Today’s the (official) day! Rift is due to appear on shelves, pre-orders should be shipping and a whopping 31 new servers are due to come on-line to accommodate what will hopefully be the second round of OMGITSRIFTWTFBBQ!!!1! Word on the Twitter-vine is that the new servers will be brought up at 9AM PST, with the existing servers coming back from their morning rub-down an hour later.
This is the kind of thing that makes Rift so special. Trite sounding, but it’s absolutely true. Trion has really gone above and beyond what we normally see from developers, and the game itself has some major selling points as well that allow it to stand out from the steady stream of ho-hum that we’ve had to endure in the MMO space over the past few years.
This is going to be a TL;DR for some people, so here’s a Bullet List™!
- Trion has brought respect back to the term “beta test” by using it as such, and not as purely a marketing tactic.
- Trion has listened to their players, implemented requests that fit their vision, and have even bent over backwards in some cases (like PvE/PvE server divergence).
- Even during beta, the game was polished and amazingly smooth.
- The lore is vast and deep, easy to follow, and exciting.
- People line up to play.
- There are more servers for head-start then most elder games have ever had, and more are being added for retail launch.
For a breakdown, feast your eyes on THIS!
Bringing Beta Back
Beta testing used to be the period before launch where a developer would get a bazillion interested parties (us) involved to “kick the tires” of the game. Over time, players took this opportunity to test drive the game – in it’s unfinished state – to see if it was worth playing or not. Devs and pubs then took advantage of this to ramp up their marking during this time by offering guaranteed beta access with another purchase, or by asking players to jump through other hoops. What was lost, then, was the developer’s opportunity to get feedback on what’s broken and to gauge popular opinion and to act on those points. Instead, it seemed like devs were afraid to upset the window-shoppers by admitting there were issues by actually fixing issues, and games were released with many bugs that willing testers had actually reported.
Trion apparently had their eyes on the prize, though, and brought beta back. To their credit, they had an advantage: their beta was more polished and ran better then most MMOs do six months after launch. I’m sure there were bugs, and of course there were suggestions, but the game just ran like a clear mountain stream.
And it’d be one thing for a developer to receive feedback through /bug or forums, but Trion visibly acted on it. Every interleaved period between beta windows brought with it a copious amount of patch notes which read like the call sheet for a high school play: everyone crowded around and jumped with excitement when they saw their pet peeve addressed or desired change made. Of course, you can’t please everyone, but the fact that Trion was acting on feedback was HUGE. One example that stands out is the PvE/PvP server ruleset divergence.
Some people complained about PvPers killing quest NPCs on PvE servers. Trion made NPCs more difficult to kill, which affected both PvE and PvP servers. After an outcry from the PvP server crowd, Trion forked the ruleset between the servers: NPCs on PvE servers would be hard to kill, but NPCs on PvP servers would revert to the original (or a version thereof) NPC difficulty. In essence, Trion did something that makes my developer blood run cold, which means it’s got to be magnified 100-fold for something as huge as an MMO, and they did it to satisfy the player-base.
Back Story’s Back. Alright!
Lore tends to be hit or miss in MMOs. Some people skip it, wanting only the mechanics of the game. Other people require it, and take their time to read quest text, collect in-game books and read everything that’s readable. Lore is more then just walls of text, though. It gives the setting a grounding in some kind of “reality” that explains why we’re killing what we’re killing, and why we should hate the other faction. Sadly, a lot of lore in games follows some prescribed path of shining knights and decrepit undead evil, making it very easy to pick a faction based on overt notions of “good” and “evil”, and to gloss over the lore as if it were some bastard appendage tacked on as an afterthought.
Rift’s lore is different, if not entirely unique. The world is in peril, and you’re a member of an elite group who is brought in to fight that evil. There’s only two factions: the faith-based Guardians, and the technomagical Defiants. One could boil this down to a clash of spiritualism versus science, but it’s the little things that make it work as well as it does.
The Guardians are resurrected soldiers brought back by the Vigil, the gods of Telara, to fight the encroaching armies of Regulos. They’re the cream of the crop, hand selected to be the front line of defense against those who want to control Telara and use it’s unique position as a fulcrum between the elemental planes for their own purposes. As such, Guardians are often thought of as pious, self-righteous, and elitist: they were chosen by the gods and charged with a holy purpose. Everyone else is common, or an enemy.
