Prediction: Rift Will Go Free-to-Play When WoW Goes Free-to-Play

It isn’t like Trion has been secretive about the game in whose market space they are playing.  World of Warcraft is clearly their target, the source of much of their player base (a million customers at one point, by their accounting), and the model they feel they have to keep abreast of, if not ahead of, if they are going to succeed.

And so it is with their new “play 20 levels for free” announcement.

As Rift Junkies noted in their headline, this is a clear case of matching WoW.

Not that this is a bad thing.  But I do wonder how Trion will react when the Age of Pandas arrives in Azeroth.  Rift has spent its time so far competing against Cataclysm, but Blizzard won’t stay there forever.

20 thoughts on “Prediction: Rift Will Go Free-to-Play When WoW Goes Free-to-Play

  1. Tesh

    Interesting that they would be riding a business model that’s effectively “the best of the clones”. It’s apparently working, though.

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  2. Warsyde

    They are also apparently following the blizzard model for expansions, as the game has been out for nearly a year now and to the best of my knowledge they have yet to announce if they are even working on an expansion. The game sorely needs it, as the current endgame is pretty lacking in my opinion. Of course, I felt the endgame was pretty lacking in WoW too, and tons of people still play that, so what do I know?

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  3. Ferrel

    It would be a pretty dramatic departure to go free-to-play for Rift. Trion basically bills itself as “you get more than anyone else for your subscription money.” Their patch release cycle is shorter, they include huge swaths of content for free.

    It is always possible but they seem really intent on the subscription model.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Ferrel – And Blizzard likewise seems pretty intent on the subscription model as well. It would likely take something big enough to move Blizz to F2P for Trion to consider it as well.

    I honestly would not expect WoW to go F2P for a long time. Blizz is very conservative and even down 2 million subscribers over the last year, they still make money at a margin that makes other companies drool in envy.

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  5. bhagpuss

    If Trion wait until WoW goes F2P, by the time it happens they will be down to one server like Warhammer and Vanguard. Unless, of course, all the folks who went to TOR come back in a month or two, which is certainly not out of the question.

    The 1-20 F2P announcement has certainly solved one problem for me. I was dithering over whether to resubscribe when my third 6-month sub comes up. Now I definitely will let it lapse. I’ll be more than happy to log in and play 1-20 when I’m in the mood for a bit of rifting.

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  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – Warhammer and Vanguard were so flawed at launch that people left because they did not like the game enough to put up with the bad. A lot of people tried them, did not get invested, and just walked away. This happened within a couple months with people leaving when still far from level cap.

    Rift, on the other hand, appears to me to have had a much larger percentage of people satisfied with the game and those people stuck around until level cap. Their problem is just running out of stuff for people to do, since some people will feel they are “done” once at level cap, and getting to level cap isn’t that big of an effort relative to, say, WoW at launch or EQ at any time during its history.

    I do not think that “stuck at level cap” gets fixed with free to play. Trion has bought into the WoW model fully and deeply. Their plan has to be events and expansions, just like WoW.

    Or such is my theory.

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  7. bhagpuss

    I think your theory is correct. On the other hand, whether Rift can tread water indefinitely as a subscription-only MMO in the face of the really significant competition from games you don’t have to pay for, I’m not so sure.

    ToR certainly didn’t deal any kind of death blow. GW2 might have more of an impact, being fantasy not SF and dynamic (allegedly) in the way Rift was supposed to be but now isn’t all that much.

    I don’t really mind. I’m just happy to have 1-20 for nothing.

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  8. flosch

    One additional advantageous side effect of that is that you now finally can update the game without a current subscription.

    This means that I can keep the game updated, so if I ever feel the urge again to play, I can subscribe and be online on a high-level character in a matter or minutes. The longer I haven’t played a game, the more loathe I am to return because the hours of updating would eat up most of the evening’s game time. Often enough, I then just skip resubscribing altogether.

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  9. Vatec

    @bhagpuss – Yeah, having a level-limited trial period is a bit of a double-edged sword, especially for Rift, where the endgame really =is= the heart of the game. On the one hand, it keeps server populations up with “free” players in the newbie zones, and it greatly lowers the barrier to entry for people who were already considering the game; on the other hand, there will be players like you and me who will be happy to run low-level alts from time to time in lieu of playing level-capped characters.

    That being said, Trion has impressed me with their sheer agility. This is not a company with the glacial development pace of a Funcom or a Turbine. They may not have any current plans to go F2P, but there is little doubt in my mind that they’ll be able to make it happen very quickly if they choose to do so.

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  10. pkudude99

    I got a 6 month sub to Rift last time it was up for renewal. I checked last night and I’ve got a good 2 months left on it. But I haven’t logged in to Rift to play it since SWTOR launched. And I’m enjoying SWTOR enough that I don’t know if/when I’ll be back to Rift, so part of last night’s checking my account was actually to cancel it.

    Time will tell if SWTOR can keep me. I’m still “only” level 40 on my main, and have several alts in their 20’s that I’m also enjoying, so we’ll see. I certainly always enjoyed Rift, but I also had a very large “I’m 50 on this toon, time to roll another” idea going on in my head whn playing it. Level 50 stuff just didn’t do it for me, but after level 3 to 50, leveling another also didn’t have much appeal, so I really just marked time with it until I felt “done” and SWTOR came out, even bipping over to Champions Online for a month as a tourist.

    Overall point being, I like Rift a lot, but I don’t know if I’ll go back either, in spite of still liking it.

