23 May 2013

A RIFT and a Raptr

One of the biggest stories recently was Trion Worlds announcing that RIFT would be joining the ranks of "free-to-play" next month on June 12th.  I was excited and unsurprised by the news; excited because I enjoyed RIFT quite a bit while I was subscribed to it, but left it for the "greener pastures" of games that let me down.  And unsurprised because the industry trend is already leaning heavily towards various forms of free-play and the ranks of games that still require a mandatory subscription is dwindling by the day.  In fact I can only think of two off the top of my head... World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI.  No, EVE Online doesn't count in my mind because PLEX can be bought in-game strictly with in-game currency thus bypassing the subscription entirely.  

RIFT was one of the last "holdouts," and this was unsurprising too considering public comments from Trion in the past adamantly stating that RIFT would maintain the subscription model.  Of course these comments were thrown back in their face by upset members of the community who felt betrayed.  In Trion's defense, I think they fully meant those comments when they were made.  I don't think there was a "hidden agenda" to cheat subscribers in the wake of the Storm Legion release.  The market changed in ways Trion didn't predict, and free-play became a reality they had to embrace.  Adapt or die.  I think those people who are upset by Trion's decision would be even more upset when a game they apparently love would be forced to shut down because it was no longer profitable. 

Catching a Raptr to Telara

So while I was cruising the RIFT website looking at the F2P information, I noticed a promotion they were running with Raptr.  If you installed their spyware desktop application and logged a certain number of hours playing RIFT, you could earn rewards like costume gear, pets, and free copies of the game.  I already had the client reinstalled as I was using RIFT Lite to putz around in the game, so I figured this would be a good opportunity to score a free copy of the expansion and some free game time so I could play "for real" between now and June 12th.  But here's the funny part... apparently the Raptr promotion had been running since the last week in April, but after Trion's F2P announcement, a LOT more people became aware of it and the keys for the free copies of the game dried up almost immediately.  This was due not only to F2P interest but current members "stacking" keys to earn extra game time, as each code came with 30-days of game time.

Nobody was pleased with the situation.  Trion was upset at people "cheating" the system and getting free time.  Players were unhappy, especially those looking to play in June, as a free copy of the game would expand the number of character slots and other perks they would have after F2P.  And I have to imagine Raptr wasn't really happy as it was drawing them some negative publicity.  So after some tweaks on Trion's part (removing game time from accounts that "stacked" keys, and current accounts no longer being awarded game time) the keys were restocked and there was (some) rejoicing.  I was disappointed that I couldn't get the game time for my old account, but I went ahead and redeemed a code to upgrade my account to Storm Legion so I could use the new souls later.  I also acquired a second code and created a new account to play on in the meantime.

Telara Revisited

Using this new account I was no longer restricted to RIFT Lite and could explore beyond the starting zones.  Granted most of this content is not new to me, I saw all of Mathosia and the Ember Isle before leaving RIFT previously.  But while the content was familiar, some of the game mechanics had changed in the meantime, which is certainly to be expected considering that an entire expansion had been added to the game in my absence.  And this is something Trion still deserves credit for.  They give you your money's worth in terms of content.  Storm Legion was in and of itself a massive expansion in terms of content, plus the rather meaty patches they continue to apply to the game.  In all fairness, this pace has slowed a bit since SL's release, but Trion still pushes out content faster than a LOT of other MMO developers. 

Much of what I enjoyed about the game previously was still there.  I still really enjoy the class system.  Yes any system based on talent trees will have issues with "false choices," in terms of obviously bad skills, talents, and combinations that are inferior to others.  But I think RIFT does a better job of offering customization than even more free-form systems like what The Secret World tried to do.  Zone events are still a blast, when there are enough players around to do them.  That's always been the "catch" with RIFT's "dynamic" content.  When you have a critical mass of population, they are great fun.  When you don't, they can essentially "lock down" a zone and make normal questing almost impossible as masses of invaders take over towns and eliminate quest givers. 

The combat is still responsive and smooth.  This was one thing I always admired about World of Warcraft and RIFT does it very well too.  For better or worse, combat remains the primary activity in MMO's and for a game to be enjoyable, the combat system just has to work.  RIFT just feels good to play.  Everything is smooth and satisfying.  As I've said in the past, I can't always put my finger on why one game or system works and another doesn't.  But I can tell you that when it does work, it can make a mediocre game great (WoW) or it can make an otherwise good game terrible (TSW).  RIFT's combat makes it fun to play in almost any permutation.  My old account has three level 50 characters and one level 40.  I've enjoyed all the different ways to play this game and I'll be looking forward to leveling those characters through the SL content next month.

Uncertain Future

There is a sense of unease in the RIFT community right now and you can see this by reading the forums, or listening in on the "global" chat channels in the game.  You have the expected naysayers who are convinced that F2P is the "end of the world," that masses of ignorant noobs will infest the game and make it unplayable.  These are also typically the people upset with Trion for "breaking their promise" and dropping the mandatory subscription in the first place.  Then you have the hopeful types who seem to understand that F2P was inevitable at some point and that the influx of new players will revitalize the game.  And finally you have all the new players who either through RIFT Lite or the Raptr promotion are already trickling into the game ahead of the June 12th F2P "launch."  The interaction between these three groups has been interesting to watch and for the most part, it has been more civil than you might expect. 

In terms of Trion's interpretation of F2P, I find it rather interesting.  Looking at the benefits reserved to subscribers, and the things that free players will have access to... I am hard pressed to come up with a reason why someone would want to maintain a subscription.  Obviously this is all in flux, and Trion will likely make revisions and changes to the matrix before it goes "live," but at the moment I have to say that if I were a subscriber I would be a little upset and feel like I am not really getting my money's worth for that fixed fee.  The biggest "gaffe" in my mind is no monthly stipend of cash shop currency for subscribers.  In my mind, that is almost benefit #1 of a subscription in any "freemium" type F2P model.  For RIFT not to offer that, in addition to the rather lackluster list of other perks, really seems to be shortchanging potential subscribers.  And with all the other content available for free, even the two new continents added in SL, again I see very few reasons to continue paying a fixed monthly fee. 

The other very controversial aspect of this F2P model is the selling of gear in the cash shop.  Now Trion isn't the first or only company to do this.  Many other games sell gear in their cash shops as part of their model, but at the moment it would seem that Trion is willing to sell everything short of the top tier of equipment in their shop (again this being subject to change in the meantime.)  So essentially you can never get THE best gear, but you can always jump straight to the "second best" level at any given time just by spending the bucks.  Obviously this has generated a lot of howling on both sides, but I'm rather unconcerned.  To me it just comes back to the same argument of trading money for time.  Player A spent a month farming dungeons and raids for gear set X.  Player B spent $50 to buy gear set X from the cash shop.  It just comes down to which commodity you as a player have more of... money or time.  Neither is an indication of player skill as far as I'm concerned.

(Although as a working dad, I have neither money OR time.  Where's my "shortcut?" :P )

Everybody seems to have an opinion on where RIFT is going, so what is yours?  Drop a comment and weigh in.

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