State of the Game Producer's Letter
Hey, everyone. Following the release of 1.3 last month, we realized that we've spent so much time working on the game that we haven't taken the time to do a big, public update with some of the things that are coming up for RIFT. After looking at all of the things currently happening in the studio, the piece you're about to read took on a life of its own. Why did that happen? Between the sheer volume of great things going on and the staggering number of people working on them, one point kept getting hammered home: YOUR SUPPORT MAKES EVERYTHING POSSIBLE!
When you buy the game, when you subscribe, when you Ascend a Friend, that directly translates into more effort that we get to put into making RIFT even better. The fact that so many of you are playing (and have continued to play!) has let us keep growing both our plans and the development team more than we had hoped possible. Your support is the thing that lets us expand into delivering even more of the things that you want. It's only fair, then, that we share what we've been doing with that trust you place in us every month. We wanted to give you a look behind the scenes into how your actions and feedback have translated into our improvements over the recent updates, as well as a preview into how you can continue to influence our development plans for RIFT over the coming months. QUALITY OF THE ASCENDED LIFE Following the release of the Ascend-a-Friend program, the Free Trial, and other programs, we've been watching how your invited friends and all the other new folks have been reacting to the game - Where they do well, where they get blocked, and so on - Both in feedback and gameplay data. As you've likely seen in recent updates, we've been responding to the places they've gotten stuck or frustrated, to make sure that their experience into RIFT is even better for them than it was when all of us started playing the game. Instead of holding on to these fixes for a bigger update in the future, we've been working on getting them out in the regular hotfix schedule. As a result, here are a few of the overall quality-of-life improvements that are either already live or in progress: Tuning zone flows, density, and respawns through key areas in the world beginning with Freemarch and Silverwood, all the way through Iron Pine Peak, to improve fun, preserve challenge, and reduce needless frustration. In an upcoming update, we'll be significantly improving the clarity of how new souls are granted to make this key aspect of the game a lot more smooth when people join up. (We've all seen or answered the questions in global chat - And I'm sure many of us have had to explain Roles vs. Souls to a confused friend or two also.) We evaluated (and removed) the Exposed mechanic. Ensuring that more people get to participate in the unique fun that is RIFT's invasions, zone events, and their colossi. Even further improving zone event bosses' ability to provide the appropriate challenge for a much wider range of zone populations -- larger and smaller. Many of our zone event Colossi are balanced well, but a handful have special abilities that aren't clear enough, or could come up with near instant-death combos. Those are all being updated. We’ve also been targeting frequently-feedbacked areas for visual upgrades. Overall quality is high, but the appearance and diversity could benefit from improvement (Scarwood Reach - We're looking at you here.) An improved default swimming camera is already live, and there’s a little less swimming required right off the bat. Crafting and other non-combat activities such as Artifacts are a frequent place that we hear feedback as well. We've made some improvements here, and have even more in the plans for the coming months. We'll be removing the "mystery failures" around the system of crafting Augmentation. We see that many people do use the Augmentation system a lot, but the act of gambling the augment itself induces quite a bit of rage when it doesn't work out. We'll be keeping the good parts of the system while removing the rage. (Either you'll be skilled enough to use the augment, or not.) Also around crafting, look for more high-end, powerful recipes to make their debut in a coming update. Taking non-combat activities even further is the idea of secondary skills for all. We're also big fans of adding to the "worldiness" of the world, and new skills definitely enhance that. We'll be evaluating people's thoughts for these as we firm up our plans here over the coming months. WORLD EVENTS, ZONE EVENTS, and RIFTS Our second World Event, Waves of Madness, is underway, in which we've taken what we've learned since launch and applied it to this next iteration, making more key story moments available to all who want to participate. Returning again are the rewards for chasing down the appropriately themed plane's content for the duration of the event. Improved since the initial event are: More discrete phases that last longer The ability to get caught up with the story by visiting Hammerknell and interacting with the local NPCs there. You no longer have to be present the instant the phases change over to see the vignettes play out. Quests that change with the advancement of the event's phases. The ability to pass rewards between your characters, and soon, the ability to pass the currency itself between your characters. As we add more world events, each one comes with new zone events for players of all levels, which remain available even after the event completes. One thing to keep in mind is that even in addition to World Events, we've added new Zone Events and rifts with new appearances and gameplay each update. Zone Events continue to be a great driver of a lot of fun world activity, and this is something we definitely plan on continuing. Beyond the zone events, let’s talk about some of the newer types of rifts. The weekly Crafting Rifts were introduced with the goal of getting a new type of activity for crafters to take part in that would help them in their crafting. We wanted to introduce a new social dynamic to the act of gaining resources. Those new types of rifts have been a popular, low-friction way for people to get a little extra harvesting in each week. We’re still going to be improving the cost vs. reward, but the core concept is working out pretty well. For now, most people seem to enjoy them quite a bit socially in big groups, which is a pretty good start. We'll be keeping an eye out for new, fun things like this in the future as well. The Raid Rift dailies introduced in 1.2 are also working out really well. The challenge there was to create an incentive for an activity that wasn't burdened by lockouts, such that more people could help out more than