Today I got the email informing me that my RIFT subscription had expired. I bought it when it came out and enjoyed the beta, but suddenly the hard decision was upon me. Was I going to subscribe to the game? Was I going to pay 15 dollars a month for basic access to the wonderful world that Trion has created?

There is a lot that goes into a decision like subscribing to a game, even when that decision feels easy. A subscription is really a vote of confidence, especially considering that we have no idea what the game might become or where it might go in the future. That automatic payment says so much about our trust in a company and its product, even though lately it seems more and more people are not trusting it like they once did.

Click past the cut and let's discuss, and I'll tell you whether or not I subscribed.

I remember when I first brought home Ultima Online in '99; I remember convincing my wife that it would probably be pretty cool. Honestly it was the box art and the promise of a virtual world that sucked me in. It was an impulse buy in its purest form. Later it would suck my wife in worse than it did me, and I would come home from work to find her college art books thrown to the ground while she sat at the PC playing Ultima.

We had no problems with the subscription then, and we don't have a problem with it now. I shudder to think about how much money we have spent on subscriptions over the years, especially considering that we normally have two accounts for every game. At one point we had at least six subs going simultaneously, not to mention box purchases and extras.


"Of course, I ended up spending plenty of money. Have I spent as much in cash shops as I would have if I had maintained subscriptions over the years? No."

Then I discovered some of the first free-to-play games. We're talking Rose Online, Flyff, Rappelz -- games that did not work on me the same way some of the other games had. But they were free, and the cash shop was fun. At that time, maybe five to seven years ago, they were stereotypically grindy, but they had some neat ideas. Since I was never the type to think that a cash shop or payment model meant that a game was automatically crap, and since I had no sort of prejudice against anything from "Asia," I found a world of new games to try. All for free.

Of course, I ended up spending plenty of money. Have I spent as much in cash shops as I would have if I had maintained subscriptions over the years? No. I say that at the risk of sounding like I am trying to tip the discussion toward my point of view, but it is the truth. The most I have spent on any of my favorite free-to-play games is probably the hundred or so dollars I've put into Mabinogi so far. I love the game's mounts, so I have a collection. Otherwise I might drop 10 or 15 dollars on a game if I like it, but that was before I started working at Massively. Now I move between games enough that I really wouldn't even be able to use most cash-shop items enough to make them worth my while. Also, I get to do wonderful press tours and see a lot of the coolest stuff a game has to offer for nothing.

Free for All Would I play RIFT for free
Still, I can honestly say that most cash shops are not some kind of mad-scientist-engineered "scam" to get players to fork over cash. If that were the case and the developers had the formula, they would be pulling in a lot more money than they do. Trust me. You would probably be hard-pressed to find one that is pulling in 15 or 20 percent of the playerbase to the cash shop. From everything I know, most are lucky to pull in double digits. This is why I simply giggle nowadays when I read of someone claiming that free-to-play games force players to end up spending more than they would on a subscription. It's just not true.

I want to note that of all the money I did spend, I spent it on my terms. I spent it on the content (yes, cash-shop items are content) I wanted to spend it on. If I did not spend it, I was still allowed access to the game... unlike the situation with RIFT. If I do not give Trion 15 more dollars, I will never see that character again.

Which brings me to my main point, to the question I posed to myself: If RIFT were free, would I play it? Or would I play it more then I did before? See, I only reached level 15 on my little Dwarf character. I played through the betas and enjoyed them, but this time around I just didn't find myself wanting to repeat the leveling process. The content was fine, the lore was fantastic, and the setting and world were some of the most beautiful I had seen.


"The problem was that the game made me feel rushed, and the content came slinging at me faster than I had experienced in a long time. It was easy."

The problem was that the game made me feel rushed, and the content came slinging at me faster than I had experienced in a long time. It was easy. The only way the lore was delivered was in quest text, and despite being a very nicely made game, one populated with some of the most under-appreciated monsters in gaming today, it just felt sort of plastic to me. There were no real guts to the thing. It felt as if I had paid a cover charge and was walking through a scare-house. After all, most of the doors aren't real, and there is no housing. It is a such a beautiful, soulless world.

So would the removal of the cover fee make it more appealing? Would free access mean that I might play it long enough for it to grow on me? Anything is possible, but let's not pretend that making something free -- or adding on a price -- makes it more valuable to everyone in the same way. Sure, that college kid without a dime to his name might kill for a free-to-play RIFT, but I can afford the sub. Fifteen dollars is a great deal for access to the world of RIFT.

It's just not worth it to me when I already have access to scores of high-quality, wonderfully written worlds that I can visit for free. Granted, I will typically spend some money on the games that I truly love, like the money I used to buy silver in Wurm Online, but as I pointed out before, I can pay that when I want to or when I feel the game deserves it. It sounds kind of harsh, possibly, to withhold my funds from games when the developers have worked so hard on them. It is a pure exchange, though. It's similar to going to see a live band or an art show. A lot of the time the cost is minimal or nothing, and if you like what you see or hear, you can pay more to the artist or performer. So I paid Trion my 50 dollars, and I didn't like what I saw enough to buy the CD or print. Sure, the company could offer me its merch for free, but my opinions do not waver based on price.

What do you think? Would a free sticker make you want to play a game you wouldn't normally?

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!

This article was originally published on Massively.