Back in Issue 14 (Fall 2017) I wrote an article and sent it to Trion (Summer 2017) and omittted it from our publication. I had hoped that my suggestions would be heard and that RIFT could once again celebrate its glorious history and all could enjoy it. While some of my suggestions have made it into game, the pushed it behind a pay wall. I can not say I am very happy about RIFT Prime and Trion's current direction. They've all but ignored the free-2-play players. RIFT Prime allows people to transfer their characters to the live servers upon completion of the server cycle but no attention has been given to these servers. What about the guilds that have called them home?
We've seen the effect of this first hand and it has become near impossible to keep players in RIFT. We've got 75 active players that i'm convinced login to collect their daily loot then log out again. It is rare that I login and see anyone actually playing. Our other elders have noticed this as well. Perhaps if I made this article public things would be different. I want you guys to see what I sent Trion so that you know that I did try. But sometimes even the best suggestions fall on deaf ears.
Our chapter has dropped to that of a historical chapter which will will keep open for those who wish to continue to play, but chances of seeing it grow into a full chapter once again are fading fast. If you guys feel I should publish this I will. If you think it's best left unpublished I will. I just wanted to share my opinions with you guys and see what you think.
RIFT: Learning and Growing from Mistakes
By: Benjamin "Foghladha" Foley
The Early Days
My adventures in RIFT began long before it's original release. In the waning days of Warhammer Online our community was searching for a new place to call home. The lure of the Port Scion siege war between Guardians and Defiants originally drew us to RIFT and the early versions included the ability to capture wardstones for your faction across the entire map of Telara. Being a part of the early development gave me access to a lot of developers and things like the Guild System were greatly improved by our feedback.
I was even asked to be one of the people in the "Enter the Rift" video to promote RIFT and was able to visit Trion in house for a behind the scenes look at the development process. Our community became deeply invested in RIFTs success.
Unfortunately by the time the game hit beta, the whole "siege" idea had been shelved and Port Scion would never see the light of day aside from a warfront. By this time we had already committed to the game and figured we'd make the best of it.
The Telara Saga
We created the first Telara Saga which was a siege zone by zone across the world of Telara. We amassed hundreds of Guardians and crusaded across the lands fighting any Defiants that chose to stand in our way. The most notably of which was The Gauntlet who still roams RIFT today. They are a fun bunch that came out week after week to give us some resistance and usually was the cause of my untimely death.
The first Telara Saga caused our numbers to boom. By boom I mean literally a thousand players flooded to our community over the course of 1 year. This was quite a load to handle. I had never lead anything that large and it was a huge learning experience. Season one of the Telara Saga ended in a battle that involved 14 Guardian raid groups sieging the Defiant Capital of Meridian and still today holds the record for the largest event we ever ran.
Growth and Glory
As we grew, we became a very well known presence on Faeblight. Hosting daily events for all players in the community to attend. As soon as Crafting Rifts were added to RIFT a member by the name of Jexia began hosting Coffee "Crifting" events every Saturday morning from 7am to 11am. Her term Crifting spread to the entire game and it's even used as the term to describe Crafting Rifts today. We had 2 other event leaders step up and run additional Crifting events at other times so everyone could come to a crifting event.
With growth came opportunity. We had 3 raiding groups running at once, a dedicated pvp core, and a wealth of event leaders holding casual events across Telara. Times were great for Gaiscioch and we discovered a whole side of our community that we never had before. We even put our community to work to join the Extra Life Charity event and placed 11th in the world for fundraising. It was a golden era in our history.
We've seen this before. In Dark Age of Camelot: Trials of Atlantis, our ranks were decimated as players were forced to raid to compete in the Realm vs Realm battlefield. The Warhammer Online patch 1.3.6 took an equally destructive misstep turning epic castle sieges into players standing around on battlefield objectives for 30 minutes so that they could siege a castle with 4 people. Literally you would have a hundred people at a keep and only 4 people on the ram could hurt the doors. That patch caused our population to drop 75% in activity in our community.
RIFT's first major misstep came just before the launch of Storm Legion and would lead up to the Gaiscioch exiting stage left a few months later. RIFT 1.10 not only brought a forced respec on all players but they also revamped every single skill in the game. Giving them new abilities, new names, and completely changing the system that had been working for more than a year and a half. This forced every player in the game, even those that were deep within progression, to relearn their class as if it was the first day they played. RIFT 1.11 also brought a forced respec and additional skill changes.
Keep in mind that at the time that RIFT launched Storm Legion, Gaiscioch was at an all time high in activity. We had over 2,500 unique players actively logging activities every month. This was the highest period of activity we have ever seen in our 16 years of playing MMORPGs. Within 3 months of Storm Legion's launch 83% of our community had stopped playing RIFT all together. We went from 850 hosted events per month to 146. Within 6 months the Gaiscioch would leave RIFT and move to Guild Wars 2.