once a day if they choose. Those have worked out amazingly well for pickup raids of 10 to 20. Just about all of the servers have multiple pickup raids engaging more people in the shared world than we had ever hoped, every single day. Now that you can buy lures directly for planarite without having to mess around with corrupted souls and husks if you choose, a whole lot more people are taking part here as well. More on what's next for a new type of Rift will be coming up a little further down in this letter... WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME? Here's something that we're going to be getting better at: We've spent a lot of promotional effort on our raids since launch. As a development team, it's very tempting to show the current story of the new raid and make a cool video of it. We spend a lot of time on these places and creatures, and we really enjoy showing them off. We've been doing a lot of that since launch. At the same time, we genuinely do understand that not everyone sees themselves as a raider. We also understand that when we emphasize the raiding aspect of the game in this way, we can end up unintentionally alienating people who don't see that kind of playstyle in their future. While both 10 and 20 player raids will definitely continue (a large number of people really do enjoy them), we agree that it's time for other popular styles of the play to get that same class of treatment. These styles are best described as: PvP in Rift and High Adventure for Everyone. PVP IN GENERAL PvP is always a contentious topic - Some people who enjoy it do so to the exclusion of all else, and want it out in the world. Others prefer to play in a more structured, instanced environment, where they're in more control of their PvP experience. We're happy to be taking both of these activities to their next level in RIFT. WORLD PVP This is another place we're going to do better. To start out, some background... Initially, our hope was that Ancient Wardstones, Zone Events, and Raid Rifts would be good tools to let people create their own hotspots of world PvP activity on PvP servers. Results from our initial plans were mixed. In our first update, we began rewarding world PvP encounters significantly higher than equivalent warfront encounters, as one step. We then evaluated the parts that worked and the parts that didn't. Our conclusions: Raid rifts do work as PvP activity attractions on some servers, but not others. By their nature, they're spotty. Zone events tend to work as PvP catalysts in high level zones, but not quite as well as we'd like. They end up competing with the primary activity of the event itself, and they're also not available on-demand. Ancient Wardstones tended to not work as PvP activity attractions at all. In 1.3, we added the concept of the daily world hotspot via daily quests that draw similarly minded Level 50 Guardians and Defiants to the same areas each day, and also added really good, unique rewards for participating in world PvP. World PvP activity has seen an increase as a result. These quests have definitely been a good start. Next, we're adding the concept of PvP Rifts. You'll get to check those out on the Public Test Shard before too long. PvP Rifts take advantage of our dynamic content by creating a competitive PvP objective in an area of the world that's very rewarding to participate in. The goal is to create places where there's guaranteed to be intense, focused PvP activity. (You know. Other than Zareph’s Return. ? Done right, these will be places where PvP isn't a distraction from the goal -- PvP is the goal. We really are looking forward to seeing how they're received. If they succeed, we have even further plans for how to grow the system from there, all the way to zone events and potentially even new areas with an even higher focus on PvP activity. WARFRONTS Some people prefer their PvP in smaller chunks or in a more coordinated fashion with their premade groups of friends vs. others who are just as skilled. RIFT is a large enough game to where both types of activities can and should be well supported. We've been working on Warfront queuing balance over the past weeks, as many of you are already well aware. The issue of coordinated premades vs. solo and paired folks has been a long standing point of contention. When the mismatches are significant and constant, it's less fun for everyone -- Most skilled, well-coordinated premades don't find long term fun if the corresponding challenge isn't there on the other side. Likewise, being on the receiving end of a coordinated premade isn't a lot of fun for the typical solo or duo player. In a perfect world, those people would be able to grow up and eventually become that awesome themselves, perpetuating a healthy cycle of competition. In places where the matches are constantly uneven, this dynamic doesn't really occur. Our initial take at balancing queuing (premade vs. premade, solo/duo vs. solo/duo) swung too far in the direction of too much segregation and too long of queues for premades. We've already made internal updates to improve that, to aim for a balance point that works for both groups. As we continue tuning that balance, there are a few other things that we’re working on in parallel: Following the release of Character Transfers, we’ve been working on arranging all of the non-trial servers into combined Wargroups, which are the groups of shards that are all banded together for cross-server Warfronts. As more people are playing together, the experience should improve globally. We're working on brand new warfronts for the future (including one that gives PvPers a chance to see part of a zone that would have previously been exclusively for raiders)! We’re also working on new gameplay modes of existing warfronts that we'll be rotating in and out one at a time, with the goal of giving people new and fun ways to play, without creating too many subdivisions of queued players to where queue times would increase dramatically. In the first, you’ll be seeing a new gameplay type, called Escalation. That’s in internal testing right now. The first of those alternate modes will be making their debut with 1.4, and we look forward to seeing if this is something received well enough to be worth continuing in the future. If so, we plan on rotating others in, in the updates following. PVP REWARDS AND PROGRESSION Surrounding both World and Warfront PvP, we'll also be extending out the PvP ranks to continue the progression, with new ranks and rewards. These new rewards will be available in a way that makes those of you who have already attained Rank 6 (and the associated gear) feel like that was a wise way to spend your time and favor. For those select few of you who are