GamerZines: The free-to-play version of The Lord of the Rings Online took awhile to come over to British shores, what was the hold up?
David Solari, Vice President and General Manager of Codemasters Online: Unfortunately, as we previously communicated across our forums, a contract was required in order to go free-to-play with LOTRO and this has taken longer to conclude than expected.
GZ: What are the challenges of bringing an American MMO to Europe?
DS: The American and European communities are extremely similar in what they expect from an MMO and so there aren’t any real challenges in bringing an American MMO to Europe – especially one that has such a widely recognised and accepted IP as LOTRO.
GZ: Do you think the demise of APB and Realtime Worlds holds any lessons for MMO publishers or developers?
DS: There are definitely lessons to be learnt. Games fail all of the time and can do so for a number of reasons. It’s important to take stock of these reasons and ensure they are not repeated.
GZ: The MMO landscape has changed massively over the past twelve months due in part to many formerly subscription based franchises moving over to a free-to-play model. Do you have any concerns moving into such a congested market?
DS: We were the first company to take boxed subscription games and convert them to item sales and make it work in the west. If you have the right product, it’s not a problem. LOTRO most definitely has the quality and following to be successful in this space.
GZ: Do you think funding an MMO is an inherently riskier investment than a standard AAA release?
DS: Depends on the MMO. You can make a traditional game for $50, and need to sell 4 million units to break even. You have to have a lot of confidence you’re going to get it right to take that kind of risk, and really the only ones that try are really established brands.
There have been lots of companies getting huge investment and spending $30 on an MMO, yes that’s high risk. However you can make an MMO for $1. If it is a great game and well targeted it’s got a good chance of success and the risk is far less.
It’s unfortunate for people looking for investment in MMO’s and persistent entertainment that there have been such high profile and expensive failures. It hurts everyone’s chances of getting investment and puts a negative spin on the MMO space which is still growing and has huge opportunities.
There are plenty of success stories, but there will be more high profile failures too.
GZ: Do you see any other titles published by Codemasters Online gaining the sort of attention which The Lords of the Rings Online does?
DS: We have many exciting projects in development and only time will reveal whether they are able to reach the levels of success that have been enjoyed by LOTRO. However, we are confident that our products will perform to the highest standards expected from our fans.
GZ: The Lord of the Rings Online has such a timeless quality to it and Turbine still have plenty of Tolkien’s material to cover. How long do you foresee it lasting?
DS: Great question – A fan’s dream answer would be, "Until the story is told!" However, that’s a question for Turbine to answer.
GZ: Blizzard is releasing World of Warcraft: Cataclysm in December, do you foresee any changes in player numbers as a result of that?
DS: Blizzard has released several expansions since the launch of LOTRO in 2007 and our service has not seen any noticeable impact from these launches, therefore we do not anticipate this expansion being any different. I do expect Cataclysm to draw back a lot of old WOW players from a lot of games though.
GZ: Micro-transactions are still considered to be controversial revenue generator by many MMO players, do you think that mindset is changing and how does LOTRO fight against that view?
DS: Micro-transactions have been growing in popularity amongst various types of games over the past few years and whilst there are always a few who initially speak out against them, the vast majority are welcoming of this new model and it opens up games to a much wider audience due to the accessibility.
GZ: Shop prices are always controversial, how do you find the balance between offering good value for money and not manipulating gamers?
DS: Purchases within the LOTRO Store are all completely optional and extensive public testing over the summer has revealed that the current pricing structure is well received by the players.
GZ: Do you see any future for the traditional £12.99 a month subscription model?
DS: There seems to be a real trend at present for subscription-based models to move over to free-to-play. However these changes are part of a hybrid model which maintains a subscription system. We believe that there is plenty of room within the market for both subscription and micro-transactions – especially when you offer a subscription for £8.99 like LOTRO.
GZ: Recently Dimitry Gusarov of Katauri Interactive stated that MMOs as a genre are in a state of creative stagnation, is this a view you subscribe to?
DS: It depends where you look in regards to MMOs. There are similarities across all the major subscription MMOs but when you start looking further at free-to-play titles and those by smaller studios, you will see a vast array of different game play options, themes and experiences.
GZ: What are your views on tax breaks for British developers and do you think it would help the nation progress up the international ranks once more if they were offered?
DS: Absolutely – it would be fantastic if tax breaks were given to British developers and there is no doubt that we would regain our title within the international ranks of gaming development if they were implemented.
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