What am I playing this week? Pay-To-Play becomes Free-to-Play in Trion World’s, Rift

Several genres leapt onto the Free-to-play model with both feet, embracing the micro-transaction options and building their economies into the idea that players are often more interested in cosmetics then in power gains within the game. One genre has been a bit slower on the uptick though. Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs still often cling to the subscription model, especially when they first come out. They all think they can accomplish what Blizzard managed, and keep millions of subscribers paying a monthly fee. It is almost worth taking bets before a studio concedes to the inevitable and switches over to a free-to-play model. One of the bigger names to do so in recent years is Trion Worlds, with their MMO Rift so I decided to take a look at a traditional online RPG and see how they’ve adapted to free to play.

There are certain formulas that follow every MMORPG around, pretty much all classes fall into the warrior/cleric/rogue/mage archetype patterns. It doesn’t matter if the MMO is high fantasy and the characters are slinging spells, or science fiction, and they’re throwing nano-tech healing grenades, the effects are pretty much the same. In this regard Rift does not deviate from that general formula. Where they do let you play around with your character customization is the way they split up character advancement. Every general class has one of eight different ‘souls’ or subtypes to the base character build. Within that build, you can put points into Branches that give you specific abilities or bonuses, and Roots, which are base abilities and give a boost when you’ve invested the requisite number of points into them. Ok, this gives you a rather broad bit of character customization depending on how you want to play your character. Oh, and race doesn’t matter, everyone can do everything, but of course, races have bonuses that will probably affect your choices in that regard. Oh, and you can also save a ‘role’ or a set of abilities and your personal customization and swap it out for another one you’ve already build when outside combat. Essentially, you can play whatever you like, whenever you like, and once you have a character for each base role, you pretty much can play whatever you want.

Online MMOs generally follow the same formula for character advancement, go to zone A: collect item B: or several of item C: return to quest giver, advance. Time to level out of the zone? Here’s a quest that takes you to the next place for you to grind up. Every MMO follows that general advancement style to some degree or other, and Rift is not really any different. What they do though, is mix things up by introducing massive zone events named after the title of the game. These rift events happen when one of the game’s other planes rip a hole in to a game area and trigger a giant cooperative raid-like event. Except for the beginning zones, these rift events can happen almost anywhere, giving a bit of unpredictability to some of the more standard MMO tropes. Overall it’s a refreshing way of playing the game, and it does help mitigate some of the grind….which brings us to monetization.

MMOs that translate to free-to-play usually can’t shake off some of their subscription model history, and Rift is no different. Sure, there are cosmetics, like niftier mounts, and character customization options like many free-to-play games, but Rift really emphasizes how they want you to pay by giving subscribers a huge leg up in fighting the grind. Most notably, subscribers get a 40% xp boost because they are part of the paying members club. That’s right…40%, you have to grind for nearly HALF the time to level your character if you’re a paying member. Oh, and you also get fast travel to some of the major hubs in the game, saving you risk and transit time. Yeeeah…that’s certainly one way to poke players to pay for your game. That said, they’re still going strong and most players stay generally positive about the game, so obviously something about it works.

The game is certainly pretty enough, and with an additional expansion that came out in October, which added an entire additional plane to the game there is plenty to do here to keep you busy. Also, you don’t have to pay any money to get to any of the content in the game. Strictly speaking, you never have to pay a penny on it. They do definitely nudge you towards the paying model though, they offer boosts that you can get single uses out of, then tell you that if you’re a paying member you get those boosts all the time, they dangle the pretty treats in front of you and show you what the members get. It means there is definitely a subtle (and not so subtle) pressure to get you into a subscriber model. This is one model for free-to-play that still seems to be lingering on, especially with a game type and style that still seems also somewhat stuck in an era of previous design choices.

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