MMO Theorycrafting 26 Comments

RIFT goes free-to-play, Liore is bummed

“Keep in mind that there’s a fundamental difference in the way of thinking and the way you need to design games if you do take them free-to-play.

Take a free-to-play game or a social game, where the business is all about – the social games’ word for it is, ‘going whaling’. The idea is you have a paying player subsidising the play of, potentially, dozens or hundreds of other users. And so you have to be willing to create a game that has the ability to make huge sums of money from relatively small numbers of people.

Once you decide that you are going to enter the whaling business, it’s a different mindset and a different set of goals you’re designing for entirely.”

Scott Hartsman, November 16, 2011

This morning RIFT announced that it’s going free-to-play. Trion, I am disappoint.

I’ve been a RIFT subscriber since the day it launched, back in 2011. I haven’t actually been playing the game that entire time — sometimes I am playing a lot, sometimes I am playing very little — but even when I wasn’t playing I felt comfortable giving Trion and RIFT money for being an awesome game and an awesome company.

Admittedly much of my response is an emotional one. I like games that emphasize virtual worlds and being social, that have group problem-solving, and a healthy amount of content that takes a long time to finish or requires a high degree of concentration. I know this makes me something of a dinosaur amongst players, and today’s announcement feels like another sign that my kind of game is a thing of the past. I don’t like that feeling, obviously.

I have other, more logical reasons to dislike this decision too!

1) As Scott Hartsman says in the above quotation, being free-to-play changes how a game is developed. You no longer have to worry about producing regular content updates, something RIFT was previously famous for, to justify subscriptions. Instead, the monetization goal is to tune your content to encourage cash shop purchases. I find the former to be much more in my favor as a player than the latter.

2) Trion has already said that they will be offering boosts and gear in the cash shop. (On Twitter they even implied that some of the gear will be equivalent to higher tier dungeon and PvP gear.) And herein lies my fundamental dislike of cash shops: they are all about giving people ways to not play the game, rather than making the game good. Buy gear, buy housing, buy XP boosts, buy gold — it’s like you don’t even have to play the game at all! Creating a game that people will spend money to avoid playing seems like crappy game design.

3) F2P encourages transient players. In my opinion, there is a reason why the free-to-play model and the “3 month MMO” problem started trending at the same time.

I accept that what I’m looking for in an MMO is not what most people are looking for in their game. While I’m glad that many folks are loving the current marketplace, I miss feeling like part of that. Such is the price of being old and opinionated and stubborn, I suspect.

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  • Reply
    May 14, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Most of the time I am a huge fan of cash shops, I am probably one of those whales they are always trying to hook. I am certainly paying to skip the boring part of the game, but to me the boring part has always been the acquisition of virtual currency. I hate farming gold, I am not a huge fan of doing daily quests, and I’ve never been any good at playing the auction house. As a result I find it completely tedious to acquire the money that I need to buy the nifty things in game that I want.

    Fortunately I am far better at accumulating money in real life than I am in game. If I can spend a small bit of that real money to avoid the in game currency barriers that keep me from the nifty baubles I want… then I am completely on board with that notion. Money is just a means to an end to me, not a goal or an accomplishment… it is a thing you stockpile only so that you can spend it.

    The fun for me is about the playing of the game, and a cash shop enhances that for me. I do feel that this is one of the better implementations, because it allows for the free exchange of in game currency for cash shop currency. Those players that are particularly good at farming in game, will never have to purchase the shop currency, because there will always be a line of folks willing to sell their REX.
    Belghast´s last post: Late to the Dance

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      May 14, 2013 at 10:55 am

      I can respect that! It’s just not what I want from a game. :)

      For example, I love playing the auction house. I do it almost obsessively in any MMO I’m playing. Some games have much better economies for that sort of thing than others.

      If players can just buy currency, why should a publisher worry about how healthy their economy is? Look at GW2 — its economy is notoriously bad, almost non-existent. I don’t think anyone actually “plays the AH” there. One of the ways I have fun in an MMO has been greatly diminished in favor of promoting the cash shop.

