Rift is considered by many to be the first successfully launched MMO of 2011. Not only was Rift launched with significantly fewer bugs than what has become “normal”, Rift has also scored an impressive 8.4/10.00 Metacritic score from fifty-eight professional reviews.
Other titles have come along in the first half of the year, some for only a bright and shining moment. Any more, MMOs enter into the game space in an increasingly crowded market. Gone are the days of wildly popular financial successes largely due to the limited number of games in the genre. In today’s market, there is fierce competition for players and their wallets. But what is it that constitutes success? Is it earning tens of millions per month for a short time before players begin moving on to the “next big thing”? Or is it a loyal fan base of lesser numbers that stick with subscribing to the game for a year or more? And what about free to play revenue models and the impact on those games still utilizing the subscription model the way Rift does?
Recently, we featured an article about the half-birthday celebration activities that Rift developers were planning for the upcoming week. Not unexpectedly, the discussion on the forums evolved into one about whether or not Rift is successful. The thread is dotted with folks on both sides of the issue.
Lacking hard numbers and actual revenue collection statistics, we can still measure, or at least opine about, Rift’s success. Let’s take a look.
Subscribers vs Registrations
Earlier in its short life, developers on the Rift forums proudly proclaimed that over a million accounts had been created through the site portal hosted by publisher Trion Worlds. A few months later, devs proclaimed that the two millionth Rift account had been created. While seemingly impressive, these numbers are met with hefty amounts of skepticism by some and are not seen as a true picture of the game’s health.
It doesn’t take a genius to know that the number of accounts created doesn’t necessarily translate into revenue generated in the form of subscriptions. There is no question that those who shine the spotlight on this have a point. Once the client is purchased, anyone can create multiple accounts. Additionally, players can utilize the free trial to play the game without ever subscribing to the game or purchasing the client and can doubtless do this multiple times. So the accounts created / players registered thing is murky at best.
Conversely however, if even half of those two million accounts purchased the client, a significant revenue spike would have occurred. Similarly, if even a quarter of those who purchased the client also subscribed for even a single month, Trion would see a financial gain. This would also hold true for those who tried the free trial and then decided to purchase a month or two.
Moreover, those who generally shout the loudest about the imminent doom of Rift are those who do not actually play. All it takes is to log into Rift, click “Shards” and see that nearly every server in North America (where I currently play) is at least at Medium player capacity a great percentage of the time. By all reports, it is rare that there are not enough players on hand in any given zone to defeat the area-wide invasions.
The bottom line is that without more concrete numbers from Trion, it’s very difficult to say whether or not subscriptions are being maintained and have paid for the cost of developing Rift. As a privately owned company, Trion is not required to release financial data to stockholders. But indications of the number of accounts created and fractionalizing that number into probable subscribers tends to lead one to think that Rift is commercially successful at this point. Whether it will stay that way when SWTOR and Guild Wars 2 are released will remain to be seen. Trion is counting on the fact that Rift has an active and passionate fan base that will probably stick to the game as an alternative to the space-themed SWTOR and the subscription-free MMORPG Guild Wars 2. Again, time will tell.
New Content vs Missing Content
Those who are less than enamored of Rift tend to point out the “lack of content” that the game arrived with on launch in early 2011. Similarly, they also point out that “leveling is ridiculously easy” and that there is “no end game content” for level 50 players. Many point to these factors as indicators that Rift is a bust and that it’s about to either end completely or go F2P. But is that a fair assessment?
Rift is currently up to its 1.4 incarnation which translates into four major updates since the game’s launch nearly six months ago. There are few games now or from the past that can claim so many major updates in such a short time. A lot of MMOs promise that the game will continually be a work in progress but few have delivered as spectacularly as Rift. Not only have balance issues been addressed, but the team has implemented live events, rewarded dedicated players of those events with great items, added content in the form of raids and more. While there is some veracity to the argument that no new zones have been released, it is clear that the team is dedicated to keeping Rift players engaged and interested. And they are. Just try heading to Sanctum during peak hours of play and try to treat the plagued plant life (currently one of the 1.4 event daily quest line activities) to the truth of player engagement.
Again, time is a factor for Trion. With more and more players hitting the level cap, there is an increasingly loud noise from the player base for more zones, quests and content to be delivered outside of instances and raids. Many would argue that it’s impossible to ever finish Rift if one takes the time to fully develop crafting skills, earn all achievements, explore every nook and cranny of Telara, collect every set item, garner the finest equipment, mounts and more and they’re probably right. But not all players want to do those things, preferring instead to quest and explore new zones. Time is getting short with SWTOR and GW 2 looming on the horizon and Trion probably needs to step up to the proverbial plate and deliver a new zone.
Few can argue that Trion developers aren’t involved in their community. Devs not only listen to what’s being said, they actually implement a lot of the ideas that Rift fans have come up with. Do they get to everything? Of course they don’t. But they do listen and they do respond, something precious few development teams can say. And that familiarity with the concerns and ideas from the players breeds good will in most cases. Any beloved boss will tell you that happy workers, or in this case players, make for a happy work place (or game world). Goodwill often can generate income.
We don’t know all the facts and can only speculate as to Rift’s financial success. But other factors, including content creation, developer interaction and at least two million accounts in just under six months lead one to believe that Rift is decidedly successful. Most MMOs released thus far this year can’t come anywhere near those numbers. But the twin elephants in the room are those highly-anticipated titles coming in the next six to eight months. The real question is whether or not Rift devs can rise to the challenge and hold on to their players. Good money says they’re ready, willing and able.
UPDATE: We received some clarification on a couple of points from Trion: