Rift: An MMO success story

"One of the players was taking air-force pilot drugs."

Rift has put Trion Worlds on the map. Words such as "feature-complete" and "polished" were bandied round when the game launched in early March, with Eurogamer awarding the game 8/10. Better still, Rift sets a tantalising precedent for the two other MMOs Trion Worlds has in development (with all three, plus the studio's tech department, sharing an investment pot of $100 million).

But it hasn't all been plain sailing. Malicious bots scour Rift daily for loop-holes, and recently a hacker had to alert Trion Worlds to a security breach. Gold farmers have invaded Rift, too.

What's more, work on Rift has only just begun - as with any other MMO, the launch is just the start. Can Trion direct Rift's evolution with enough finesse? Eurogamer cornered executive producer Scott Hartsman to find out.

Eurogamer: You went aggressively for World of Warcraft with Rift's advertising, telling viewers, "You're not in Azeroth now." Do you run the risk of suffering from direct comparison with WOW?

Scott Hartsman: I think so. But at the same time I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. The goal was to get people's attention and make them laugh, make them chuckle. It really succeeded there.

Eurogamer: Do you think Rift is a better game than World of Warcraft?

Scott Hartsman: It's definitely a different game to World of Warcraft! Personally? Yes I do. I am a big fan of the general sense of 'I don't know what's coming next' -I don't know when some big invasion is going to hit, I don't know when some big horrific call to action is going to occur.

It adds something to an MMO that is genuinely missing: this sense of global, worldwide community of people who need to band together at random.

Eurogamer: How many people are playing Rift?

Scott Hartsman: Lots and lots and lots. We haven't announced any numbers yet but you can tell from the number of servers we've had to launch that clearly the number is far greater than we expected.

We were expecting to go out the door with 40 servers and we would have considered that a win. But then, when the game went on sale, the number of people went up. We reacted as well as we could - we opened a couple-dozen more servers to the point where we had 99 by launch day.

And things are still humming along and some still have queues and others don't. We now seem to have matched the amount of capacity that we needed.

Eurogamer: How many people does a Rift server hold?

Scott Hartsman: We'll call it competitive with other MMOs - it's in the multiple-thousands of players, as everybody would expect.

Eurogamer: Around 5000 people?

Scott Hartsman: We're not going to get into specifics.

Eurogamer: Does Rift have more than one million players?

Scott Hartsman: We definitely have more than one million accounts - a milestone we hit just before launch. And that number has been going up since then.

Eurogamer: What percentage of that number do you expect to leave when the free month's subscription runs out?

Scott Hartsman: That's actually really interesting; we don't know yet. Any prediction we make would be wrong, because there's no data [to base it on].

Putting a stake in the ground with no real data and then being disappointed or pleased one way or the other isn't really the way to succeed.

'We're not in Azeroth anymore.'

Eurogamer: Would Rift have been more popular as a free-to-play game?

Scott Hartsman: There would clearly be more people playing it, obviously. Would we be making more money overall? I don't think so.

One of the things F2P games do is make the XP grind really harsh, and you can advance all the way to the top level but you're buying power-ups to advance at a fun rate.

One of the reasons we felt so confident having a relatively non-grindy, painless progression to level 50 was because we knew we had a healthy end-game waiting; there's a whole bunch of stuff that opens up to you once you turn level 50.

And there's still more to do. I don't know that an MMO has launched in the last - jeez, 10 years? Five years? - that had both the fun rise to the top as well as stuff to do at the end game.

We'd rather everyone had the fun experience. We provide them a good service and make our money on them deciding to continue supporting us by coming back month after month.

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