant console initiative," Turbine CEO Jim Crowley tells Gamasutra. "And we were just recently talking about the continued expansion, creation and launch of our social network that sits on top of each of our game worlds, and the importance of that to our games and community," he adds. "There is obviously an extensive pool of game console and social networking [development] talent on the West Coast." In addition to LotRO, the company also continues to operate its Dungeons and Dragons Online and long-running Asheron's Call. Although Crowley prefers to say that Turbine's approach to the MMO space complements, rather than competes with World of Warcraft and upstart challenger Warhammer Online, he does feel the company's approach is different in a few key ways, most notably what it calls an "emergent Web 2.0 focus," in addition to its attention to multiplatform development. The common thread between a focus on strong in-game social networking and multiplatform MMO development, says Crowley, is the element of sharing. "We believe that the game worlds that we create need to be shared, and need to be experienced," he says. "And the PC platform is an incredible platform, and one we will be dedicated to forever. At the same time, as both a business and as a creative force as well, we want what we create to be consumed and shared on as large a population as possible." Crowley noted that in Japan and the West -- less so in China, Korea and other parts of Asia -- "the game platform of choice for many people tends to be the next-gen console platform. We think it’s important that we participate in that community." He feels the market "has very strong appetite" for the experience of an MMO on consoles -- "And we're not disclosing yet how we're going to do that, but it's fair to say that is a very important part of how we look at the world going forward, and one that we have devoted a significant amount of time and resources to already." But the home console wasn't always "the platform of choice" for the average gamer -- there was a time when PC gaming was the dominant paradigm, and with today's boom in casual and browser-based gaming, some could argue that it still is. But Crowley says the company's interest in the console market is in no way due to a perception of PC weakening as a gaming platform. "We have a wonderful business built on the PC platform; it's a growing and exciting business," he says. In fact, Crowley suggests that the larger issue might not be the viability of PC as a gaming platform, but the viability of traditional distribution models on PC. "It's not a platform issue; it's a distribution issue," Crowley says. "While I think there is irrefutable data that exists that [shows that] the willingness of retailers to support PC inventory has been decreasing with time, I think Turbine -- and, specifically, our titles -- have been very well-supported within the retail channel." Now, gearing up for its first LotRO-related retail launch since the initial game with the Mines of Moria expansion, Crowley believes that support will continue. "Things are shrinking there -- but that’s the decision of the retailers… it’s not for me to judge those. But I would highlight that within the MMO space, there is an incredible ability to just drive your product digitally, and when appropriate." Even still, says Crowley, "Retail to us is a channel that is very near and dear, and we want it from now to eternity -- and as long as they want to support PC titles, we'll be putting PC titles on the shelf." But if the arguable ghettoization of PC games at retail continues to the point where selling boxed PC discs becomes inviable, Crowley says the company's prepared to explore other avenues. "We would augment with incremental digital distribution that would allow fans and players to experience that world via pure digital means. But I don't see it as a zero sum game by any stretch of the imagination."

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