      Also, I think it promotes crappy game design. If the company benefits the most from a player just buying dungeon gear, why worry about the quality of their dungeons? Making a wide array of interesting encounters is a bad investment in that situation. Making a limited selection of boring encounters would be a much better way to drive players to the cash shop. It’s counter-intuitive!

      And hey, I really do not begrudge you or anyone else who finds that more to their tastes. I just wish it wasn’t quite such a staple of the marketplace now.

      • Reply
        Brian 'Psychochild' Green
        May 16, 2013 at 4:07 pm

        Actually, quite a few people play the AH in GW2. I did some research and found all sorts of tips and tricks for making money. The difference is that because it’s cross-server, the markets shift rapidly. You can actually make a fair amount of money if you know what to look for, but it’s quite a bit different than in other games. You might have a few days *at most* to exploit a market before others will come in and reduce the profit down significantly. It’s very easy to be left holding a bunch of inventory that will sell for significantly less than you bought it for the day before.

        For me, this wasn’t particularly fun even though I enjoyed dabbling in AHs in other games. It absolutely drove any of the profit out of crafting, which is why I played the AH in most other games.
        Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green´s last post: We all need Camelot Unchained to succeed

  • Reply
    May 14, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Is this what getting old feels like? When all the things you used to love start going to hell, and all the newfangled ideas start looking dumber and dumber? Cause if so, it sucks.

    I totally get why these kinds of things work to improve the bottom line for a company. There are plenty of abusive gaming practices that are very effective at making money (see: every casino ever). The thing is, that doesn’t make me want those things to be present in my entertainment choices. And certainly not to be upfront about it.

    I still look to my games to be fun to actually play. And I think that XP boosts are essentially the same thing as daily quests – an admission that the things you are being asked to do in a game are not fun. I’d love for developers to start addressing that aspect of things, rather than just giving us half-assed workarounds. That, or just go for it and let me buy a kitted-out max-level character. Since clearly the game isn’t actually fun to play.
    Ellyndrial´s last post: Good News, Everybody!

  • Reply
    Rift to go Free to Play on June 12 | The Ancient Gaming Noob
    May 14, 2013 at 11:05 am

    […] Others, whom like me, have been unhappy with the rot that cash shops can bring, will be less enthusiastic. […]

  • Reply
    Wilhelm Arcturus
    May 14, 2013 at 11:12 am

    And the incentive to subscribe is an xp boost, a mount speed boost, a boost to coin drops, and so on, which again serves to speed you through the game and on your way.

    My thing is that in the short term there is no real negative change, and plenty of positive. More players, for example, is always nice. In the longer term, what makes money drives development out of necessity. June and July will be fun. A few months further down the road, when the novelty wears off, we’ll be seeing lockboxes and other “tricks or traps” guaranteed.

    (And why doesn’t my blog update in your “Things I Read” side bar? I like that post, but I wrote it almost two weeks ago.)
    Wilhelm Arcturus´s last post: Rift to go Free to Play on June 12

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      May 14, 2013 at 11:28 am

      Hmm, good point about it being pleasant in the short term, and probably a happier way to look at it. In theory it’s neat to see a bunch of people talking about playing RIFT now, despite my distrust of F2P.

      Not sure about the sidebar.. I will poke it with a stick later until it behaves!

      • Reply
        May 14, 2013 at 11:54 am

        Honestly that is my biggest hope, is that new stuff drives new players to try it out and stick around. For whatever reason trying to get someone to try Rift out has been like pulling teeth. Anything that gets people into the game long enough to get hooked is a good thing for me.
        belghast´s last post: Late to the Dance

        • Reply
          May 20, 2013 at 2:33 pm

          I’m one of those people that I’ve never played Rift before, but I always watched youtube vids of it and liked it. Right now I play GW2 but I want to be a dedicated healer role, and Neverwinter is fun as a healer, but I always wanted to heal in Rift. I’m rather poor (for an american, rich compared to the world.) so i prefer pay once games. i sort of live paycheck to paycheck and when i found out Rift was going free to play, i bought the standard version of the game, so i could have the more bag space and mount. i’m sure down the road i’ll use the cashshop for stupid stuff like skins or whatever, and to just show my respect for the developers.

          i hope their new payment strategy pays off, and i hope they stick to their “no traps” promise. if they don’t, they’ll look really shady.