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  11. Vatec

    Normally I’m all about the “leveling journey” and can’t stand “level fast and then play the ‘real’ game” games, but Rift surprised me. I hated raiding, much as I’ve hated raiding in every other game I’ve played, but I enjoyed the expert dungeons quite a bit more than I expected. The invasions kept the game fresh for me for a very long time as well. Even the PvP was tolerable, with the exception of the PvP rifts, which suck.

    The problem I’ve noticed with Rift is that it doesn’t seem to inspire any loyalty. I’m actually very curious as to the reason. I suspect it’s due to almost everything being “too easy” even when it looks like a grind. Or maybe it’s the other way around: everything looks like a grind even though it’s actually fairly easy.

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  12. João Carlos

    Wilhelm,

    I think you are losing the real cause, while Tobold just glab it: “SWTOR claims 1.7 million subscribers, Rift goes Free2Start ”

    Rift problems don’t come from WoW, they come from SWTOR.

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  14. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @João – Well, that is one theory. And yet Rift still looks to me to be WoW re-imagined down to small details and nothing like SWTOR. Even at a macro level, Rift falls in the WoW-esque fantasy bucket.

    As for subscription numbers, SWTOR is approaching maybe 20% of WoW numbers. And which one of these games is still shedding players as of today? The one very much like Rift or the new SciFi game that is just on its initial boost?

    So tell me again which game Trion is trying to take customers from? Which looks like a more fertile market to poach from?

    The move Trion made is something you do to attract new customers. It does not do anything to retain current customers that you fear might move to the next new game, like SWTOR. You keep those customers by adding interesting new content.

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  15. João Carlos

    @Wilhelm,

    we will see when the 3 month mark arrive for SWTOR. But i guess that will happens before the pandas (rflol) arrive.

    And to be sincere, i cannot think about the next expansion of WoW and not be RFLOL… and I don’t know how someone serious cannot be RFLOL about pandas…

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  16. Vatec

    I think both are true: Rift has gotten many, if not most of its subscribers straight from WoW; however, Rift has also lost a lot of subscribers to SWTOR. The real question is, how many of them will come back?

    My guess is that a lot of endgame/raid-oriented players will bail on SWTOR and head back to their previous games (WoW, Rift, LOTRO) or simply stop playing MMOs until something new comes along. Players more interested in the leveling game, OTOH, have a lot more options.

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  17. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Vatec – My point was that the unlimited trial to level 20 isn’t what you do to keep your current customer base playing or pull back players who have gone to explore SWTOR. So it is tough for me to see this as a reaction to SWTOR.

    Now, when SWTOR starts to shed players, and churn will happen, anybody who leaves that and hasn’t played Rift might be enticed by the unlimited trial to level 20 option.

    I do wonder how limited the trial will be. On the WoW side, my daughter thought it would be nice to be able to play WoW levels 1-20. She had a few sub 20 characters. But if you already have a WoW account, it attaches a second trial account to your overall Battle.net account, so you start from scratch. She didn’t like that, so we ended up resubscribing. So on WoW at least, unlimited free 1-20 is not quite “free to play” as it is in EQ2 or LOTRO.

    And my over-arching point, which Tesh grabbed onto, was that Rift is very much a clone of WoW in many ways and will likely seek to cover the same ground WoW does when possible, while providing some variation to keep it fresh, in order to be the obvious first landing spot for people who leave WoW. That seems to be working okay so far.

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  18. Vatec

    No, it does nothing to bring back lost subscribers, but it might bring in new subscribers to replace them. Fact is, it’s very hard to get players back once they’ve unsubscribed. They either come back or they don’t, no matter what an MMO company does.

    Basically, you try to retain existing. If that fails, trying to get them back is one option (like the “free weekend” they had a few days ago). But you also try to bring in new people (free 1-20).

    As for how Rift’s system works: it uses your existing account. At the character selection screen, if you highlight a level 21+ character, you get a popup telling you that they’re too high-level to play for free and would you like to resubscribe. You can play any pre-existing level 20- character. You can create new characters (up to the six per shard limit).

    Basically, it’s about as painless as they could make it.

    And yes, I agree completely with your premise. Rift’s primary target is WoW. I’m sure they’d like to get back the players they lost to SWTOR, but I doubt their primary strategy is based on that (though the “free weekend” timed for shortly after SWTOR’s 30 day anniversary was probably a first attempt).

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  19. Sue

    Rift’s just…there’s something lacking in it. The storyline maybe, after you’ve played the third time through one faction, it’s just weak and repetitive. The fact they kept mentioning WoW in their advertisements got a bit old. I’ve played some WoW, I had a couple of high level toons. If I wanted to play WoW, I’d go play it. I don’t sub a game just because it’s poking fun of any other game to make itself seem cooler, it just seems lame. Also, once you’ve been through the same areas over and over again, when they were not adding in new areas fast enough, it became really kind of boring. They tried adding in stuff, but with the fact I kept having to retrait so often and so many changes were happening SO frequently with the classes, I got burned out on that too. The classes I played in the beginning were starting to not be the cool thing that I played before (I pve’d) because of a lot of pvp whiners whining about this or that class pwning them in warfronts.

    They should’ve stuck to their guns and not listened to the players so much, that’s part of the problem. New zones, new places to explore, stuck with the RIFTS the game was NAMED after, as fun things to do in an impromptu group raid setting. Closing them became a moot point when there wasn’t good rewards involved, any longer.

    I went back to LotRO, WoW, and off to SWTOR. I haven’t gone back to Rift, though it was initially fun. After about 10 months, it wasn’t fun anymore, and I wasn’t liking the changes or additions.

    If it goes F2P then I’ll go back. Until then, I’ve no desire to. Everyone I knew in my entire guild and the guild us stragglers moved to after that, bailed the game entirely. The city was a ghost town at peak hours. Pretty sad for what had such a great start.

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