Trion’s Launch of Rift is a Model for the MMO Market


I’ve played Rift since Head Start to level 33, and in my opinion Rift is the best MMORPG launch I’ve experienced in the past 5 years, a span which includes the following titles:

  • Warhammer Online
  • Aion
  • Allods Online
  • Rift

Rift’s game developer, Trion, has been remarkably savvy in how they have handled the game thus far, in particular by:

  1. Not over-hyping their game then under-delivering. My impression is that Rift has mostly spread by word-of-mouth; my gaming friend Nathan and real life friend Gaardarun both raved about Rift from Beta
  2. Delivering a stable, polished game at launch, with a clear path for implementing frequent updates/fixes with minimal downtime. The game servers have been taken down for maintenance at times, but the longest I’ve seen so far is 30 minutes, and Trion has managed expectations on downtimes pretty well. I.e. there hasn’t been that 12-hour unplanned downtime that we all dislike
  3. Borrowing innovations from other games. Rift has taken some of the best mechanics and design features from games such as Warhammer, including the PVP mechanics for “tanks” such as Guard, Taunt, Hold the Line, etc and Detaunt. And other game features such as Achievements, Guild Achievements, Guild Ranks, etc that originated in Warhammer (and which Blizzard also copied)
  4. Designing the most flexible spec system ever, which is both fun-to-play and IMO shields Trion from the class/spec griping from the playerbase

That last point has huge implications. Consider the following example with WoW. You roll a Paladin to heal at endgame as Holy, but you are unhappy with nerfs or issues for your spec. What are your options?

  • Continue to play the spec and hope for future buffs, or
  • Re-spec to Protection or Retribution and re-gear, or
  • Roll a different Healing class, re-level to endgame, and then re-gear

Those are all crappy options to me, given that I value my time and what I enjoy most is endgame not grinding to get back to endgame. I know some people have been conditioned to accept the current market standards and would say “suck it up and re-level, it’s what I did” but I think that is a lousy customer experience.

With Rift, you can simply change which 3 of the 9 talent trees you are playing as a Healer (Cleric). Rift’s flexible spec system protects players from making a steep time investment in a class that they are later unsatisfied with for whatever reason.

The other implication of the spec system is that there are fewer opportunities for (real or perceived) imbalance between specs for the same class. Everyone knows a spec change has a low switching cost. No need to re-roll, re-level, and re-gear from scratch.

Is Rift the next “WoW Killer”? I don’t know and frankly don’t care. It’s the wrong question to ask – the right question is whether a game supports a virtuous cycle:

Trion made the right decision as to when the game was ready to launch, thereby avoiding the irreparable damage that was done by launching too early, as we saw with Warhammer Online and Age of Conan.

Will Trion continue to re-invest in the game over time? It’s too early to tell, but my impression is that they have a sharp management team, a perception further reinforced by an interview with Trion’s Marketing head back in December that I read today, while trying to find paying subscriber numbers. I haven’t been able to find those numbers yet – if you see any good articles please link them.

From a bigger picture perspective, Trion gives me hope for the “traditional MMORPG” market. Just over a year ago, I expressed concern that game developers were moving away from traditional MMORPGs and instead investing in social gaming. Trion shows how to do traditional MMORPGs right.

Please keep in mind that this is my honest, objective opinion. Like many of you, I’ve been burned by bloggers who hype up new games which only end up disappointing.

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Posted in Aion, Allods Online, Business Analysis, RIFT, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft
19 comments on “Trion’s Launch of Rift is a Model for the MMO Market
  1. Cas says:

    Rift is the shizzle right now.

  2. taugrim says:

    Re-wrote and added sections and relevant links to the post.

  3. EOS says:

    Unfortunately, MacOS is not supported by Rift. I guess that leaves us with WOW. sigh

    • zee says:

      I also have a mac and play Rift, just use Bootcamp, it works flawlessly.

      Nice post Taugrim, to me other mmos (specifically wow) are now in a transitional state.

      They are re-coating their old gum with new sugar but after the first few bites, its the same old thing.

      In my opinion they are keeping their player based under control buying time until they release “Titan” their shiny next generation mmo.

      On the other hand, Rift is what Wow would be if it was released today. Is borrowing the elements that made other games successful and giving the players the things that were denied by other mmos before,providing elegant solutions to things that other companies struggle with.

      • taugrim says:

        On the other hand, Rift is what Wow would be if it was released today

        I don’t think so, for a few reasons:
        – Blizzard has never figured out how to implements mechanics or maps to encourage World PVP, even in Cata. The most active World PVP was back in Vanilla
        – Blizzard has stated in interviews that if they could do it all over again, they don’t think they would have done Arena, given the amount of balance challenges. The challenges, of course, are due to the design of the game mechanics, many of which have no application in or break PVP

        Blizzard IMO has top-notch software quality delivery, but they don’t innovate the best game mechanics. Other companies IMO have surpassed them in that area, but except for Trion often fail somewhere else that is critical (per the 4 points in my article).

        • Cas says:

          “Blizzard has stated in interviews that if they could do it all over again, they don’t think they would have done Arena, given the amount of balance challenges”

          Though certain souls are considered better off than others, people tend not to rage about it as much when Arena does not exist.