already buying top of the line Rank 6 gear, or will be doing so over the coming weeks, please do not worry about continuing to spend your favor on it - We won't make you regret that decision. HIGH ADVENTURE FOR EVERYONE Also behind the scenes, we've already begun planning out new kinds of adventure to be had in Telara. As we've watched both the dynamic and static content of the world evolve post-launch, there have been some consistent themes in ways to make the game even better. This is definitely a place where your feedback, combined with our own experiences, has been steering our focus over the past weeks and months. First off, RIFT is a game where getting to max level is intended to happen at a pretty accessible rate. People who have experience with different MMOs, or end up in active, helpful guilds end up doing really well in understanding what’s fun to do "next." Once you turn 50 in the game, there's Port Scion, Prestige ranks, level 50 Events, expert instances, expert rifts, raid rifts, 10 and 20 player raids, epic quest lines, and still more, including the recently added level 50 “Twisted” artifact collections. The experience just isn't quite as directed as it was the moment before the ding occurred. A whole lot of people enjoy the freedom of picking an activity to go do "next," and just running with it, enjoying the dynamic elements that happen along the way. Others enjoy knowing there's a raid game waiting for them and continue the logical progression that way. RIFT does its job really well for those groups of people. If you prefer a bit more direction, hitting 50 can be a pretty abrupt experience. Internally, we've spent a lot of time on this. There are three main categories of things that we have in development here. I apologize in advance for being a little vague, but we'll get more specific on them as their time gets closer. INSTANT ADVENTURE We’ve been working on a new type of gameplay, called Instant Adventure. The goal is to deliver on a similar dynamic to the hectic fun of zone events, while making that kind of fun more available when you want it, by giving people a really accessible way to build up to it. Here’s the thinking: If you're around when a mass event of your level happens, with a bunch of other people around, it's generally a great, unique experience! You can hang out for a time and stay to the end, but if you need to drop out, it's entirely guilt-free. Many of you agree that this epic-style gameplay is a unique strength of RIFT that you enjoy a lot. We’ve been really excited to push that aspect of the game even further. Expect to begin hearing more in the relatively near future. NEW INSTANCES: CHRONICLES OF TELARA We've also been working on ways to get a similar sense of involvement with key story characters, and new key areas, in a way that's available to more people. The story involvement with world events is a good first step here, but we think there's even more we can do. Chronicles of Telara are solo/small group instances that get everyone involved with key characters and villains in the worlds’ ongoing story. We're aiming to do this in a way that is accessible to solo and duo people who may well be great players, and excellent friends who really enjoy Telara, but may not have the uninterrupted time they’d like. These are shaping up to be a really fun way to make sure you can stay involved with the story. We're going to be working on these in a way such that they're fun to do for the most casual of players, all the way to the people who are already enjoying the raid game and interested in new things to do in their downtime. (Even the hardest core raider doesn't raid 24/7!) Telara needs to be a world that's capable of entertaining all kinds of people, who like all different kinds of things - When we succeed there, everyone wins. WHEN THE END GAME BEGINS Additionally, we recognize that once you hit 50, there’s an immediate aspect of the game that could be improved to feel a lot better. The experience gain just suddenly stops, yet there continue to be a ton of things to do in the world that would otherwise keep awarding it. This is something that we also haven’t talked about in public yet, as it’s all been internal development to this point. Rest assured that we have been concepting new post-50 uses for experience, and we’re set on including a continuing reward mechanic for further progression here, without making it a mandatory grind. We’re really looking forward to getting a solid use for that experience being gained. It should provide a really fun and rewarding context to the totality of the content that exists in the world - both that which exists today, as well as new kinds of content we’ll continue adding in the future. Similarly, look for more on this in the coming weeks. THE GAME OUTSIDE THE GAME While all of these things continue to go on inside the game itself, we've spent the past few months continuing development on our external presence for the game! We launched RIFT with our data feeds that turned everyone into a potential site builder with player-discovered RIFT data such as creatures, items, recipes, quests, and achievements. Many sites and smartphone apps (professional and hobbyist alike) have taken us up on the offer and thrived. That discovery data powers many of the sites that a lot of you use each and every day! In 1.3, we included new client logging that some sites have already begun using to enhance their ability to create a picture of what's available in Telara, and where, drawn from players' actual experiences in the world -- Creating new and interesting ways to learn about the world of Telara. In parallel with all of this, we've been quietly working on both web and mobile developments for the future. Picture a world where you can interact with the game and your friends in ways that you can't today, when you're not in front of the game itself. There's a bunch of excitement in store here, and we're looking forward to hearing what people really want out of external access and interactive features. We've got our ideas on this, and we'd like to hear yours too. These are goals of ours that extend more through the end of the year than in an immediate update. There you have it. Those are the things we’ve been working on over the past few months that we thought you’d find the most interesting. We look forward to each of their rollouts! Even after all of that, there's still even more going on in the studio that we'll be talking about in the farther off future. Thanks to you, that future looks to be a really bright one. :) Let us know your thoughts. We look forward to hearing them! - The RIFT Development Team
Be sure to read Managing Editor Bill Murphy's coverage of the Press Conference from earlier today.