Rift is going free-to-play on June 12th. To me this was never a question of if Rift would go F2P, but when. Rift’s numbers are declining as all games do over time. To be honest, they made it quite a long time for never quite being a true blockbuster success; much longer than most. EQ lasted forever because it initiated a paradigm shift. WoW is still doing relatively well for the same reason. Rift is/was just another good game.
Trion’s big marketing strategy with this F2P transition is to clearly state that players are getting complete AAA MMO experience for free. You only have to pay for certain things like boosts, mounts, gear, and expansion souls. All story, all level, all raids — all content is free.
That’s a great strategy, and really the only one I believe can possibly work for a true “AAA F2P” MMO (if such an oxymoron exists). Let’s look at their execution.
Having a sub to Rift gets you boosts. Whether they’re slowing everything else down like SWTOR, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised. As a Patron (their name for a subscriber) you can get bonus mount speed, more reputation, more tokens, more currency, loyalty rewards, and those types of things. It’s the whole “you want to pay money to not be at a disadvantage” trope. Will it be enough to get people to subscribe? Personally, I don’t see the real benefit. I’d rather buy these as I want them individually.
Here’s the big one.
“We will also have gear for sale. Our guidelines for gear on the store are generally as follows: The best gear in the game must be earned and high-level items on the store must also be available to be earned in-game.”
That is vague; I can interpret that to mean you can buy the best gear in the game. All X are Y but not all Y are X type of logic. Regardless, it’s pay-to-win unless your definition of winning is to only have the best stuff instantly. If I can buy the second best stuff right when hit max level, then jump in the next day with the second best gear and start earning the best, that’s winning to me.
This whole conversion is going to do really well for Rift. I’m absolutely positive that they will see more people playing, and more revenue as a result. However, F2P is a short-term strategy for MMOs. Trion forfeits Rift’s credibility and sense of being a genuine AAA game. Transitioning to F2P will do very well early for the game, but it will expedite the end even if it only makes people consider there being an end, thus that in and of itself diminishing their future possibilities. Rift’s love group is being served with the realization of the game’s mortality, and I’m confident that the long-run will suffer as a result as those love-group-players lose their desire to stay and start looking for a game without a future dictated by altering design to earn the most money.
I’ll give the game a shot now (I was going to anyway since Raptr gave me 30 days free AND the expansion free…) and maybe give the game a bit of coverage from a ‘how does it play free’ perspective. That’s precisely what Trion is hoping thousands of people will do.