Massively Exclusive: Turbine on the future of Asheron's Call and the studio

When has putting an MMO into maintenance mode ever signaled a bright future for a game? Even so, that's what seems to have happened for Asheron's Call, which is preparing to not only transition into a maintenance mode phase but drop subscription fees and allow for player-run servers by the end of the year.

The announcement was so unusual in the industry that we had to reach out to Turbine to get more perspective on this move. Asheron's Call Executive Producer Rob Ciccolini took the time to answer a few questions about the change for the game, Turbine's recent layoffs, and how the studio is adjusting going forward.

Massively: How did the team manage to deliver monthly event content for Asheron's Call for a decade and a half?

Rob Ciccolini: The team is extremely focused and driven by their passion for the game. They have worked together for a long time and are a finely tuned machine.

How long has Turbine been contemplating making the switch to maintenance mode with Asheron's Call? What went into making this decision? Were the recent layoffs the catalyst behind the timing?

We recently announced our decision to cease new content updates for Asheron's Call. We always knew that the day would come when we would move on from Dereth. So after 15 years, the time has finally come, but we felt we needed to do something to honor the players who have dedicated so much time to the game. Shutting it down was never an option in our minds, so we decided to make it free and let it continue to operate.

How large is the current AC community? Can you comment on the percentage of players who play AC versus AC2?

We don't comment on player data.

What does Turbine have to gain from switching over to maintenance mode and making it free versus shutting the game down? (Not that we would desire the latter!)

This was the right thing to do. We've been making games for 20 years and have seen a lot of games shut down, including one of our own. It never sat well with us. When the time came to make this decision... it was the only decision. Players have enjoyed this world we made for them for almost 15 years. We didn't want to take it away from them, so we've worked hard to find a way to keep making that world available. Beyond just keeping the game available, we ultimately will give it to the community so that it can live on forever.

Have the Asheron's Call developers been moved to other projects?

We don't comment on personnel matters. We continue to support AC with folks on staff at Turbine. There is still work to be done to enable players to host their own AC servers. We look forward to working with the community to make this special project a reality.

Will the upcoming removal of subscription fees open the doors to anyone who wants to play Asheron's Call? If this applies only to current subscribers, will other interested parties have to wait for player-run servers?

Current players with an active AC account will be able to play the game free of charge. We may allow new players to join the game once this plan goes into place, but the player will need to purchase a key to activate a new account. We will be refunding remaining subscription fees for players who have a multi-month subscription when the transition to free happens. We will announce more details as we finalize these plans.

Let's talk about the decision to empower players to run their own servers. Why did Turbine decide to do this, and what will it entail? Will players be given the source code to modify? How much control will Turbine retain over such servers?

This goes back to our desire to find a better way to handle supporting a game that has reached AC's stage of development. It's a very exciting project, and we look forward to working with the community to make it happen. We will not be releasing any source code. We will work to enable players to run their own server and create live events. If this goes well, we hope to release the tools that will allow players to modify their server's game data and perhaps add their own dungeons or landscape areas. This is a community-focused initiative, and we're going to do our best to give players what they want.

Are there any other Asheron's Call projects in the works?

No.

We've seen that both LotRO and DDO are under new leadership. Has Turbine reorganized the teams past this and the layoffs?

We have made some changes to ensure that we are focused on our goals as a studio. This is all part of a long-term plan that is designed to ensure we continue to deliver compelling content for DDO and LotRO while also enabling us to allocate proper resources on our other projects.

Will the layoffs impact the plans for the year as stated in the late 2013/early 2014 producer's letters?

No.

Will we be seeing more frequent communication from LotRO and DDO leadership going forward?

Our team is always communicating with players via the forums, the player's council, our streams and social media. This will continue.

Thank you for your time!

When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!
This article was originally published on Massively.