We catch up with Turbine's Online Community Manager, Meghan "Patience" Rodberg at the LOGIN Conference in Seattle.
You don't have to know me for very long to discover that I'm a total Sushiholic. Fortunately, Meghan "Patience" Rodberg, Online Community Manager for Turbine shares my passion. We caught up with her at the LOGIN Conference in Seattle last week to grab a bite to eat. During the meal, she went on record to talk about Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons and Dragons Online and Asherons Call which is celebrating it's 10 year anniversary later this year. Check out what she had to say in between mouthfuls of yummy deliciousness in our exclusive interview with Meghan below.
ZAM: Hey Meghan! Let's order some Sushi and talk about Turbine!! I know you've been doing a lot of cool stuff with LotRO since Mines of Moria, but what's next in terms of major content?
Meghan: Yay for sushi! Volume II Book 8 is coming in June, and players will return to Moria. Book 8 will bring new raids, including a 12-man.
We're also overhauling the crafting system - its two years old now so we're going back and making it a little more thematic and a little friendlier. Right now you might get a crit item in loot and it'll just say "this item can be used in crafting!" but you have no idea which profession it can be used by, and you have no idea at which tier it can be used. Now each profession is going to have one crit item for a tier and when you mouse-over it, it will say what that item is used for. We'll be adding some of the level 60 recipes everyone's been asking for, too.
The summer festival will be back! Festivals are a lot of fun, I think everybody likes those. The Inn League quests are huge with the players.
Later this year we go into Southern Mirkwood, to the city of Dol Guldur and we'll be increasing the level cap, which is big news for our level 60 players!
ZAM: What kind of additional tools for the web are you going to be doing?
Meghan: We're working on making MyLOTRO, the new social network we created, much more connected to the outside world, so you can hook up your MyLOTRO page with, say, Twitter, and tweet whenever your character levels or you post a new blog entry. We just made character and game data available from MyLOTRO. Now you can pull character data into other websites and applications, so I'm kind of interested to see what comes out of that. One of our web developers has set something up at data.lotro.com to help other developers get started.
Facebook is another site many of our players use so we'll be hooking more into Facebook too.
ZAM: One of the things that I love about LotRO is that there are so many areas that have gone unexplored. It's such a huge universe and there's so much story behind every area. What are some of the areas that you'd really like to travel into as the game progresses?
Meghan: I've seen some of what they're doing with Mirkwood and it's going to be awesome - it's dark and gloomy and scary like it should be. We just went to Lothlórien and that was one that everyone was looking forward to. My favorite place in LotRO, and this is going to sound really lame because so many people say it, is the Shire. As far as where we're going next and where I want to see, that's kind of tough because we're following the timeline of the story in many ways, and it gets grimmer and darker the further you go. You know what I'm really looking forward to? I want to see Lake-town. In The Hobbit, that was the town that Smaug was attacking when he was killed. I'm really looking forward to some of the locations from The Hobbit.
ZAM: Turbine was able to do an entire expansion using the Mines of Moria. Do you think there's a lot of opportunity to do similar expansions like that, just using specific areas of the world?
Meghan: Definitely, because you could do, for example, Rohan in an expansion - that's a huge area. Or Minas Tirith! That also brings up new mechanics you know, you'd have to ask "are we going to have mounted combat?" Well, when we go to Rohan, it makes sense. No promises, of course.
ZAM: This is kind of changing pace a little bit - what do you think of the new Hobbit movie and how they're doing it?
Meghan: They just changed their plans too, didn't they? They were going to do the Hobbit and then a bridge film, but now they're just doing the Hobbit as two movies. I'll be curious to see if they can pull off four hours out of it. But you know what? I think they can. If you think about it, The Hobbit was written for kids, so Tolkien skims over it, but imagine the politics that surrounded the Battle of the Five Armies. They never actually fought, but imagine everything that led up to that, so it's really a pretty big deal! You know what, I think it's cool, and I didn't want to see a bridged film.
ZAM: I don't think anyone did.
Meghan: It's funny - because we have the literary license, we have a lot of freedom. We're able to take areas that were just mentioned, but not described and actually build stories around them and build them up. Do I trust anyone else to do that? I don't know... So when I hear about a bridge film, which is basically a whole new story, I'm like 'wow, is this a good idea?' But in the end I think it's cool. We have a lot of players who are huge fans of the Lord of the Rings movies, so I think that the Hobbit movie coming out can do nothing but good things for LotRO.
ZAM: You've worked with both the Dungeons and Dragons Online Community and the Lord of the Rings Online Community extensively. What do you think is the biggest difference between the two communities, in terms of play styles, vocal responses, and everything else from a community point of view?
