4) Design shifts more over time
Scott Hartsman might have changed his tune on free-to-play but something he said in 2011 still rings true: “there is a fundamental difference in the way of thinking and the way you need to design games [when you take them free-to-play].” This doesn't mean that the core game gets neglected but it usually means that more and more goes into the cash shop. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but if you're like me, your mind immediately goes to games like LotRO who sell design solutions or EQ2 who gate off the finest gear. That's not exactly what I think of with RIFT. I think of the Budgie.
If you were in-game this past month, you probably took part in Budgie Week. Why not? Those mounts were cute and even if you're a big, hulking man-warrior like me, you can still get clucked up thinking of riding around on a big-eyed chicken-pigeon. The problem, of course, is that the chances of actually acquiring a Budgie were R. N. G.-low and apart from a random drop, you were stuck with the cash shop.
On the other hand, we got fun content alongside this budgie event, and if you weren't nabbing the mount, you could still pick-up some high quality gear. It was, in my opinion, an under-regarded balance. Trion's efforts here tell us that they value their player's time and are trying to return that value without demanding dollars in exchange.
5) They will probably sell levels
Before this week, I may not have added this point, but now that Warcraft is doing it, it's pretty much open season on selling levels. The industry has been moving this way for some time and, love it or hate it, not selling advanced level characters is leaving money on the table. I do expect Trion to learn from Blizzard first, however.
A Penny for Your Thoughts?
All of these points come down to this: It is a fair prediction that Trion will push us ever more toward the in-game store, probably more so with each passing year. The big question is if they can make us want to go to there. So far, they have done an excellent job of doing so. A good purchase is a game enhancer, after all. Some will quibble and others will nitpick but the vast majority of items exist to give the player joy. I can get behind that, because while Trion is busy creating flaming horses and hoods of impenetrable shadow, they're also producing new content that I don't have to pay a dime for and improving the base game – yes, even performance – with each passing patch.
How do you see RIFT's free-to-play model unfolding over the next three years? Will they show us how it's done, laying all of their cards on the table, or will they fall into the pitfalls of other AAA MMOs, forgetting content for vanity? Let us know what you think in the comments!
Christopher Coke / Chris has been a RIFT player since beta. In 2011, he hosted the RIFT Watchers podcast and website. Today, he can be found fighting back the planes of Telara on the Faeblight server. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight