Storm Legion, Expansions, and Measures of Success

You have probably already seen Trion Worlds’ announcement about their expansion to Rift.  Titled Storm Legion, it appears to be a pretty standard expansion, while the video that goes with it makes it clear that we are in for some precipitation with this expansion.

Someone left the Rift out in the rain…

Storm Legion has:

  • Two new continents
  • 10 more levels
  • More crafting levels
  • A New home town shared by Guardians and Defiants called Tempest Bay
  • More dungeons and more raids
  • Another soul to worry about for each of the base classes
  • A new equipment slots – Capes are the true mark of the nerd
  • Some sort of home/guild hall type of personal space in game
  • Generally more of the same, only bigger, stronger, faster, etc.

All pretty standard stuff for an MMO expansion.  I mean, if you took out the “personal space” thing (and boy, are people projecting their dreams onto that line item… watch out Trion, you toy with emotions on that front at your peril) and blurred the details a bit then it starts to sound a lot like Burning Crusade.  Or Wrath of the Lich King.  Or Ruins of Kunark.  Or Rise of Kunark!

Is Tempest Bay the new Shattrath?

And I do not mean to sound dismissive, but it is hard for me to build up any big wave of enthusiasm for this expansion, very much the way I have been unable to build up such for the game itself.

Rift is a very good MMO, but Trion’s approach has been to combine all that is good in the post-WoW world into one shiny, well-oiled machine of a package so that some of us can try and fill that empty space within us that the long timeline between WoW expansions… or WoW expansions that do not thrill us… leaves.

And Trion does that so well that my only worry is that they will go evil and turn their work into a mocking parody… and that I won’t notice.

So while I enjoy the game and appreciate all the work that has made it so smooth, it has never created the level of passion in me that EverQuest or World of Warcraft have in the past.

And thus my response to this expansion was not “Hurray! More Rift to play!” but a much more calm “I am glad to see that they are doing so well.”  How very nice for you!

Because, in my mind, releasing expansions to your MMO means success.  It is part of the cycle that I have come to expect having been trained early by EverQuest.

And MMOs that do not release expansions… well… they tend to be viewed as failures to one degree or another.  Think of that list.  Here is what springs to mind for me.

  • Vanguard
  • Warhammer Online
  • The Matrix Online
  • Chronicles of Spellborn

The stink of failure, games languishing or closed, which saw no expansions.

And, of course, success brings more success with expansions.  There are box sales (real or virtual along with the now standard junk collector’s edition) that bring in funds along with a boost in the subscription rate as those who have wandered off return to see what, if anything, is new and exciting in the world.

Even games like EVE Online which offer up free expansions (which I suspect are free in part because I wouldn’t pay for a lot of the stuff they offer and because so much of these expansions are really fixing or upgrading things that you couldn’t limit to a subset of players) tend to see jumps in subscription rates as they offer up new goodies.

So expansions spell success, while a lack of expansions appears to mean stagnation and closure.

Or so says my surface level bias.  But is it necessarily so?

Are there surviving and thriving MMORPGs out there that have never offered anything like an expansion?  (And how does one define an expansion? At what point does something count as an expansion?)

Or, on the flip side, has there been an MMORPG that expansioned itself to death? (No, Cataclysm doesn’t count SynCaine, but you can make the case for Trammel I suppose.)

How important are expansion to the genre?  Are expansion becoming old school thinking in the industry move to free to play, or are they still a viable measure of success?