Rift: The Soulwalker - The Fall of the Online Civilizations

Inspired by the return of Boomjack and the daily Reloading column, Jason "Medawky" Bolton dusts off his personal Rift soapbox - The Soulwalker and examines the possibility that MMOG gaming may be destined to fail.

It's been a few weeks since I last penned The Soulwalker, and while there has been quite a bit going on, none of it was particularly inspiring. So what got me off my duff and revived my weekly soapbox? Not so much anything directly Rift affiliated actually, but rather I drew inspiration from the return of our beloved Boomjack and a new and improved version of our awesome daily feature – Reloading. Welcome back sir, my email inbox is certainly the better for it.


As I look forward to patch 1.3, I still marvel at the blistering pace at which content is churned out and at the continued innovations by the folks at Trion. At a time when the biggest kid on the block is going to charge you extra to run some dungeons with your friends, Rift is going to give you the ability to move servers. Weekly. For free. Even with all the upsides to Rift there still seems to be a lot of negative energy and speculation of failure by folks in the community and those playing other games. It's natural for any new game to have attrition and contraction shortly after launch these days, but is it really a failing on Trion's part? Or are we just witnessing the beginning of the end of the MMOG boom?

I can't help but think of a few notable moments from recent history that have affected myself, and some of my closest friends, when I wonder about the future of the MMOG. In the later part of the 90's I was working in a high stress industry that required long hours and a good part of my soul, but it paid really well. As friends of mine started to migrate away to new internet start up firms in droves, I was tempted to follow them for the promises of a better work environment and fat stacks of quick cash. Luckily, I had a fiancee whose overly cautious nature helped talk me out of that and a couple years later our new house's guest bedroom was put to regular use as temporary housing for friends who lost it all in the gamble.


The second event that comes to mind involves that same house and the same overly cautious fiancee, who was by that time a matronly over-cautious wife. As housing values rocketed up and our friends began trading up from simple houses to  amazingly lavish mini-mansions we were once again tempted by the lure of easy money. Everyone knows the outcome of that frenzy, more friends staying with us, this time on the couch as the guest room was now a nursery.

With every developer pouring gobs of money into the MMOG market, is it really any different than these two crazes which swept through our country and ultimately imploded in upon themselves? And are the early adopters who don't rush headlong into over extending themselves safe from the repercussions? And finally, can a game like Rift and a company like Trion, help to save the industry from total collapse? The not-so-definitive answer is – maybe.

Blizzard with its undisputed King of all MMOGs isn't even immune right now, as WoW subscriptions were down by 600k (take into account the huge uptick in subs they picked up in China this year and that number is probably closer to 1.4 million recurring subscriptions lost). The damage done to SOE by its security fiasco may not be fully realized for several more months as they wait to see who comes back, and more importantly, who sticks around. Funcom announced AoC would be going free-to-play, joining a long list of other games that are removing the monthly fee in a last ditch effort to attract players. While a great number of threads on various discussion boards are exalting WoW as triumphing over Rift as the latter's population begins to sag, the vast number of folks I have spoke to who have left Telara certainly haven't gone back to Azeroth – just as most of my friends who have stopped playing WoW have yet to try Rift. Players are simply becoming bored with an overexposed market that has left them feeling bloated and tired as they chase the perpetual Next Thing in their hardly distinguishable fantasy realm of choice.

Rift While SW:TOR and GW2 may each be bringing something new to the table, the former is simply a fantasy game re-skinned as a sci-fi space universe and the latter is JANFG (just another fantasy game – hey we loves us some acronyms). Until a truly innovative and genre defining non-fantasy game emerges, Rift may be the best alternative to giving up the MMOG all together. The two things that Rift has going for it that may help it stave off elimination are; rapid deployment of dynamic content – a system that helps keep the world fresh and minimizes player boredom as they wait for their next challenge and, most importantly, fostering of community. As all client-based fantasy worlds begin their inevitable contractions, those that keep players working together and interacting with each other the most will be the ones with the best chance of survival. No one on the market today fosters community much better than Rift. So while the WoW denizens continue to mock each other, flex their electronic egos and enslave each other to get cheap gold, those of us in Rift will be busy banding together in our co-operative efforts. Come on Ascended, we've got a world to save.

Have you seen the newest Rift promo video?

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