Rift reached over a million subscribers right from the start in 2011, which roughly corresponded to the release numbers of Warhammer Online (800,000) or Age of Conan (around one million). However, both had big franchises behind them. Scott Hartsman, the former head of Trion Worlds, now explained how that worked and why the MMORPG then failed.
What did Rift do really well at launch? An important cornerstone of the successful release was the advertising campaign. So advertised the MMORPG with the saying “We’re not in Azeroth anymore” (We are no longer in Azeroth). The main aim was to tap into the millions of players who had turned their backs on WoW at the time.
WoW Cataclysm was not well received by many players in 2010 with its revisions and is still one of the most unpopular expansions today.
In addition, the spell ensured that active WoW players were “triggered” and talked about Rift. Hartsman recalls:
I was executive producer and studio head, and I vividly remember the day our marketing director, David Reid, came to my desk and said, “We have a few ideas for the release campaign. You’re going to like some of them and absolutely hate one of them.” […].
The final page of the presentation screamed at us in capital letters, “WE’RE NOT IN AZEROTH ANYMORE!” The first words out of my mouth came straight away: “Oh damn no. We can’t do that.” Then a break.
Then we both looked at each other and realized at the same time, “We HAVE to do this.” “Do we really want to do this?” “I think we have to do it, don’t we?” “Yes. We must.”
He emphasized that in the days before influencers and only magazines and game boxes, you needed a big bang to get noticed. And that was exactly that saying.
Hartsman also explained that he received an email from a former colleague who worked for WoW that simply said, “Really?” was standing.
Rift was one of the great WoW killers that failed. More about this in the video:
Rift was unable to maintain live service as planned
Why did the game fail? The launch of Rift went great. The release is still considered one of the most problem-free and relaxed MMORPG starts today. With an 84 on Metacritic, it was also one of the highest rated MMORPGs ever.
But after the release, the studio struggled with some problems. Actually, the boss of the game would like to increase the number of employees at Rift in order to bring live content and work on an expansion at the same time. However, Trion Worlds was developing two other AAA MMORPGs at the time, which were already behind schedule.
Money problems then led to the team becoming even smaller and a paid extension had to be thrown onto the market as quickly as possible.
We were able to do the first batch of patches very well and extremely reliably. We even adjusted the game so that many balancing changes and small updates could be done without any downtime. It was responsive and important work, but it didn’t propel the big launches the way it was supposed to.
Through our regular updates, we were able to add content for different parts of the player, but it was small balls, not big bombs. The regular updates weren’t anywhere near what they should have been.
If we get all three points [Guter und spaßiger Content, Stabilität, regelmäßige, große Updates] met, RIFT would have stayed on the growth path we all wanted. To do this, the team absolutely had to grow and not shrink.
Rift is still there, but a shadow of itself
What’s next for Rift? Almost a year after the release, the MMORPG switched from subscription to Free2Play with an optional subscription. Initially, this was also praised as very fair, but later it became less and less and there were even allegations of Pay2Win.
In 2018, the German publisher gamigo bought the studio Trion Worlds. They then decided to release many smaller patches rather than a few large ones. However, the concept didn’t work out and in 2021 not a single new update was released. gamigo then announced an update for early 2022, which fans are still waiting for to this day.
Hartsman is still proud of the game. It’s still online 12 years after its release and it’s still talked about. After all, it was only through an article with the colleagues from MassivelyOP that he came to talk about the release again in a blog post (via Medium.com).
We all know that there could have been more, and that each of us would have liked a chance to do better. But we can be really proud of what we have achieved.
However, 2023 is not doing well for Rift. The income and player numbers are falling, of course also because there is simply no more new content. For me it is one of the MMORPGs that will not live long: I predict: These 6 MMOs will die in 2023.
But how do you see Rift? Did you become aware of the MMORPG through this campaign? And are such swipes like the one about WoW good or too “cheeky”?