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Trion Worlds has recently announced that Rift: Planes of Telera will be going free to play. This is a huge change in any game, and is usually seen as a sign that the game is dying, or at least having financial troubles with its current income system. In the case of Rift, it has been using a subscription model since its original release almost two years ago, and as of late last year was reporting that they were doing well financially. With this change, however, it would appear that this information was either incorrect or has otherwise changed within a somewhat short span.

Many of us started getting the eerie feeling that the game was having problems and was looking to move to a free to play model back last year when they added a cash shop to the game. They had always been offering micro transactions, though, and their statement regarding the shop in game was that it created an easier way for players to make their purchases since all the information was right in front of them. Regardless, this still looked like an odd move, considering you could just as easily go to the website and deal with everything there, and as we know, development of new features (like this shop) takes time. It was sort of obvious that there was some underlying reason for adding it that they were not sharing. Of course, whether they were fully ready to make the move to a free to play game yet is unknown. It is possible that they were experiencing problems but were not quite ready to make the jump, just in case their marketing efforts paid off and they no longer needed to.

There are many signs that Rift has been having problems, given out over the past year or so:

Server Merges

This is a huge one. The number of servers has dwindled down to only a small portion of the number it had originally. There was one merge after another, each one further compacting the number of players. This is not a bad thing, as it brought dead servers back to life with its new population, but it is still a sign that there were some problems with player retention.

A claim that was made back when these merges were going on was that Rift's architecture had been upgraded and therefore more people could play on a single server (known as a shard) concurrently. This was used often as a way to help justify why merges were not a problem. Furthermore, the dropping on many servers from being full most of the time to low population was a big red flag, but the idea of being able to handle more players made sense. After all, it was often claimed that the maximum population had increased by around four times over the period of a year and a half. In other words, whereas a server could hold, say two thousand players, now it could hold eight. So what was once full is now only a small portion of its capability. Of course nobody knows the truth behind this other than Trion and their developers, so all we can do is speculate.

Lay Offs

There were many lay offs at Trion Worlds soon after their Rift expansion, Storm Legion was released. This brought about a lot of criticism as to how well the company was doing, but anyone who has followed game developers in the past knew that this was pretty normal. Once the work is done, keeping a lot of people on the staff that had no other work to do would be a waste of money (sorry guys!).

This started to become an issue a little later, though, when key members of the development team were also being laid off, or at least were finding work elsewhere. This led to a much more deep view of what was actually happening. Not to mention there were many more lay offs than we originally thought. Of course, though, since none of us knew the situation it was still hard to really get a grasp as to whether or not this was just a restructuring, or what was really going on behind the doors. All we could do is guess.

The Crash of End of Nations

End of Nations was Trion Worlds' RTS game that was released as a free to play game. It was also brought in as an “MMO,” insinuating that the battles would be not only on a massive scale, but also including many players. As time went along, however, players started to show more and more dislike for the game, and eventually the bad press started getting the best of it. It was a pretty cool idea, but it was more like an experiment than anything. The way everything runs in it is just odd, and it is far from being an MMO. It is more like a normal RTS, when it really comes down to it. For many of us, we felt like we were led on to something that was far different than we were originally told, and that created a rift (excuse the pun) between us and the developers. The idea of a free to play MMORTS is still one I have hopes for, but it needs to be done the right way. It should not feel like it was rushed just to be the first group to try something new; that just leads to incomplete games or games that are just flat out not user friendly. Something along the lines of an MMO version of Age of Empires I could definitely see working out. Possibly even Command and Conquer, although with the nukes and such I have doubts about how that would work on a massive scale. The point is: we need something new!

The problems that occurred with End of Nations were a sign that Trion would end up having some issues. If their game was having complications, that would in no doubt affect the rest of their company, including Rift. Money being spent without being earned is a sure sign that something bad is going to happen.

Defiance

I would consider Defiance to be an anomaly in that even through the other problems Trion has been facing, they still managed to release a very decent game. This is no way trying to say that Defiance does not have its problems, but considering the circumstances it has done well for itself.

It is still hard to say how this is going to work out in regards to helping Trion get out of their apparent income struggle, but hopefully this does at least boost them up a bit.

What Free to Play Rift Means

According to Trion Worlds, what they are going to be doing with Rift's free to play model is similar to what En Masse Entertainment did with TERA: The Exiled Realm of Arborea. What they did is unlock the entire game for everyone, and then put out special benefits like new mounts and other visual things for those players that want to stand out from the crowd. There are also some experience and gold boost buffs that are given out, but they do not affect the game enough to really cause problems.

Rift is said to take on a very similar stance. The entire game (Vanilla Rift) will be completely free. Extra benefits like experience buffs will be part of the subscription cost to the game, and many items will be sold in the cash shop located within the game. The only part that will not be available for free is the additional content brought about with Rift: Storm Legion. Even this, however, will not require that players maintain a subscription. Instead, all that is needed is to purchase the expansion. After that, you can access absolutely everything the game has to offer.

Since you are not forced to purchase the original Rift, this makes it very cheap to get in to all of the game. Just buying the expansion puts you on the same level as everyone else, and with no fees attached on top of it, it does not cause any real financial stress.

Conclusion

If you have been looking at getting in to Rift, or you just want to try out a new game that brings a whole lot of new features and ideas to the table, wait until it goes free to play and then jump on it. The expansion content is not really valuable until you are ready for end game, so you will get a ton of experience with the game and learn it well before you are forced to make a decision.

Even if you choose not to get the expansion or purchase anything from the store, you will still be able to have a lot of fun. There is nothing holding you back but your own enjoyment! And if you already have the game but have let your subscription lapse for one reason or another, you can jump right in where you left off once the subscription model changes. With the game becoming free, there is bound to be a massive influx of new players to spend time with, resurrecting the low level zones and making the older content much more enjoyable. Will it be and feel like it did when the game was first released? This is what I am hoping for! Nothing beat the low level zone events where fifty or a hundred people scrambled together to get it completed. I love battles that take place on a massive scale, and I look forward to the prospect of experiencing this again.

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