This was not a rage quit over the business model. While I have reservations about F2P because of where the quest for monetization seems to eventually lead, I also see, as a player, some upside to the model as well.
The upside for an MMO going free to play is… or generally has been… a surge in players. Servers, once desolate, are renewed with the very life’s blood of the game as new and returning players crowd into the game. The world seems alive again. You no longer have whole zones to yourself. Queues for battlegrounds and such become tolerable. Heck, if things are going really well, people might have to wait to log on.
I call this “The Happy Time.”
Every MMO that transitions from a monthly subscription model to a free to play model goes through it.
This is the time of the joyous press releases and the “everything is just grand” interviews. Player numbers are up, revenues are up, and everything is going so remarkably well.
And then the glow fades.
The people who showed up to kick the tires or see what had happened since they left the game begin to fade away. If the cash shop was stocked with one-shot purchases, like hot bars or bag slots, and vanity items, the ongoing grind to create and sell players on the next item begins in earnest. And things begin to settle into reality. The party is over and the need to make payroll and pay the the electric bill every month looms just a little larger in the gray morning.
The population isn’t likely to drop all the way back to the level it was just before the transition to free. But the percentage of your population giving you money every month is likely to sink. The point of free is to boost the population so that the economics of the cash shop work in the game’s favor. And if you cannot manage that… well… things do not look good for the long term.
The happy time is over for Rift. The warmth of summer has faded and a cold, dark winter looms. Server merges have been announced. The US server count will be dropping from 6 to 3 servers, while in the EU the number will drop from 8 to 4. And, if I read the press release right, the only reason the number is as high as 4 is because Trion cannot currently support multiple languages in the interface on a single server. But they are working on that, so you can expect the EU server count to drop further shortly after they get that working.
(Addendum: Per Scott Hartsman in the comments, and the shard status page, the total server count is actually more than that. The US count will go from 10 to 7 servers while the EU count will go from 12 to 8 servers with the planned consolidation.)
Game Director Bill “Professor Farnsworth” Fisher has presented this in a “Good news everyone!” style announcement under the banner “Shard Unification!”
But this is not good news at all for Rift. With the game already shut down in Korea and in the process of closing down in China, finding that the US/EU servers, which were running at capacity back in June, now need to be merged to sustain a viable population mix is a serious blow.
Of course, Trion Worlds is in the midst of other issues. Scott Hartsman, who left as Rift’s executive producer back in January returned as CEO in August and quickly had to make some hard choices. The Trion offices in San Diego and in the UK were shut down and the staff laid off. Their game Defiance, which is tied in with the TV show, seems to be on shaky ground, while their MOBA title, End of Nations, remains in development after issues of its own.
So where does Rift stand today? Once the plucky upstart that, under the “We’re not in Azeroth anymore” banner, was going to be all the things that World of Warcraft was and more while being more flexible and responsive and just better.
Rift seems to have lost its way. The ambitious Storm Legion expansion seemed to get a lackluster response. I know I had trouble getting into it. The big transition to the new business model meant the live game faced some neglect. And now that the big bet on free to play hasn’t paid off as handsomely as one might have hoped, we are left hanging, wondering what will happen next.
I wonder how Trion will move forward. Will there even be an independent company named Trion in a year? Or will investors sell the company to another publisher… EA is just up the road and not only has Trion done some work with SOE, but that is also Scott Hartsman’s old home… or merge the company in with some other investment. Time Warner is one of Trion’s investors, and they also own Turbine.
As for why I cancelled my Rift subscription… well… the free to play plan as presented offered me no real incentive to do otherwise. The was nothing that comes with being a “patron,” as subscribers are now called, that I felt I really needed. The deal was, quite possibly, too generous.
Meanwhile, the cash shop… which we discovered was linked in with all NPC vendors, so is completely unavoidable… has very little that interests me.
I haven’t spent many of the 20,027 units of Lucky Charms currency I was given as a veteran reward/pump priming exercise at the free to play transition.
I do not know where Rift will be in a year, but I have cannot imagine it will be sitting where it is today.
Where do you see Rift in a year?