Come June 12th Rift will be going free to play. Those who are in touch with the industry have been predicting this for quite some time. Nowadays an MMO going F2P is, quite frankly, as unexpected as an ice cube melting in the hot sun. In actual fact I was more surprised at how long it took Trion to get here. The publisher/developer is claiming that this move was instigated by the players themselves who have been clamoring for Trion to change Rift’s payment model. That may very well be part of the story – the other part being that the game was not making enough money with a subscription model.
Personally I think this is excellent news not only for potential Rift players but also for current ones. For those who have never played Rift because they could not commit to the financial investment this is a no brainer. Trion seems to be extremely generous with their model, giving away all content for free – including the expansion areas apparently. Only the new souls released in the expansion will remain exclusive to those who purchased it. The media buzz generated by this move is more likely to lure in those who never got into the game because they did not know it existed (and there are a few out there since Rift is not such a high profile MMO). An MMO turning F2P still makes the news in the gaming circles and free publicity is always beneficial to an online community.
However I do believe that the ones who stand to gain the most out of this are the current players. In my opinion the biggest problem Rift faces right now is the sparsity of players populating Telara. Having people to play with is key for the success of an MMO and this is an area where Rift is definitely found wanting. In my experience most areas in Rift felt dead and I would spend hours playing while in my 30’s and 40’s without meeting a single soul. The need for having people quest around me was felt the most when I used to witness public events come and go without anyone around to help me out, making them largely redundant. It was disheartening to see these events happen in an empty world and, quite like being in a deserted funfair, it created a feeling of uneasiness. Even at high level the areas where still empty enough that at times a call was made within the guild to port to a particular area and just afk there in order to make certain population dependent public events trigger. Rift Lite made levels 1-20 feel quite vibrant. Here is hoping that we will see the same effect across all level ranges.
Will this be enough to get me back into the game? I doubt it. I have a subscription paid up till October so the monetary expense is not a barrier to entry to me. The reason why I left was that I did not like the design philosophy adopted by the developer with the advent of the Storm Legion expansion. Having said that I may decide to dip back into the game if some real life friends decide to give it a try or just to see what has changed during my prolonged absence.