A month or so in: Why I still love RIFT (and Trion)

2011-04-18 01:25

So, this weekend, RIFT had a “world event”. A huge in-game event that affected the entire in-game world. Lots of stuff happened. And… Some of it went pretty badly. The event design called for people to participate in a specific short time window, as a result of which thousands of players couldn’t log in, because the servers were full. Lots of complaints.

Trion responded.

Now, I played World of Warcraft for five or six years, and you know what? In that time, they had some events that were certainly botched in one way or another, or where a lot of people couldn’t participate, and they had a lot of events that ended up working for some people and being really, really, unpleasant for others. (The Great Zombie Grief Festival was a particularly brilliant example of the latter category.) They proposed some really stupid ideas, like displaying everyone’s real names in the forums. And they even backed down from some ideas.

But to the best of my recollection (and I’ve asked around, and no one has suggested a counterexample), they never, not once, admitted that they screwed up. They used weasel words about how they saw potential for improvement, but they never acknowledged that something didn’t work, or was bad, or simply wasn’t a good plan. They generally didn’t react to the problems by offering people compensation for missed opportunities, either, but that’s really not as important.

Trion has, in this case and others, shown a willingness to be truthful and up-front about their problems. They have a sticky post apologizing for the problems with their customer service (the game has more players than expected, and the staff can’t keep up). They have given people game time credit for slow support responses. (They also appear to have given a free month of game time to every customer in Japan, though this is all speculation based on specific people reporting it; they didn’t announce it.) When there was a security hole in their authentication system, they publically acknowledged it and gave credit to one of the players for helping them fix it.

RIFT, as a game, is pretty cool. It is not for the most part revolutionary, but it’s at least a very well done evolutionary step forwards towards polishing and perfecting some game design principles and models that other people have also worked on. The dynamic content is better than I’ve seen elsewhere, but it’s not completely beyond what you could have imagined.

On the other hand… Their corporate policies, their relations with customers? For the MMO industry, these are genuinely revolutionary. No one else does this. No one else has even considered it, so far as I can tell. Other companies focus on maintaining the image that they know what they are doing and they’re merely “tweaking” and “improving” things. Trion comes out and admits to mistakes.

This is an attitude which really stands out, and it’s an attitude that makes me happy to keep sending them money in exchange for a world full of undead and dragons and stuff, all of which appear to desperately Need Killing.

I could rant at length about how fun the rest of the game is. I will tell you that I’ve spent most of a week collecting things, which involves very little combat, without getting particularly bored. But really… That the game is fun is pretty much something you can take for granted given an experienced and competent development team who have been given the time to produce a working and polished product rather than pressured to shove it out the door on an arbitrary deadline. What’s noteworthy is not the successes, but the failures, and how the company handles them.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen an MMO company that I would describe as trustworthy. I’m still not sure what to make of that; like many things, the general miasma of half-truths and spin doctoring that has dominated the MMO industry for all these years was unnoticeable until you got to see what life was like without it.

They do free trial weekends and such. If you like fantasy-themed MMOs, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

Peter Seebach