  • Reply
    May 14, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    I think most people suspected that this was coming. For all the love Trion gets from the gaming press, not many of those same people actually seemed to stick with the game.

    From one person who saw their subscription game F2P to another, you have my sympathies. Though I suppose it’s worth giving it a bit of time to see how it actually works out in practice. I’m still enjoying SWTOR for example, as things haven’t been as bad as I expected (from a subscriber’s point of view).
    Shintar´s last post: Operations Blues

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      May 15, 2013 at 10:14 am

      I thought of you yesterday when I first read this news! “Well.. I guess.. SWTOR went F2P and Shintar still likes it…”.

  • Reply
    May 14, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    My concern comes from not how the company handles it’s f2p model (Though I will be watching it closely), but rather, what kind of player this move will attract. I remember logging into TERA not long after it switch to F2P and being pretty horrified at what I saw in chat. It’s definitely improved now — obviously that three month shine has worn off — but it saddens me that this wave of scum could be on its way to my beloved RIFT.
    Neri´s last post: [VIDEO] What Is Active Combat?

  • Reply
    Chris (Game By Night)
    May 14, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    I am happy at this news because it means there’s one less barrier to entry. As much as I love the game and believe that it’s the best theme park MMO out there, all indicators pointed to it not doing very well following SL. My biggest concern with this news is that they will be selling gear.

    On their reddit AMA they confirm its even worse than they made it sound on twitter. If I read it correctly, they will be selling previous tier raid gear. They mention current tier drops appearing when they release the next tier in 2.4. Cries of pay to win and lots of angry raiders are sure to follow as that is made clear. More disappointing to me is that RIFT is one of the few games that still sees people running older content and that will likely dry up even further when people can buy their way past it. I anticipate a cultural change in the game’s population for the reasons you describe. It will be even more “rush, rush, rush” than its ever been.

    But even still, if it’s that or see the game languish and development stay in the four month slump of 2.2-2.3, F2P seem like a better alternative. And as a previous commenter mentioned, it might allow more people than ever to see what a fantastic MMO it really is.

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      May 15, 2013 at 10:26 am

      You’re right — F2P is better than shutting down or falling into disrepair.

      It seems like they’re going back and forth on the gear issue, but I think it’s a pretty terrible idea for all the reasons you mention.

  • Reply
    May 15, 2013 at 3:39 am

    My sympathies from a fellow dinosaur to another… growing old before having reached the age of having a legitimate mid life crisis is tough (for me at least)….

    I was also thinking that it is sad how for a player like me, who does not like F2P games due to the cash shop undermining the simple principle that every thing earned in the game must be earned by doing an in game activity (the same principle that creates a fair playfield imo), I have ever fewer options of games in a market that has never seen more MMOs.
    In essence I have two options: Try games that are going to launch (TESO, EQ Next or Wildstar etc.) and hope they are good and worth their money. Yet I have been burnt so many times that I am becoming weary of seeing new games tank after a few months….

    So if I really want to play an MMO that upholds the earlier mentioned principle and know that my money won’t be wasted in a couple of months me and the very small demographic that is like me, is actually only given WoW as a longterm and somewhat stable choice.

    Problem is I at least don’t want to play WoW which leeds to me feeling that I am more and more locked out as a “desireable customer”. And it sucks….

    Oh well going to drown my sorrow by tinkering on my dimension… ;)

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      May 15, 2013 at 10:29 am

      ” I have ever fewer options of games in a market that has never seen more MMOs”

      Yesssss. Right now I’m pondering if I want to play… EvE or WoW (or just wait until Wildstar/TESO/EQN). There aren’t a whole lot of options for folks who play like we do.

  • Reply
    May 15, 2013 at 11:46 am

    I’m not happy about this, but I’ll note that it did work with City of Heroes. Part of why, I’m sure, is that there wasn’t any real crafting system, and not much in the way of gear–you didn’t have armor and your weapon was intrinsic to the character and could be modifed by using a tailor token (I had hundred of unused tokens by the end.) But the other reason it worked is because it was entirely possible to be a subscriber and not have to deal with badly-behaved twits.

    Trion seems to be very opposed to the idea of creating two tiers of players, and while that’s commendable, I kind of feel like I should be getting more for having ponied up for a subscription. I’ll be very interested to see what happens after the SL year-long subscriptions run out in the fall, and whether Trion has to do something to keep those people from leaving.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think Trion had a choice. The subscription-based MMO model is no longer viable. Even WoW has lost a significant number of subscribers. I suspect the economy has something to do with that; I’ve got a steady job, but there have been times when it was hard to justify the $15 a month.

  • Reply
    May 15, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    I think, rather than feeling like a dinosaur, I’ve definitely changed how I play. I tend to float in and out of games now, and play MMOs and single player games interchangeably. I miss the intensity and camaraderie of raiding, for sure. I can’t tell if it’s the games or me that changed.

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      May 15, 2013 at 9:09 pm

      Probably both.

      And to be precise I don’t miss raiding, but I do miss game camaraderie.

  • Reply
    Have your views changed on F2P games? | Welcome to Spinksville!
    May 16, 2013 at 3:15 am

    […] Liore describes the frustration that subscription players feel when a game goes F2P, the sense that the tight knit fabric of the game and certainties of the regular payments are being blown open, possibly to be replaced by an influx of rude casuals and a selection of annoying lockboxes (both of which have happened at pretty much every game which has transitioned). Without going that far, there is the potential for F2P to really divide up the player base and make existing players think hard about exactly how casual/ hardcore they want to be. […]

  • Reply
    Mighty Viking Hamster
    May 16, 2013 at 9:52 am

    As most of you know I am a big fan of F2P so I cannot but be happy about this. Rift was frighteningly underpopulated – to the point that it negatively affected the experience of anyone leveling. Even at level cap the situation was not exactly ideal (at least on my server). With F2P people will come in and they will stick with it if they like it – and they should cause Rift has its merits.

    The way things were going Trion had already reduced the frequency of content released for the game. I am sure the launch of Defiance had something to do with it, however I am also certain that the game was becoming less profitable for them. In my experience I would say that as a rule games take a new lease of life when they go F2P and not just in the short term.

    The only flaw I see here is the rewards that people get for subscribing. Specifically the bonuses are not exactly what a level capped long time player would see as worth subscribing for – and long time players are exactly the people who one would expect to be most likely to subscribe. However I think Trion are trying to do something new here in that they seem to be marketing subscription time mostly to ‘casuals’ – especially with their three day subscription plans.
    Mighty Viking Hamster´s last post: Thrift Rift

  • Reply
    Brian 'Psychochild' Green
    May 16, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    I’m happy about this. I actually have 2 copies of RIFT here that I didn’t install because I just didn’t know when I’d have the time to play and didn’t want to pay a sub to play. So, now I have less hesitation to install and play now.

    A cash shop can be done well or poorly. I think that RIFT has made the right first step in allowing a subscription to give you almost full access. We’ll see how badly the cash shop goes; if they do start selling gear, that could undermine a lot of the game.

    But, I think this will be good for the game in the long run.
    Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green´s last post: We all need Camelot Unchained to succeed

  • Reply
    May 20, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    I’ve been waiting for Rift to become Free-to-Play for awhile now. I subscribed to Rift for 6 months last year and had SUCH a blast on the Faeblight server. Unfortunately I lost my job, so I stopped my subscription. I received GW2 for Christmas, and it’s extremely rewarding, but it lacks a lot of things that Rift had such as the Dungeon Queue Finder and the variety of spells and attacks.

