I know I am a little late to the party (seven months a bit too late perhaps), but now I think is a good time for me to say something about a “little” game called Rift. I will not speak here about the game itself (that will happen in a future article), but about the hype surrounding it and the market in which it has grown its own segment. Some may have heard of Rift, some may have not, but at some point it had a shiny trailer which ended with the phrase: “you are not in Azeroth anymore”.
OK, now I am getting to some familiar grounds. For most gamers Azeroth is already famous thanks to World of Warcraft. Unfortunately many people do not seem to know there are other MMORPGs besides Blizzard’s mammoth. Heck, some of them don’t even know what the term MMO really stands for. Or the fact that WOW copied the key elements form a pretty famous game called Everquest. Or the fact that MUDs were the basic ground on which the whole “MMO” thing grew up to become what they are today.
The problem that rose after Blizzard’s fulminant success with their MMO consisted in the facet that many other developers tried to reproduce the same success using the same formula (more or less). Others, on the contrary, they tried to get away as much as possible from the formula. And yet, most of them failed, one way or another, and when I say “failed” I do not mean that their games were not successful. Far from it, if you think about raw profit. However, they could never get the same numbers they saw when they looked at the elephant in the room: World of Warcraft.
Some of the MMORPGs of the “post-WOW era” had an average success, like Lord of the Rings Online, or Aion (a game which is more than successful in Asia, and less in Europe or north America). Other MMOs, like Age of Conan or Warhammer Online had huge initial sales followed by a rather abrupt abandon of the subscribers. Apparently, the subscription retention rate was not very high for any MMO which appeared in the last 5 years or so.
In the spring of 2011 another MMORPG was launched, its name being Rift. It came out of nowhere, with an anonymous IP and a fresh lore to sustain its world. It was labeled from the beginning as a WOW-clone and as a matter of fact their initial advertisement did not help that much either. The last words in the presentation are: “We’re not in Azeroth anymore”. Some people were disgusted by this publicity maneuver, others were intrigued, fact is that in the end it worked. People who played WOW either tried, either completely adopted the new game. Other people migrated from older games like LOTRO or Everquest 2.
Rift has become the new star for raiding or people interested in end game PVE, and who either were bored of WOW or were trying to get into something fresh. The fact that Rift is a success cannot be denied, its big number of servers and fans alike stands witness to it. Did it reach at least partially WOW’s success? Probably not, and it is rather hard to predict further development since in just a month we have another big MMO launch which could change things a lot for any player: SWTOR.
The actual number of Rift’s subscriptions remains a mystery still, but at a more recent estimation were situated at about half a million. It’s not bad at all, if you come to think about it, but apparently for some people is still not enough. For some people it’s all about numbers, and that is not always a good thing. There is a wide spread opinion which states that WOW started losing some of its charm the moment in tried to please everyone. And when you have got 11 million subscriptions… it’s really hard to please everyone. You kind of get on the road of pleasing no one.
The decrease in WOW’s subscription numbers this last year is not much of a mystery when you come to accept the fact that we are talking about a game which is seven years old, a phenomenon in itself. It has come to a point where no matter what it does it cannot shatter us the way it used to be. No mechanics wise nor lore wise. Because let’s be clear – Burning Crusade was extraordinary mechanics wise: it introduced flying for starters, while Wrath of the Lich King was intriguing lore wise: you finally got to battle against Arthas, the villain of Warcraft 3, stuff of legend. Therefore it was rather hard to top all of that – there is so much you can do with one game, even if its name is World of Warcraft.
Some of the games that appeared in the last five years had the bad luck of showing up during WOW’s primetime, when it was the undisputed king in mechanics and lore. Perhaps Aion would have had more players, or even Age of Conan if they were not so unlucky to battle against Wrath of the Lich King expansion.
Some would say that Rift’s success is a result of WOW’s decay, and that people who were bored or disappointed after the last expansion found a temporary refuge in this game. That could be the case, and if you combine that with Rift’s rather aggressive marketing campaign and the fact that the game in itself is rather good – you have a winner. Not a WOW killer (I hate that word), but a definitive success. In a market which is very harsh and still dominated by the Blizzard’s behemoth.
Now, about Rift – this is a game about generic high fantasy, in a world with no tradition behind, with a lore which was newly created, and all this in the MMO market has a higher potential for disaster than any well established IP. And yet… established IPs like Age of Conan or Warhammer failed, while Rift seems to be doing quite fine.
What is the secret? The secret seems to be the fact that Rift was launched… (sort-of) complete and polished. Surprise – that is all you need for your MMORPG to have success (besides some good marketing campaign, of course). There is no revolutionary mechanics, nor some extraordinary lore, but the feeling you get when you log on… is just the right one.
I only played until level 10 or so, but I like the game so far and I can tell you it is the kind of MMORPG that drives me back to play it. I could not say that much for Age of Conan, to be honest.
Is Rift a work of genius? Probably not. Some say is average, some say it sucks, some say it’s awesome. But everybody says it’s fun.