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Rift: The Expansion Trap

Posted by on June 12, 2011

Chillaxin' in Meridian

Every time I post, my character is wearing a new outfit. It’s a compulsion! I can’t help it. But this outfit is special — it’s T1/P2 complete. Everything comes from either Tier 1 expert dungeons, or Prestige 2 PvP gear vendors. The gear from T1 and P1/2 are roughly equivalent. I spent Saturday chaining warfronts to get to Prestige 2 expressly to get that tunic. Afterward the guild (and I) raided Greenscale Blight where we easily took down the duke and got the interrogator (or whatever the next boss is called) to 17%. I was asked to switch to bard spec, which is raid code for “your DPS sucks, play these songs and try to stay out of the way”. But that’s okay.

Rift is fun, but I’m missing the excitement. It’s easy to dismiss raiding as a waste of time, since when Rift releases an expansion, the level cap will likely rise, and all this hard-won gear will be instantly useless. (Thus my new idea for raid loot, once I become eligible to loot, which is to pass on everything and get nothing and save the DKP for when it matters — next expansion. Or the expansion after that.) Raiding for loot is trading time for pixels. The real purpose of raiding is to build a community among the guild — shared struggle and victories, bring people together, you know upon whom you can depend, that sort of thing. Boot camp for gamers.

I’ve been a raider in EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot (well, keep sieger), World of Warcraft, EverQuest II and now, this last week, in Rift as well. It all feels very much the same from one game to another. Rift is already falling into the expansion trap. They announced a new high level dungeon for those raiders who finished all the previous high level dungeons. Non-raiders have T2 dungeons and likely soon T3+ dungeons to do. Expert and raid rifts give the pickup group contingent things to look forward to. But…

Once a MMO embarks upon the “new expansion, gear reset, more love for raiders” road, the danger is that the game becomes so linear and focused on the end game that players new to the game may feel they can never catch up — and that even if they have the desire, the largely unpopulated lands between them and the bulk of the playerbase could be very discouraging.

MMOs need to become wider as they age. EverQuest substantially widened their game with entirely new leveling paths and races and even classes with the Kunark, Luclin and Serpent’s Spine expansions, as well as adding game-changing content for every level with Lost Dungeons of Norrath, and Depths of Darkhollow etc. But even that game now struggles beneath the weight of 90 regular levels and usually desired 1000+ alternate advancement levels, with complete gear resets every ten levels. WoW and EQ2 fall right into line, though WoW, with a super-accelerated leveling curve and no AA levels, at least provides few barriers for a new player trying to join friends at the end-game.

Still, there’s no reason Rift needs to go that route, and I’m hoping they don’t. Here’s some things I’d like to see instead of ten more levels and a gear reset.

A Third Faction

Two factions forces an “us vs. them” attitude, which is easy. It’s boring. DAoC had the “you and me against them!” attitude, where “you” and “me” shifted with the tides of war. That was exciting. Rift has lots of places you could fit a third faction; there’s The Endless, the followers of Regulos working for the destruction of the world — that would be my pick. Maybe there could be some sort of refugee faction, where Guardian and Defiant Ascended decide to set aside their battle against each other and unite to save the world. Or since we now have rifts that open to parallel worlds where the conflict is already won or lost, why not explore these places?

Problem is, if anyone can claim there is a story behind Rift’s conflict, this is a conflict that is going to have to be resolved at some point. Wouldn’t it be fun if the first expansion came out, and the dragon war was over, the Ascended won it after all, and now something new happens — a new chapter in the story?

New Souls

This isn’t stretching. Any Rift expansion will add new souls. The alternative is adding more soul points, and that would just make characters too powerful, requiring widespread nerfing and rebalancing and just angering players.

Telara is a patchwork land. It’s not crazy to think that there’s other, forgotten countries where the people are making their own stand against the planes, in ways unique to them. The souls that come from those lands don’t mix with the souls we know. These strange new techniques are very effective against the creatures of the new lands, whereas the ones we have today don’t work quite so well. So everyone will have to acquire some new souls if they want to travel to the new lands — and the people of those lands will have to change their ways when they visit Meridian and Sanctum.

Builders

When EQ2 launched, crafting was a separate but equal path of advancement to adventuring. As you leveled crafting, you accessed the same higher level chat channels as adventurers, gained access to the same higher level zones, and so on. In Vanguard, crafters can build homes and ships you can leave in the world. Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies had that as well. The real world is full of builders; people love building things! Minecraft, Sim City, even Farmville offer builders a chance to play. Dark Age of Camelot relied upon its siege engine builders. Horizon tasked crafters with unlocking new races.

Destruction is easy. Building is hard.

I’m not talking about building bridges, train tracks, new cities, ships that sail the seas and trades to be done with the people at these far off lands. I’m talking about… hey, wait. Those ARE all the things I want to see. Give me a place to build and something to build there, and now I have something worth fighting for. Enfranchise me, Trion!