Meghan: LotRO is much more casual of the two, because D&D is very numbers driven, and it's very focused on the combat system and character progression. LotRO is a much more casual 'jump in and out' game, and I think that the community kind of reflects that. It's interesting because DDO, originally, skewed much more toward men in their 30s, because these were all of the guys who were playing pen and paper D&D when they were kids, so they came to DDO to recreate that experience online. LotRO actually skews pretty heavily towards females for an MMO. We have a lot of women who play and I think only once have I gotten on voice chat in-game with someone who was playing a female character, and they weren't actually female. I remember looking for a group for the Great Barrow, and this level 50 hunter shows up, and she's a girl! She was just there to help the newbies out. I see a lot of that type of thing in both communities.
ZAM: So you've heard it here first! If you're looking for a girl in an MMO, play LotRO!
Meghan: Haha, that's right. Girls don't game? Yeah they do, and there are tons of women playing DDO, too. So as far as how the communities are different, I mean, DDO is a lot more hardcore and a lot more focused on the game mechanics, sometimes, than the LotRO players are. They're looking for different experiences.
ZAM: What kind of numbers do the games have right now?
Meghan: We never release information about our subscribers but all three of our games have really strong communities and are a big part of each game's unique experience.
ZAM: Let's talk about Asheron's Call a little bit. The 10th anniversary is coming up pretty soon I've been told that there have been over 100 updates now. What's coming in the future for Asheron's Call with the 10th anniversary?
Meghan: The team has some pretty cool stuff in development, including UI improvements and two-handed weapons (hey, this is AC, that's a big deal!). So far it's still Super Secret. The AC community lead, Frelorn, is also trying to put together a timeline of all of the content updates that have gone out for AC and how the story has changed in the 10 years, and we'll have a few more surprises too.
ZAM: What kind of community still exists in the Asheron's Call space? As far as websites and activity, etc.
Meghan: We still have the website and the forums are still pretty active. The thing about the AC community is that after 10 years, what you have is a group of people who are still playing it, and are still there with their friends, and that's home - they're not going anywhere. Kind of cool that way.
ZAM: For all of the DDO players who have been waiting for Module 9 for so long, can you tell them anything to alleviate some of their concerns about the delay?
Meghan: We know that they've been waiting, and we know that it has been tough. The delays to Mod 9 were not due to the development of Mod 9. They've already seen quite a bit of it on the test servers and it's fairly robust. There are just some other 'forces' at work, and that's really all I can say. The team is still really dedicated at getting it out the door, and work on Mod 10 has already begun and planning for beyond. We know they're [the players] frustrated with the wait and we've all been really appreciative of their patience.
ZAM: This is one where you're going to look at me and go "come on man!" but this is actually a legitimate question. DDO's launched, LotRO's launched, and you've got some big stuff going for Asheron's Call, what's really next?
Meghan: Well, you know we're moving to console. We'll continue development on our existing titles. AC's going to continue to get content updates. DDO's going to continue to get content updates, LotRO's going to continue to get content updates. I don't know what the schedule is for expansions, but those are always in the pipe. Then we're working on console.
ZAM: Is it safe to assume, then, that you're done with PC development?
Meghan: No, not at all. I think the MMO market is still very strong with the PC.
ZAM: You told me that you're a big fan of the Xbox Live. From a company standpoint, do you want to stick to a specific console that's currently already out, or a next-gen console that's on its way?
Meghan: We're developing for both the 360 and PS3.
ZAM: What's your favourite Lord of the Rings Character?
Meghan: That's a good question, it actually changes, but it's always one of the Hobbits. I think right now its Merry or Pippin, because I'm feeling scatter-brained. They both strike me as characters that are very much in the here and now. I really like that about them.
ZAM: Which Dungeons and Dragons rule set are you most fond of?
Meghan: The original one that came on Xeroxed sheets of paper. I was like 7 years old, and my dad and his friends used to play every weekend. We had a pool table and they would build out the dungeons with dominoes and balsa wood furniture. They would always let me play with them and I would make characters named after the neighbours, like Fran the Fighter, and I would cry when they died, and they would let me resurrect her for all of my gold so I'd stop whining about it. I haven't played 4.0 yet, but I've played most of them and I liked how the older versions were very simple and very focused by the DM, even more so than now.
ZAM: Being in the office with all of developers who are working on Dungeons and Dragons Online, there has to be a constant debate about 4.0 ruining Dungeons and Dragons. Do you get a lot of debates going back and forth about that?
Meghan: No, DDO is based on 3.5 and that's what we're focused on from a development standpoint.
ZAM: Thank you so much for eating some sushi with us and talking about Turbine!
Meghan: Thanks so much for listening! Are you going to finish that spicy tuna roll?
Andrew "Tamat" Beegle