Why did Rift Fail?
So yesterday I said I would release a nutcracker, and on this Boxing Day I am. I’ve been building up this article for six months and have been following the progress of one of my favorite games, Rift. And so today I cover, Why did Rift Fail?
Within six months before launch Rift when from being one of the most unknown games on the planet to one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year. However after it released it suddenly transformed into one of the biggest trainwrecks of the year. People perceived it as doing insanely well because the developers were always making new content and working on the game. In truth it was doing terribly. After six months they broke 300,000 active subscribers. That is less than Lineage 2. Rift fell off the face of the Earth and was largely ignored. So how did this happen?
1. People didn’t Buy Into the Game Concept
The name of the game is Rift and so rifting was intended to be a major part of the game. It seemed no matter how much they tried to encourage people to go rifting it was not something people wanted to do. There was something fundamentally wrong with rifts, and I know what it is.
Unfortunately for rifts, rift grinding is just formalized group mob killing. It is no different from killing 100 pigs over and over. The only difference was you were supposed to get predictable gear upgrades and bonus to XP. But once you hit level cap what’s the advantage to do rifts? As people found out…. reputation. But you could grind out those reputations in a more profitable way (dungeon grind for gear/dailies for money).
At late game with the planar atunement system rifting transformed into another grind, grinding experience, grinding planarite, grinding inscribed. The epic of this was thrown out the window in favor of making it into a grind. This is largely because of massive grind requirements to gain very small things. Events attracted at least 100 people per server not because they wanted to do it, but because they had to do it.
On launch everyone was doing rifts to grind out their reputation, that is the hardcores. But as the game started moving along, no one did rifts. Eventually people started moving away from the game and the only people doing rifts are those that were grinding them for XP or inscribed.
Trion did release Zone Events. These are world bosses that would require 3-4 20-man groups to kill and came after doing a number of objectives. But all of these got boring and repetitive. None of these world bosses required any organization, you just joined a bulk group and spammed your DPS or heal button. I would go as a bard and sneakily leach off of peoples efforts by only buff spamming so not to risk aggroing mobs.
The main focus of the game inevitably failed and represented a side activity for when you were not raiding. They added in holiday and lore related events that all revolved around just grinding out rifts. Not only did these make rifts suck, they also made holidays suck. While holidays in most games are well orchestrated quest lines with fun stuff. Instead you’re just burning through rifts. This was a cheap content creation model that made bland boring content.
Most people who joined this game came from World of Warcraft. Because of this they wanted something a little bit different from the WoW grind, Rift could not offer it.
2. Designers Abandoned the Game
Within the first year they released six raid dungeons (three 10-man and three 20-man), four world events, 6 major patches, and created a brand new zone. There is also a new one coming out after the holidays.
And yet I say the designers abandoned the game.
It’s not a statement of opinion or thought, it’s a matter of fact. Only a month after releasing Rift, Trion Worlds purchased a share in End of Nations. Only a couple of weeks later they announced a partnership with Syfy to develop a science fiction multi-platform (joined game play) MMO. This new MMO is promised to be bank specifically because it is being promoted by a Syfy television show (Syfy is huge in the US). They moved the developers from Rift to these new projects and put a new team in charge of making content for Rift.
This means that Rift is just a cash ship that they have to milk as much as possible. Something you want to milk out means you give it as little maintenance while still performing maximum results.
To that end a completely different design team was ‘trained’ on Rift. They were trained in a content creation model that would allow them to easily design dungeons, rift events, warfronts, minor edits and game balance. It felt like a gamer’s dream, game content all the time.
I mean just look at these renderings of new content coming out in 1.6/1.7:
Now look at Deepstrike Mines:
And for the sake of argument, look at Darkening Deeps:
It’s all sort of the same thing. It is all in fact very lazy programming. The same dungeon designs over and over and over ad infinitum.
But the player base was happy doing these feeling like it was unique content. It felt like with this model Rift could actually survive and make expansions.
And then it happened.
The beginning of the end.
And it came with players high praise and screaming for joy.
Trion invented the atunement system.
Atunement is post-level cap leveling. You gain experience and invest into stats. Some stats included 1 dexterity, 0.1% weapon’s dmg, dmg against a certain element and movement speed. It seemed like a perfect idea. Until it dawned upon people, Rift will never be able to have an expansion. It’s actually impossible. The second you make post level cap leveling is the second that you make an expansion impossible. The other side is that if they do expand, you’d lose a tonne of post level cap stats.
Eventually there will come a point that the game will become grossly unfriendly to new players. It is potentially already happening now with Rank 8 PvP being indestructible and T2 raid DPS being double that of T1 raid DPS.
The development model doesn’t work because as Blizzard realized so many years ago, at some point, gear becomes ridiculous and you need to reset things.