Guild halls a la EQ2 are a good start. EQ2′s best guilds prize their interior decorators. A well put-together guild hall is a testament to the guild. Vanguard’s are better, since they are in the world and not instanced. I’d like to see Rift’s take. In Rift, characters walk right through each other, they don’t touch the world, they leave no mark. Let’s leave a mark.

7 Responses to Rift: The Expansion Trap

  1. Stabs

    What worries me about Rift is that the expansions come too thick and fast for the gear to have any psychological weight. At level 60 in WoW a Priest could get Benediction then use it for 2 years.

    Both WoW and Rift have, as you say fallen into the trap of upgrading gear every raid which is great for Live team ego as it drives players to the work they’ve just completed but bad for just about everything else connected with the game.

    We’re suffering in Rift on our server from a lack of interest. I gave up running raids with my guild and packed all the raiders off to another raid guild because people just didn’t fancy the raids. Now even in the new guild we’re cancelling scheduled raids for lack of attendance. Gear is a huge part of what drives people to raid and it simply doesn’t matter enough. Who wants to wipe all night for a slim chance of an item that will be obsoleted next week?

  2. bhagpuss

    First-rate analysis, Tipa. I wish they’d hire you as associate producer.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think the people that make these games are thinking of us when they make them. I think Stabs has it exactly right when he says “upgrading gear every raid which is great for Live team ego”, only I think ego-boosting motivates a lot more than just the gear escalator.

    I watched the Hammerknell raid video earlier today. At one point the Dev presenting it says something that made my heart sink. He said “we’re big fans of gated content”. I think that’s one of the most depressing comments I’ve heard from a Rift developer and he sounded so proud of it, too.

    Mrs Bhagpuss and I are enjoying Rift still. That’s despite not even doing any of the dungeon content at all, let alone getting involved in the T2/Expert/Raid hamster wheel. Running to stay still is not our idea of fun. But it’s disappointing. Rift has so much potential to be all about huge outdoor events, invasions, constant disruption and change. Instead it looks as though it’s going to settle for gated content in instanced dungeons. How unimaginative.

    Whatever, it’s been a good run and Rift is certainly one of the MMOs that we’ll come back to over and over as years go by. There are MMOs coming down the pike that look a lot more intriguing, though. By taking the route it appears to be taking, Rift risks looking very old-fashioned in just a few months time.

  3. Yeebo

    Rift, the awesome new MMO that lets you do giant raid style encounters without having to put up with all the BS that comes with raiding! Until you hit the cap . . .

    What a sad waste of potential.

  4. rift-po

    RIFT is losing players so fast… this is sad… :(

  5. Tipa

    How do we know? The private servers in your link losing pop?

    I have no idea how Rift is doing :(

  6. sean

    > Who wants to wipe all night for a slim chance of an item that will be obsoleted next week?

    i’m having precisely the same problem with my LOTRO raiding alliance – motivating people to do a raid for a small chance to get one special token which they’ll then need to add another few hundred normal tokens to, in order to get an armour piece which they already know – knew when the raid was released even – will be obsolete in September?

    upgrading too quickly doesn’t incentivate players to grind faster; it encourages them to leave faster. in LOTRO, from the launch of MoM in Dec 2009 until the lastest content patch in May, there was one best caster pocket item; available from the Watcher. there was never a trouble getting a group to do the Watcher (often a problem clearing it; that’s a different problem). there’s now a better pocket item, but only better by 1 or 2%, and certain to be obsoleted with the launch of the Rise of Isenguard expansion in September. who wants to put the effort in to get the new piece? doing the Watcher ensured, if you were lucky, a piece you wouldn’t swap out, ever. getting the new pocket piece ensures you’ll be swapping it out… after the summer.

    one of the things a player MUST believe, in order to commit their time to grindy activity, is that their time will *not* be wasted – and if they know in advance, or believe, that the product of the grind will soon be obsoleted, they simply won’t commit the time. it’s simple rational decision-making to do so. in the case of LOTRO, players know definitively that the hard-won loot has a short lifespan, and so don’t bother; in Rift, there is a belief, probably not inaccurate, that the devs will keep rolling out better gear at a reasonably fast rate, and thus it’s illogical to grind now. the logic of the development cycle is to wait – so players are (it seems).

    one of the things Turbine did some years ago, which worked a treat, was outline their concept of ‘comparable incomparable’ loot: the idea that, over the course of the release, the best loot would not be obsoleted by newer loot. they’ve abandoned that sometime over the last year or so, but it worked well for a long time: it’s essentially a compact with the players that the player’s time would not be invalidated by a sudden influx of even-better gear. the policy had some consequences – the best set, at 65, for many classes, is still the incomparable 60 set from the Watcher – but in general, it set a foundation for the players, that their time investments would not be wasted.

    the opposite is currently true with the OD raid – players *know* their time *will* be wasted, because gear 10 levels higher will be available in 3 months. Rift players have a very similar dilemma: their raid end-game is still in a process of development (to be polite :) ) so they, rationally, wait, until their time is well-spent. but if they have to wait too long they will, like Spinks and Bhagpuss, do their waiting in a different game…