RIFT, free-to-play, and stickiness

We’ve all heard the news by now: RIFT’s going free-to-play in less than a month.  No big surprise; everyone’s wondered for a while, F2P is like a “second launch” that most MMOs enjoy, and RIFT had the structure of RIFT lite and the shopping cart in place.  Still, this news gets an enthusiastic thumbs-up from me.

RIFT is one of those games that while I may no longer be playing it, I have nothing but fond affection for it.  It’s a highly polished, full-featured MMO that deserves a healthy-sized audience.  I have no idea how many people are still subbed, of course, but I don’t think it was in danger of dying any time soon.  A F2P switch doesn’t always signal a hail Mary survival throw, but sometimes it’s just a good business decision to bring in more players and make more money and ensure a longer lifespan for the title.

I’m impressed that RIFT launched and survived over two years as a sub-only game in this current MMO climate.  People predicted RIFT to go F2P a long time ago, and Trion stuck with the subs (and quite aggressive marketing techniques) up until now.  The sub was something that stuck in people’s craw, because it forced players to make two tough comparisons when deciding to stick with RIFT or not: Is it worth paying for RIFT when I can get so many other MMOs for free?  Is RIFT worth the same (more or less) sub price as World of Warcraft?

Now those questions are moot.  The sub barrier will be gone (but the sub itself is still an option) and we’ll see how RIFT can compete with the rest of the F2P pack.  I predict that it’ll do just fine for itself.

In terms of the details of what’s free and how Trion’s going to be making money, I am quite pleased to see that there’s not going to be any silly SWTOR-like restrictions on classes, souls, and content.  The base game (1-60, not including the expansion which must be purchased separately) is free and that’s all there is to that.  Awesome.  Instead of hobbling the game and making you pay to un-cripple it, the devs are taking the philosophy of giving the game away and then making money from extras (and those who still wish to sub).

That’s when we get into some of the murkier elements.  Most of the cash shop mentions are generally fine — cosmetics, boosters, mounts, expansion souls, and so on.  What has a few folks worried is that RIFT will also be selling gear, although there’s a limit on how good of the gear this is (the devs are promising that the absolute best still will come from dungeons, raids, etc.).  This I don’t like so much.  Even if it’s not “the best”, it still offers a significant shortcut and toes the “pay to win” line.  Maybe you’re okay with games selling gear, but I’ve long ago decided that that’s where I draw the line in my acceptance of F2P offerings.  It undermines progression (as gear is tied to in-game quests and activities) and can offer ways for PvPers to get a leg up on the competition through the virtue of the dollar.

That aside, it’ll be interesting to see how REX will combat gold sellers and create a new economy in the game.

Free-to-play isn’t enough to get me to come back right now, as my plate is more than full.  But if you’ve never given RIFT a try, seriously check it out.  I spent well over a year in that game and loved a great deal of it.

11 thoughts on “RIFT, free-to-play, and stickiness

  1. You can draw a link for every F2P game to “pay to win”.

    For example, Neverwinter sells Zen for real currency, which can be converted into Astral Diamonds and then used to buy from the AH, etc. Turbine points are another great example, you can’t use TP to buy gear directly, but you can buy crafting levels and materials to craft your own.

  2. What I see Turbine has done is not so much pay to win but more pay to bypass mob farming. They found a way to monetize what gamers want..ie, make their character better without spending the ingame time to farm mobs for it. So while you can either spend time ingame to earn the items that make your gear better or you can buy the same items in the store for Turbine points. This is a large part of LOTRO’s Legendary Weapons system.

  3. PvP concerns are real… but I blame the main design of PvP itself in these MMO things. I hate gear imbalances in PvP, period. Raiders or dedicated gear grinders have an edge already in PvP, and it’s stupid.

    David Sirlin has a great article up where he argues that a “level 50 Chun Li” vs. a lowbie *character* would be an idiotic paradigm for the skill-heavy competition in Street Fighter. As far as I’m concerned, PvP should only ever be about player skill and class/character design.

    As for RIFT itself, it never really grabbed me. It’s a competent game, and I love the Soul system, but playing it just felt so… pedestrian and “samey”. The Soul system itself wasn’t enough to make the moment-to-moment play interesting enough for me to really get invested. It’s a good game, and I hope this works out for them. I’m happy with the business model change. I’ll probably dabble with it again at some point, just to try a mage or something.

  4. This may sound strange but I really liked the team behind Rift more than the game itself. Trion really got content out on a fast and predictable schedule and they seemed very well prepared to make any game adjustments or shift gears fast. All I can say is I felt very confident in them and would love to see that reflected in my current games of choice.

  5. The thing I find interesting about Rift going F2P is the reactions it’s receiving. I remember previous F2P conversions for major games being almost uniformly negative. But while there are still a few “lol, game is dead” or “pay to win scam” comments, the vast majority of the feedback I’m seeing is positive. Most people seem to agree this is a good decision that will benefit players and developers alike.

    I just think it’s interesting to see how radically attitudes toward F2P have changed in recent times. People seem to finally be accepting it as the wave of the future, not the bogeyman.

  6. @Tyler That definitely reflects my personal change in attitude. When GW1 came out, I couldn’t fathom that no-sub could provide the quality that my sub to WoW did. But ArenaNet made enough to put out another blockbuster in GW2, which is also high quality (YMMV). With the success of F2P conversions like LOTRO, STO, TSW (jury still out?), we see that it’s an opportunity for new life, rather than the death rattle of a game. Now, I find the idea of paying a sub difficult to swallow. There are too many good games out there that are free, or only cost the box.

  7. I’m glad to hear that there won’t be any SWTOR hijinks. I mean, I love TOR, but its F2P limitations (less actions bars!) are needlessly draconian. Of course, I feel that I’m held hostage to my subscription, so it’s actually not needless — BioWare probably did the calculus and planned on subscribers just like me feeling that they need to keep their “good” deal.

    Hearing that there are absolutely no restrictions is actually a really good way to get me interested. Now I just have to find the time, energy, and guild to make it fit. That shouldn’t be hard. Right? Right?

  8. Let’s say Rift gets 4 times the player base. That means they would need 3$ per month, per player from the store.

    What consumable items would you propose? Not one-time purchases that evetually taper off but thing that people are willing to buy, again and again? That to me is the true F2P dilemma.

  9. @Asmiroth
    Good point. I have always wondered why these fot games didnt have a $5/month option.

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