If this game has an expansion it will destroy the existing community. The game went on sale for $3 for a month and then it went free during Black Friday sales. There is no surer sign that they are just trying to milk out their subscriptions while they still can.
Keep in mind the game sold for $59.99 then $49.99, $39.99, $29.99, $3, $0.
Free to play is not a terrible payment model. But when a game goes free to play it is a surefire sign that it is sinking in value.
3. Failure to Launch
The game was insanely hyped up because it was introducing a lot of world content. In truth world content was in a high demand from a niche crowd. This is because EQ, EQ2, and World of Warcraft all started with non-instanced world content. These same people have always demanded world bosses. The problem with world bosses has always been the problem of the mass. Either you have so many people in your group that the fun factor moves away to a mass people factor or because there are so many people available to screw you up on killing them these bosses become almost unkillable.
Blizzard’s last world boss was in Burning Crusade, Doom Lord Kazak. Kazak was a re-make of a vanilla boss and was actually very unpopular. The boss had the exact same problem as previous ones, too hard in a PvP world.
Rift developers created a stupid number of out door bosses. But at the lowest of levels people who bought the collectors edition had a massive advantage, speed. This caused the rifting thing to only catch on with people who bought collector’s edition or people who just ignored rifts and stayed loyal to something they did not enjoy.
When people hit level cap (Level 50) they were stuck with very little to do. The game launched without a dungeon finding tool. This is a problem if you are trying to find a group since you have to basically stay online for hours looking at Level 50 chat for a group. This social system is supposed to create bonds, what it does instead is create guild elitism.
Guild elitism exists when raid guilds maintain control of a rare resource. A rare resource in the game might be… tanks. Tanks really only want to raid and will only pug until they are geared. There is no reason to continue afterwards. This meant that the second wave of 50s were… screwed.
A dungeon finder was introduced again for a third wave of levelers after their first discount sale. This dungeon finder was actually worse than the social method. it was only server wide and it forced you to get four types in the group: Tank, DPS (2), Support and Healer. In any MMO DPS is going to be very common. This is why 3/5 of a party is generally supposed to be made of DPS. By making it 2/5 and adding in a new role this makes dungeon matchmaking very hard. Worst part is in most groups the support role just DPSes, so it’s sort of another way for people to ‘cheat’ their way ahead of the queue.
That is of course… if it ever popped.
The dungeon finder was awful. The non-epic dungeons (Charmer’s Caldera and Abysal Precipe) would never pop. Your only choice was to get gear by crafting/PvP and then queue up for the T1 dungeons and then after a long time of grinding T1 dungeons queue for T2 dungeons. T1 dungeons did not have a very good queue either. The T2 queues were really the only ones that ever had any one in their queue. It was awkward because you had stat requirements you had to meet to queue up. So you spent a stupid amount of game grinding.
When one grind ended another grind would begin, then another and another and another. It was a game that just grinded out stuff. Some people like grinding. This game attracted a lot of grinders. There are people who capped out their achievement points and were waiting on the next patch just to cap them out again.
It’s not to say that there was nothing non-grindy in this game. There were tones of cool puzzles that required intelligence to do them. But they were organized in such a way that they were not all that fun. Bejeweled is a fun puzzle game. Plants vs. Zombies is a fun puzzle game. I’ll even go and say that Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is a fun puzzle game. Tetris is a fun puzzle game. But what Rift offered us in puzzles is not fun. They were just things you did to grind out. So the game was obviously not going to interest people who solve puzzles to keep playing.
There was also lore. There are people (like myself) who love lore. They thrive on reading the books that become collections. They love reading quest text and figuring out the story arch. They enjoy watching events or videos telling stories. But the developers at Rift were not really all that into story telling, nor are most MMO developers.
A good story arch is going to do the following (in this order):
- Introduce main and supporting characters
- Create a conflict
- Develop main and supporting characters showing their strengths and their weakness
- Create tragedy (tragedy involves a downfall based on one of the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, sloth, greed, wrath, envy, pride)
- Have main characters accept their weaknesses and recognize their sin (character flaw).
- Become stronger because of that.
- Defeat evil
- PLOT TWIST (Good guy becomes bad guy, bad guy is actually a good guy, bad guy has relations to someone, etc.)
These elements create a fantastic story arch that is exciting and nail bitingly interesting. But… this game does not have it. You really do not have any connection to any of the characters and you do not see any reason to hate your enemies. This was something WoW was also weak at. I mean if you follow the stories of Illidan, Lady Vashj, Prince Kael’thas, King Arthas, and Neber’ak you should simply not want to kill them.
The main problem is that both of these games are trying to build the story through the people you are trying to kill. Villains are designed in a story to create a challenge for a hero. A hero-villain has become popular because they are the ultimate tragic figure. But by telling a story through the villain all you end up doing is demonizing your own side and thus making the gaming experience unfun and disinteresting.