The Defiant are self-determined rebels who decided not to take chances that they might be picked by the Vigil. Instead, they used technology to pluck souls from the aether to act as their soldiers. Some people consider the Defiant to be the underdogs, since they’ve taken matters into their own hands and don’t have the blessing of the Vigil. Because they don’t have a recognized religious bent, they are sometimes viewed as heretics, which carries it’s own connotation in the good versus evil debate.
The issue is that neither side is cut and dried. The Guardians represent hope: they fight the forces of Regulos from the present into the future, and believe they can make a difference. The Defiant actually start at the end of the war…and the end of Telara, a future where the Guardians were defeated, the Defiant are making their last stand, and Regulos as won the day. Both sides despise one another: the Guardians see Defiants as usurper wannabes who’s technology had a hand in allowing Regulos to breach into their universe, and the Defiant see the Guardians as pompous, blind pawns, one of which was a traitor who helped Regulos gain access to the material plane. Whew!
The weight of the lore is seen in the fact that people are debating and discussing it outside of the game. When any aspect that doesn’t involve stats and builds is talked about outside the game, it’s telling. The lore captures the imagination, makes us think, allows us to take sides and engages us beyond mechanics. It’s not often that we see this kind of behavior stemming from games anymore.
Step Right Up And Don’t Be Shy
Rift is suffering, though. People can’t play. The servers are bursting at the seams…and there are 58 US based servers. Woe is us! At the time of this writing, the game hasn’t officially launched yet. 58 servers is far more servers for a head start group then most MMOs have EVER had in their lifetime. Many servers have queues that put latecomers into position in the mid to upper hundreds. At the start of head start, queue positions over 1000 were not uncommon, resulting in 5 hour wait times.
And people were waiting!
Queues are nothing new, and people surely complained, but this is the kind of problem that MMO operators certainly like to have: not only demand, but the willingness of the players to stick it out in the queue when they could be doing something more worthwhile with their time (and their computers). It seems counter to the notion that gamers are impatient and spoiled, but the proof is in the pudding, as they say.
Here on launch day, Trion is adding another 31 servers (US and EU combined) and are opening them an hour early in order to allow the retail players the opportunity to find a home on a not-so-full server, and to hopefully avoid them trying to stuff themselves into existing servers that are busting a gut already. If I were a betting man, with the hindsight that Trion’s customer-centric focus has afforded us, I’d say that we’ll be seeing server transfer offers once the dust settles and the server populations stabilize, in order to make things more comfortable all around.
If You Made It This Far, +10 Planarite!
All of this sounds like fanboy raving: there’ s nothing wrong with Rift. It’s all awesome! There’s no bugs! STFU if you don’t like it, and go back to WoW! Really, though, it’s more like the recognition that Rift does so many things right – simple things that gamers have lost sight of thanks to years of crappy launches and games borked from day one. Customer service has been amazingly front and center, not just for an MMO, or a game developer, but for a company in general. Try getting Trion-level response from Steam or Wal-Mart and you’ll appreciate the way Trion has been treating their customers. That, I believe, more then anything else is bringing people into Rift: the knowing that their concerns will be taken seriously when and if they arise, and that there’s a very real chance that concerns will be addressed (assuming it’s determined that it’s good for the overall game and existing player-base, of course).
I’m not even talking mechanics, because talking mechanics these days is boring. Everyone’s said their piece on the souls, and the rifts, and how it is or isn’t like other fantasy MMOs out there, so I’m not going to delve into that territory because to be honest, if you liked it there, you’ll like it here. Rift is a high fantasy MMO with perks: rifts, souls, lore, polish, and stellar customer focus. I think that taking all of those elements and putting them into a single user experience should make someone a raving fanboy because these are the kinds of behaviors and designs we want to see come from our developers, and this is the level of product we want other companies to strive for. If we’re willing to shell out cash for a half-finished re-run of an MMO, then we certainly should be willing to throw our money at a company that so far has been firing on all cylinders.