Years past, but we still kept in contact with the team. It was at PAX West in 2016, that we met with Scott Hartsman and had a wonderful interview about the upcoming Starfall Prophecy (Prophecy of Ankhet) expansion. Our talks encouraged me to ask around and see how many players would be willing to give RIFT a second go. Over 280 Gaiscioch decided to return to RIFT to give it a second chance. With the allure of Fortress Sieges which was mysteriously vague until launch, several new players decided to join us as well who had never experienced RIFT.
As Starfall Prophecy neared launch we kicked off the return of the Telara Saga which explored a lot of the content we missed while we were away. We had over 700 players join us for the 3rd season of Telara Saga and gave away a ton of prizes to the community. This lead to us becoming one of the Trion Creators. After the Telara Saga ended we began the RIFT Adventures Livestream to highlight all the different activities in the game.
These were some fun times and RIFT has a ton of interesting content and mechanics hidden in their history books. Some of our favorites were the world bosses, strongholds, hunt rifts, bounty hunting and nightmare rifts.
The Second Misstep
It wasn't long after Starfall Prophecy hit that it was apparent Trion had made a critical misstep. The new content brought a massive increase in stats on items. For example the level 65 Enslaved God's Leather Boots which could only be upgraded from an item that came out of the Mind of Madness raid had an Armor rating of 11,010, a green level 64 item "Comet Combat Boots" that fell in Ashenfell had an armor rating of 15,261. While the green item was accessible a level earlier than the prior Raid gear, it's stats were a 28% lower value.
The launch of Starfall Prophecy just obsoleted all of the prior content and made it worthless. Gear people spend months on getting was overshadowed by green trash loot. There are a total of 42 zones in RIFT and only 5 of them are useful in the current game. All of that prior content including 15 20-player raids were made obsolete. To make matters worse, they removed Conquest (3 faction PvP) from the game and nerfed PvP drastically making it almost unplayable.
All the progress we had worked toward to bringing people into RIFT quickly fizzled as people realized that there was only 1 playstyle Trion was focusing on and that was Raiding. Since Starfall Prophecy launched we've dropped to just over 100 active players from the 280 players we had pre-launch Starfall Prophecies.
What can be done to change the tide?
I'm a firm believer that if you're going to point out a problem you should have a solution in mind. While this is simply my opinion based on the 16 years of experience helming a large scale MMO community, there are many other valuable perspectives aside from my own and Trion should consider all perspectives equally as valuable.
1. Zone Normalization
RIFT already has a wonderful Sidekicking system in place and the ability to mentor down to the level of the player's choice. The biggest problem is the gear that falls out of the Celestial Lands is so much better than the gear that falls anywhere else.
If there was a 3rd option to the Sidekicking / Mentor ability called Normalize with a simple enable or disable that would automatically scale your character to the opponents you face. So if you were a level 70 wearing top tier gear and went to fight in Silverwood it would automatically scale you down to level 8-15 and reduce your stats to the expected stats for a player in Silverwood. This would make challenging content anywhere in the game.
The second part of the Normalization system would have to be loot. When enabled, the loot tables would snap around the level of the character hunting. So the loot table would be the same for the player hunting in Silverwood as it would be if the same player hunted in Ashenfell.
Many games have taken to this style of system including Guild Wars 2, Elder Scrolls Online, and most recently World of Warcraft. This allows them to ensure their entire game world is still valuable and the thousands of hours of developer time do not go to waste. Players would still have the ability to overlevel and lay waste to everything if they wish but the loot tables would not be normalized therefor they would only get the loot that typically falls from that zone.
2. Remove Content Walls
The strangest thing in RIFT is the fact that certain things can only happen in certain zones. For examples Raid Rifts. You can only spawn them in select zones. Wouldn't it be nice to take an old classic raid rift and spawn it in Ashenfell for a more current experience? Other content walls exist for Expert Rifts, Hunt Rifts, Strongholds, Nightmare Rifts, and Crafting Rifts. All of these could go across all zones rather easily as some of them have bugs that allow you to spawn them outside of the restricted areas and they work perfectly well. With normalization, it would add a whole new level of content exposure for all levels to enjoy.
3. Normalize PvP Warfronts
Games like Guild Wars 2 have shown that gear normalization works really well in PvP situations. They also are able to separate PvE abilities and traits with PvP abilities and traits to bring them more in line in a PvP situation. This gives everyone a more skill based experience without causing the huge headache of trying to balance gear across both PvE and PvP.
4. Bring Back Warfare!
It would be nice if an Island could be found in the middle of the 4 continents that could be fought over by the 3 factions once again. It would be nice if it was open world and not locked behind level restrictions. A place where people could turn on sidekicking and join in the fun at any level.