    Now that I’ll be able to play both games, I don’t know what I’ll do. (BTW, I did just get a secure job, and for Rift to go F2P in the same week, let’s just say this week made me very excited.

    I’ll see everyone on Faeblight. I’ll be the Little Guardian Senticar healing the crap out of everyone. :D

    PS: I really like your writing, and I hope you keep playing Rift after June 12th. If you quit, then it’ll only make Rift less cool!

  • Reply
    Cody Huse
    June 12, 2013 at 8:45 am

    I agree with Jessica Cook completely… I have a really bad feeling about this F2P deal. I play many pay to play games and they are much much better than F2P because of one major reason… The game becomes a Deal of who has the most money to spend. The fact that their selling gear is going to DESTROY(understatement) the game. No one will want to play because the only people who will be powerful in the game will be people who spend near hundreds a month in the shop. To quote Keith Moon- “This is going to sink like a led zeppelin”

  • Reply
    June 13, 2013 at 1:08 am

    While I respect your opinion, remember that it’s just that…opinion. But there are flaws in your reasoning for disliking the F2P model that Trion is introducing. I’ll list each respectively for each of the 3 reasons you gave:

    1) Going f2p does not mean a change in content development. If you have put faith enough in the company to be a subscriber all these years, counting on your money and time not being wasted by a sudden lack of new content to look forward to, I think you can look at this as an ALTERNATIVE way for them to fund development. I think this is a financial decision and maybe the one they had to make to keep making content for players like yourself who have enjoyed the mmo since its launch, and look forward to more.

    2) I think you jumped the gun here. The game is not p2w in the slightest. What you assumed was the ability to buy gear is a cosmetic option given to players, and a great one at that. Its no different than buying skins in a MOBA. Plus anything you can buy to speed up leveling, grinding, whatever else you can speed up, is up to the person buying it, not you as another player. Me buying a XP boost does not affect your gameplay, and neither does someone else buying a mount. Does that take the fun out of the game? Sure, maybe for someone like you who likes earning their virtual swag. But I don’t think that gives anyone the right to tell someone else the way they’re enjoying a game made to be enjoyed is wrong

    3) “F2P encourages transient players. In my opinion, there is a reason why the free-to-play model and the “3 month MMO” problem started trending at the same time.” Another big how does this affect you quote. I think this is the elitist attitude a lot of people that have been in a community have. They feel like they’ve earned something and take ownership of something that only the dedicated have been true and loyal to through the years. Now here comes all the “Casuals” who wont take the game seriously. But why does this ruin your experience…really. The only factor I can see is the economy shifting, but even then…if you really believe they will quit after 3 months, you don’t have to worry about that. It’s not anyone’s right to tell people that playing something until they no longer want to play it is wrong if they stop after a shorter time than you would yourself. The game going f2p give a lot of opportunity to a lot of people who might have wanted to play but didn’t have a means to til now. If you like the game..keep playing, otherwise don’t worry about other people being there. It is an MMO you know.

    To wrap it up, I think you got a little ahead of yourself. I know your post was made some time ago but there was no sense in getting emotional over anything before anything was official.By writing this, you’re pretty much making a game you claim to love look bad because you decided to post wrong information that people swallow up. But honestly I hope you’re still enjoying the game now that its f2p (with new content might I add). And hey, you can always play it the same way you did before…subscription fees and all.

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      June 13, 2013 at 1:24 am

      You seem rather preoccupied with some idea that I’m telling “casuals” that they’re “wrong”, when my post actually doesn’t say anything about that. Like, I’m not trying to get tricky with semantics — it literally says the exact opposite of that. Plus, the title of this post is that I am “bummed”, which is pretty obviously an opinion.

      Also I take issue with the argument that I’m not supposed to criticize a game because it might “make it look bad”. If I don’t like something, I’m going to say so. Writing my honest opinion of MMOs is kind of what I do here.

      I quit RIFT, by the way, and have been playing EVE Online quite happily since the F2P announcement. I’m glad others are enjoying it, but I still don’t like it when games convert to F2P, and I don’t like 3 month MMOs.

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