The game just stunk of a blandness that had something missing. When Age of Conan launched with 1M purchases in the first month it did so without any quests for 30 levels. It did so with insanely powerful PvP. Then why is it that after one month Rift didn’t even break 100,000 copies?
well the first part of it that they probably gave out too many free copies. The second part is there was just nothing special about it. It felt like a game that was not going anywhere. And this was the feeling people got as they left the game en mass. The server I was on when I played was one of the highest populated in the game and it only had two guilds doing content. Do you know how sad that is? WoW had problems with that but their content was vastly inaccessible, unfriendly to casuals, and had a rigorous skill cap. Rift has none of that.
4. Steep Learning Curve
When IGN reviewed this game originally they said “quality compensates for lack of originality.” What they felt was that this game was a lot like World of Warcraft with one fundamental problem, a very steep learning curve.
A game has to be noobie friendly. Every time I do a review I like to stress this factor weighted very strongly. The game did not have the tools available for people to figure things out so easily.
Simple question, what is more important for a support to do, deal DPS or provide buffs/debuffs.
After you finish leveling as a DPS your answer might be, do DPS.
The actual answer is provide buffs/debuffs.
It’s simply not all that clear what exactly represents a support spec when you choose it. The description tree tells you enough that it is a support class that goes with a group of adventurers but nothing you do can tank damage, heal or DPS. it doesn’t make a lot of sense in a group of adventurers to have some fruity minstrel following you around singing songs to you.
It’s not even the fact that support classes are awkward as crap and don’t really scale well or get that much better.
The problem might even be the infinitism of specs. I had found out some time ago that there are 56 possible pairings of the 8 different trees available in the game. This means you can be anything, but also tells you that what you should be is not obvious. You might not know where to turn in points and different or what spells to use. There is even an odd part where you are not sure what buffs/debuffs you should use.
When the developers of Rift showed us the trees for the first time he bragged about how he enjoyed playing a rogue because he made a spec that was primarily melee but had ranged abilities so he could kill opponents as they ran away. That sounds cool but then you try out that spec and find out it actually sucks pretty bad.
I remember the first time I hit Level 50 and did not have a clue what to do. There were no quick quest lines leading you into doing any raids, there were no quick quest lines to lead you into grinding out reputations and Port Scion was bloody complicated with no direction to it.
The game on launch just did not have enough resources available to tell people exactly what to do. Open ended sand boxing games with no real direction are fun if the core mechanics of the game are fun… Rift did not have that.
5. Because It Didn’t Succeed Enough
On the topic of failure. A game can succeed in many ways. The first way is that it has such amazing gameplay that the game almost becomes legendary. Half Life for example is actually a pretty crappy game but has become legendary for it’s amazing online play (Counter Strike). A game can succeed with sure volume of numbers. World of Warcraft and League of Legends both host over 12M players. A game can be a success for having mildly good results on a company’s first launch.
Rift was successful in this final way. It is the first launch of Trion Worlds and because of this it was not really expected to have amazing results. As a matter of fact, no one really had heard of this game before the Open Beta was released a summer ago. Many could say this game was amazingly successful and has done better than a lot of gaming companies on launch. Trion was able to earn enough money to purchase a share in another MMO and begin work on another far more popular MMO.
But Rift in every single other way, failed.
It did not reach the numbers that anyone expected. I remember posting an article claiming they had sold less than 100,00 copies in their first month. People were scouring at me claiming hearsay and treason. But sales records confirmed that it was not selling all that well. One of the main reasons for poor retention was lack of casual friendliness. This is not a game you can just pick up, it requires a tone of time. Every MMO has slowly moved down to being casual friendly. Rift requires too much of your time and the rifting system lead it to that if you idle for too long eventually invasions will come along and kill you.
Rift failed in amazing game play. The game play was average. It was designed by programmers who were struggling for funding and had to make cuts where they were. The game jumped in ‘finish’ when pre-orders became available and every time they did a promotion of this the game’s polish came closer and closer. But when it launched it was not really a finished product.
One of the weaker points of the lacking amazing game play was in how all specs basically played the same. For warriors you were building up your Attack points and spending them. Even tanking was like this. For rogues you were building up attack points and spending them. Even tanking was like this. Mages rotated spells. Clerics hit the healing button on people. The only trees that offered any difference were support which ended up not being all that fun in practice.
When people like playing games they like to play them in different ways. The fact that you were sort of always doing the same thing was a huge limit on the replayability of the game. In truth people were willing to wait on Guild Wars 2, The Old Republic or Warhammer 40,000 Online before picking up this game.
Rift was released before it was polished which cost them in sales. What it did do is keep Trion Worlds alive and allow them to acquire End of Nations and start work on their next larger project.
In the end Rift failed because Trion killed their own game.