Disclaimer: Rift is not the WoW Killer. Under no circumstances, no matter how many positive things I or anyone else may write, no one with an ounce of sanity claims that Rift will kill WoW. Put down the pitch forks and keep this statement in mind as you read.
Now that I've properly covered my ass from potential rabid WoWheads, let's jump into the real issue: Rift is catering to a very large audience. Larger than even WoW. I say this as a sandbox MMO vet who plays theme-parks these days due to social reasons. I want each and every theme-park MMO to fail and give rise to single server sandbox MMOs ala-EVE but not EVE (the name alone scares most MMO rookies who only hear about the constant griefing; I have a girlfriend I'm trying to slowly convert into a sandboxer, so I need to mask the potential for griefing).
Despite my desire to return to using "raid" only in the context of a massive PvP war, and "quest" to mean a super special event that's for fun and not for grinding, I must admit that Rift's doing a lot to cater to me as a world pvp fan. Make no mistake, Rift is a theme park PvE game, but Trion does cater to other crowds: explorers via non-quest related puzzles, achievements for sight seeing, and collectable artifacts; raid casuals in the form of daily rift raids; and Asheron's Call fans who miss monthly updates (the game's six months old and we're about to have our fifth content patch, plus each patch has released a few new events/quests exclusive to that patch). At the moment, ladder match pvp fans are left out, and I'll tell you to suck a lemon and leave it in RTS and FPS games, but I know you'll come back later when Trion eventually adds arenas to Rift, just so you can squirt citric acid in my eye (that arena bit my guess, not anything I've read). Why do I say this? The next crowd Trion's aiming at is the casual, single player instance lovers.
Reread that for a moment. Massively Multiplayer game adding a single player element. Oh, hey Star Wars: The Old Republic. What's that? You have a single player Star Fox mini-game instead of massively multiplayer space combat? That's a damn shame! Still, at least it's there... for me. Just me. Not for my friends, which is the biggest reason I choose to play MMOs with $15 a month fees (keep those multi-month discounts to yourselves). I want to play with my friends in Colorado and Korea from the comfort of my California couch. However, it seems that the single player aspect is sneaking into our MMOs, and Trion's mini-dungeons will be arriving before TOR launches. That means we get a quick taste of what single player instanced content may do to the overall community. But that's not the only thing.
For those who haven't hit Rift or paid much attention to it, Rift offers weekly server transfers free of charge for both individual players and their guilds. Yes, it's great for finding an active server, but the end result is a "server of the month" habit. I recently made the jump to a new server when I came back to Rift. The sides were fairly balanced IMO. When I went for more world pvp dailies, I'd get stomped, so I'd call for back-up. Then they'd call for back up. Back and forth, kind of like the old days where a small squabble eventually exploded into an all out brawl across the zone. I'd win some, I'd lose some, but the thing is, I actually can't get that in most theme-park MMOs without setting it up. I literally have to play nice with my enemy and help recruit so I won't end up on a shitty server and choose between spending money switching sides/servers to find PvP or switching games (and I often choose the latter). However, not everyone's like me. Given the options, it seems the other faction on my server decided to go elsewhere so the fights would favor them much more.
Oh, hey Guild Wars 2! What's that? You're also going to offer free transfers between worlds with little to no punishment? Lovely. We're getting a taste of it in Rift, and while the world pvp aspect has helped me find people within the server community worthy of my time (because lord knows most games these days have far too many trolls for my ignore list to contain), it also means that the community as a whole has people rotating out much more frequently than from game-jumpers alone. Granted, it does build the cross-server community, in that certain guild names have developed a reputation for cross-server recruiting and frequent jumping, which allows us to see what guilds are stable and which ones are not. It's not terrible, and it's fairly new, but I think most theme-park players still don't have a solid grasp on what it's like to look at a guild tag and have some actual meaning behind it (leaving out the top raiding guilds). There's a lot of shit guilds out there, and many rise and fall, but because of instancing, people rarely see or hear the actions of others. Transfering servers (along with name changes) has only exacerbated the issue.
Still, it's nice that Trion's trying. While Blizzard still struggles to appease world pvpers (TB is dead, and WoW players cry about pvp during their Molten Front dailies), Trion's actually attempted a compromise. They've put a reasonable amount of effort into making world events worth while for a range of player (both raids and pvp) , they also have the instances to compromise with those who just don't like having to actually form groups, work with others, be responsible for their actions... you know, community stuff.
Oh, hey TERA! What's that? You're linking instances with the ability to take over zones for guilds in an attempt to appeal to sandboxers and theme-park goers? Hey ArcheAge, I was just talking to TERA about.... What's that? You're also using instances among other things in an attempt to lure innocent theme-park MMOers into sandbox gameplay? How devious! Yes, I know. I've previously mentioned that instancing isn't all bad, such as in Animal Crossing to a certain extent. It can be a nice way to control things a bit, but it ultimately makes it very difficult to form a community. I hate saying it, but only after drama strikes do I feel I know who's really a winner and who's not worth my time. Much like real life, it can be hard to actually meet people in these heavily instanced MMOs where the game gives out loot based on dice rolls (or, as Rift and TOR are doing it, giving everyone their own share of the loot), people simply join and do rather than communicate, and at the end of a session, may disappear, never to be seen or heard from again). Instancing, like real world distances, seems to actually make it harder for you to meet new people and form a connection. You have, at best, a few hours with them, and only if someone's bad at playing the game, not because they're a bad person. It's like speed dating if part of the date involved getting a puzzle done in order to get the free food. It's not pretty.
I'm playing WoW and Rift at the same time lately, but I honestly feel that, at this point in time, Trion's offering me a much more current vision of a modern day MMO than Blizzard is, despite Blizz's much larger budget. I'm sick and tired of theme-park rides and eagerly wait the next batch of MMOs. However, until then, I feel like Rift's giving me a good way of preparing for the future so that, when the next MMOs hit, I'll already have some experience with the mechanics these games are betting on, allowing me to handle the community issues looming on the horizon.