Posted Fri, Oct 12, 2012 by Shayalyn
Last week, I attended a Rift: Storm Legion press day for Rift at Trion’s headquarters in San Francisco. We were treated to a preview of the expansion, set to launch November 13th, and had the opportunity to chat with its developers.
I sat down with Hal Hanlin, Design Producer. Hanlin is personable, animated, funny and, most of all, tangibly enthusiastic about his game. We talked about Rift’s place in the competitive MMO space, and what the future holds for a game that remains one of the last successful subscription-based titles.
The Trion team has mentioned that the expansion serves as a sort of reward for existing players. Are there any plans in place to bring in new players?
See, that’s one of the reasons why we’ve introduced Dimensions [player housing]. And our additional soul purposes make things easier for new players. We originally had 3 or 4 purposes on each calling, but now we have 10, and we’re able to give people much more information in a friendly way--we’ve taken a lot of the pain out of it. So, say you’re thinking that you just really like the Tempest. Cool! You choose the Tempest, and then you say “Give me a sane build,” select one, and you’re off to go play.
And those are viable builds? Do the min-maxers have any advantage over those who use purposes?
Every one of the souls serves a purpose, so you’re not going to fulfill every function with one. If you choose any of the purposes, that’s a viable class, and you’re able to jump in and play our game. This sort of system was made for people like me. I’m a derp. I’m a complete derp, and I’m asked to test things if people want to see if an idiot can figure them out. I’m being self-effacing, but the fact is, I will make a mistake if it can be made, because I just don’t read, I don’t care, I just want to click and go play and kill stuff.
So, we haven’t dumbed it down, we’ve just removed the stumbling blocks that had you going, “Oh, my god! I have to pick three souls from this one blurb of text. And now I have to figure out how that all overlaps. And the only way I can do that is to dig deep in the [soul] tree and figure out...wait, this affects attack power, and my guy depends on it....” And you have to start having raid level conversations at level one. So, what we’re doing now is, you’ll go, “Hey, I want to be a storm guy, so I’ll choose the...storm things. And hey, that looks cool! And I like the tone of this one. I’ll choose this one.” So, you choose that [purpose], and if you don’t like how that one works in a couple levels, you just start a different one. The system is very friendly to start-overs.
You know, we haven’t revamped everything; we haven’t rebuilt the new user experience. And it isn’t my goal to do as part of the live game moving forward. We want to find more things that we can incorporate into [the early levels], but those are small spaces, and there’s now this huge world out there [in Storm Legion], so if anything we’ll just accelerate the time it takes to get through that first area and out into the world, and then out into the even bigger world.
We’re not only expecting to have our earlier subscribers come back, we also stand to benefit from the people who were waiting to see if we were going to stick around, you know? And when a game is solid enough to keep the user base we’ve kept and create a new expansion pack, while generating as much service level content as we have, I think we’re getting more cred, I really do.
So, I’m expecting to see more than just our original fans with the launch of Storm Legion, I’m expecting to see a pretty big bump.There’s some steep competition for you guys right now.
There’s always been steep competition. When we launched, [World of Warcraft’s expansion] Cataclysm had just launched.
Sure. But for anyone who wanted to play something new, or wasn’t into WoW, Rift was it when you guys launched. Now there are some big competitors such as Guild Wars 2...
"There’s always been steep competition. But I’ve been on this pony long enough to know it’s not gonna buck. Let’s keep on riding."
Guild Wars 2 is awesome. Star Wars: The Old Republic is still out there. So many big gaming launches have happened on the road that we’ve travelled, and we went through all the fear and agony. I remember when Skyrim was about to launch and there were these naysayers who were saying, “Oh, Skyrim’s gonna kill Rift!” Skyrim launched, it was an awesome game and people loved it, but they came back to Rift. Same thing with Star Wars. It’s a fantastic game, but it didn’t kill Rift--we’re still solid. Now people are saying, “Oh, Mists of Pandaria came out, it’s gonna kill Rift!” You know, I’ve been on this pony long enough to know it’s not gonna buck. Let’s keep on riding.
I logged into Rift recently after not having played for quite a while. I was pleasantly surprised by how many servers I saw, and most of them with medium load.
The population is healthy. And I think part of it...the exciting thing is, we did a damn fine job with mentoring. Mentoring and Instant Adventures have breathed new life into the game. There are people running around the starting zones all the time. So, I’m really happy with our population right now. It’s a nice, healthy infusion; we have a constant inflow of new characters coming through.
Here’s an example. I had my level 50s, two of them. I was helping my son progress with another character, and I was in Stonefield, and I killed something and suddenly thought, “Hey, I could be getting experience for this!” So I mentored myself down and all the sudden I was in an Instant Adventure. So now I’m in a zone event, and everything that’s happening is progressing my character further down his path. I was blown away by our own game, because all of the systems work.
Everything’s kind of turning to free-to-play right now, and Rift is one of the last holdouts. The Secret World unfortunately didn’t manage to pull off the subscription model...
I like that game.
I do, too. But you’ve got a steep hill to climb when you’re going to charge $15 per month. And so far, Rift is pulling it off. What do you attribute your success to?
"Rift is a service. It's not a boxed product. We're not charging $60 for the right to pay us $15 a month."
I will stand on any roof and I’ll yell it. The fact is, Lars [Buttler, Trion CEO] exactly nailed it. A year and a half ago--more than that--he and Scott [Hartsman, Rift Producer] were telling this team over and over and over, “Rift is a service, it is not a boxed product. We are not charging $60 for the right to pay us $15 a month. It is a service.” And he held us to that standard.
Scott did a fantastic job of continually setting sign posts for us to work toward, and I had a dedicated team--we all did--and the team is so fanatical about this game that, for us, the idea of going for too long without delivering more rich content was horrible. Because we play the game. I have team members who’ll send me email at 2 AM saying, “I just ran across this quest that somehow got broken by this thing.” That team member’s not telling me that it’s broken and someone needs to fix it, he’s telling me what he’s working on tomorrow. And I come in and, sure enough, he’s working on it.
The passion and the drive to deliver Rift as a service is what’s kept it alive day after day and month after month. I’m committed to that idea. No one can convince me otherwise.