          I can patiently wait until a few things are ironed out because NOTHING aside E-Peen is at stake.

          It is a great thing IMO.

          • taugrim says:

            Though certain souls are considered better off than others, people tend not to rage about it as much when Arena does not exist.

            True.

            Arena is a very controlled environment, so imbalances between classes/specs are very visible.

            I do enjoy Arena, but I am also fine with not having it, so long as there is World PVP, which at the end of the day to me tends to be more entertaining, and you build rivalries against players/guilds of the other faction.

  4. Potent says:

    Imo the only MMO that has done PvP (specifically world) well was WAR. Its just a shame that they failed to do anything apart from that well. Despite the imbalances, the poor game engine and somewhat shallow character progression, the PvP was excellent fun, dynamic and had something for everyone, from huge multiple warband combat, to tactical 6 and 12 man group skirmishes, all the way down to 1,2 and 3vX roaming groups.

    The biggest worry for me with rift is that at endgame there will be no real meaningful PvP. People on the forums complain that there is only 4 warfronts at endgame and nigh on no world PvP. Hopefully this will change as more people reach the level cap, but it would be good to see what Trion has planned for expanding what PvP they currently have.

    Good PvP however isn’t really something that can be tacked on to a game as an afterthought. The whole concept of WAR was based around PvP, and as such, the actual PvP turned out great.

    • taugrim says:

      The biggest worry for me with rift is that at endgame there will be no real meaningful PvP. People on the forums complain that there is only 4 warfronts at endgame and nigh on no world PvP

      The game has officially been live for 2.5 weeks, 3.5 if you count Head Start.

      People who already leveled to 50 are ahead of the curve – they “outleveled” the playerbase and are dealing with the consequences.

      Therefore, it’s too early to assess whether there is or is not World PVP @ 50. Give it at least til the end of the month :)

      I hope to be 50 within a couple weeks, but I’m not rushing it. I’m enjoying the ride.

  5. Excelsior says:

    I have been very impressed by Trion so far. They are generally quick to fix things, they stay fixed, and overall just give the consumer a feeling that they as a company want and need your business. Always a good business model.

    Certianly they have learned from Age of Conan and Warhammer which suffered from corporate meddeling and terrible overall management. As a huge fan of the Games Workshops table top games, the failure of Warhammer online really stung. I was incredibly excited for the launch, then they didnt include one of their best known character classes The Dwarf Slayer, and they learned the wrong lessons from Age of Conan’s mistakes by not tweaking some classes in a timely manner, most notably the Bright Wizard.

    This created a culture where people believed the game would not be balanced and since it was built around a PvP premise, it started to suffer. Throw into that the lack of end game, technical issues and what not, and people began a mass exdous back to WoW.

    Newly launched MMOs need to be treated like a newborn baby. You have to attend to them at all hours of the night, whether they really need something or not. Even if your not fixing a lot of things, its important to give the impression of attentiveness. So far so good for Trion.

    • taugrim says:

      This created a culture where people believed the game would not be balanced and since it was built around a PvP premise, it started to suffer. Throw into that the lack of end game, technical issues and what not, and people began a mass exdous back to WoW.

      You hit the nail on the head. Once players believe a game lacks polish/content/balance/etc, that perception sticks.

      Newly launched MMOs need to be treated like a newborn baby. You have to attend to them at all hours of the night, whether they really need something or not

      To extend your analogy, it’s not just about attending to them, it’s recognizing that if you try to force the baby out before it’s ready to be born, you’ll have all kind of health issues for the baby.

      That’s what happened with WAR and AoC. They were not ready to go live when they launched.

  6. Chase says:

    Hey Taug,

    Do you still feel your 1 handed spec is doing well? I’m starting to feel a bit underwhelmed with the dmg output, maybe I’m doing something wrong. =P

    • taugrim says:

      Do you still feel your 1 handed spec is doing well?

      Yes, it rocks.

      From a PUG I finished about an hour ago.

      I would have finished 22 killing blows and 0 deaths but I got zerged by a bunch of angry Guardian players LOL.

      34 Warrior Stats - Whitefall Steppes

  7. […] I am not going to predict what degree of commercial success Trion will have or whether Rift is the fabled “WoW Killer” (and as I wrote elsewhere that’s the wrong…, Trion’s actions with and after launch show me that they get it. I have high confidence based […]

  8. […] have been a huge advocate and supporter for RIFT – it was the first AAA-quality launch of an MMORPG in the past several years, which in itself was a big deal. I am concerned with some of the proposed changes in Patch 1.5, […]

  9. Rob Server says:

    I haven’t had a chance to play this yet, but it sounds like I will have to get right on it. The four points of why it’s a great game sold me, especially the last. I am really looking forward to that flexibility.

  10. […] RIFT’s launch was the smoothest that I’d ever seen for an MMORPG. It blew me away. The game had bugs of course, but the level of polish was phenomenal, so it was able to meet the “is this as polished as WoW” standard question from the gamer community. […]

  11. […] RIFT’s launch in early 2011 was very successful, and Trion showed that it is possible to deliver a stable, polished MMORPG at launch. What it […]

  12. […] problems, and there never will be. Even Rift’s launch, regarded by many (including myself) as the smoothest launch of an MMO ever, had its […]

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