I would do this drastically different from Conquest and aim for a more Dark Age of Camelot approach. Across the land I'd scatter small objectives that include towns, resource nodes, and encampments, then have 3 major objectives per faction like castles or full-on cities. Each realm has a king or queen that the object is to defend.
In the center a giant mountain that has a fierce sleeping dragon. Players could fight the dragon for loot and the opportunity to have the dragon side with their realm for a limited amount of time damaging the other factions strongholds.
Inside each small objective and large objective would be quest givers that send players on missions. Whether it's escorting a caravan or assaulting an enemy fortification the quests shape around who owns the resource. Allow players to spend favor on upgrades for their fortifications including extra NPCs to defend them. Also allow Guilds to claim objectives giving them a bit of exposure to the PvP community. Instead of the Conquest way of having each player choose a faction, I would have the Guild choose the faction. If a player doesn't have a guild they can enter as a mercenary and fight for any faction they choose.
A more robust siege warfare system would bring a lot of players back to RIFT and put an organic system into the game that would not grow stale with time. Siege Warfare is something that changes every day you step on the battlefield and stands against the test of time. Dark Age of Camelot is still alive as a well today as subscription game because of their siege mechanic and it has barely changed over the 16 years they've been around.
5. Gear Leveling
This is something I've liked in every game I've played that has had it. If you were to get a really nice looking sword out of Greenscale’s Blight and really grew fond of it, wouldn't it be nice to allow that sword to upgrade to modern content scale? So that that old level 50 sword would age with you gaining exp from the battles you fought and leveling up alongside your character. With enough time and battle that sword would be on the same level and stats as a sword that fell out of a current raid.
I think all Gold tier gear should be able to be leveled up not once through some random gear collection method but through it's own exp leveling system like the planar attunement system. It needs to take into consideration all types of activities, not just raiding. This opens the doors for all players to have a weapon that they grow with and can be proud of. This would make every raid drop in the game a valuable commodity that could become the best weapon in the game if the player who held it was willing to put the effort into it.
Maybe go as far as to allow at certain levels to select a buff or perk that would add a bit of customization to the weapon. By creating a way to make current generation items level up you would do away with the constant burn of having new content nullify your hard work over the past years. In my personal perspective, you should aim to make everything you pour into the game meaningful through the test of time. You spend a lot of time and money designing and developing great things only to make them useless and forgotten after the next expansion.
6. Watch Old RIFT Videos
I feel that somewhere along the way the team behind Heroes of Telara who I knew and loved lost their way. Their vision for RIFT is going in a completely different direction now and the only type of player that is finding any sense of progress in the game are the Raiders. Sadly Raiding makes up 2% of the Gaiscioch population focus which leaves a great deal of us feeling forgotten about. I really feel the development team needs to go back and look at what made that first year and a half the most wonderful days in Rift.
That first year and a half were an epic period of time that sadly got lost as layers of raiding content were thrown over the top of Rift. The game was the perfect social game giving players a perfect medium for roleplay, casual adventures, and a grouping system that helped encourage social gaming.
Still to this day there is no better guild system than RIFT has currently. RIFT has a lot going for it if it can just stop standing in it's own way. I think if the current developers spent a little time going back through the history of RIFT they would see what made the game so great at launch.
Today Trion seems too focused on making content that only a handful of people will ever see and not focusing on bringing meaningful experience to the main player base. The last 3 patches have proved that as we've seen the introduction of several raids, raid rifts, and eternal weapons. The only thing the casual gamer saw was new crafting rifts. There is a lot of content that has already been created that could be opened up to everyone with the removal of some walls.
With normalization, the world could be our playground and if you need proof this helps a game, take a look at Elder Scrolls Online which was on the verge of certain doom pre Tamriel One and is now one of the hottest MMORPG's on the market. That patch single handedly saved Elder Scrolls Online and opened up the world for adventure.
There are 42 playgrounds in RIFT waiting to be explored. The new player entering RIFT for the first time likely will never see this content as the fastest way to level 70 is through Intrepid Adventures, Celestial Adventures, and exploring the Celestial Lands. Who is going to take the time to slay the Baron or the Desert Queen? Two fights that were incredibly fun in their days yet are long forgotten today. Why not make your next expansion one that enables players to enjoy the world as it was designed to be enjoyed. No more having to revamp dungeons to be modern, no more taking old content and rebalancing. Simply rebalance the system that makes rebalancing required and you can rebalance everything at once.
Trion really doesn't need to create new content to make RIFT the MMO we all know it could be. I have hope that they can fix the direction the game is going over the next year. If they don't I'm really not sure how long I can keep people interested in it. I will always have a special place in my heart for RIFT and the team who built it, but if we can't keep people interested in playing it, I can't justify keeping our presence there. RIFT was the ultimate social MMO and it can be again. I look forward to seeing that day.