Enter at Your Own Rift: Into the flames of the official forums

Ember Isle Fire
Over the summer at a game convention, I was having a conversation with a friend who asked me about RIFT. But curiously, he didn't ask me the usual questions about gameplay, souls, or invasions. He wanted to know whether the rumor was true that the official forums were just full of sound and fury rather than productive discussions. In the initial weeks after launch, I had to admit, the forums were a lot like the wild west. On one hand, you had post after post from people arguing about whether the game was good or bad, whether it was too much like World of Warcraft, and even whether the game would survive more than a year. On the other, you had grizzled veterans showing disdain for newer fans by posting curt replies to their questions about the game. There were some good discussions on the forum, but they often got lost in a sea of emotion, and as a result, I ended up avoiding the forum in the months that followed.

For this week's Enter at Your Own Rift, I've decided that it's time to don my flame-retardant suit and wade back into the forums to see if things have settled down at all. I've always been a believer that forums are an important part of that community feel in MMOs, and I'm channeling a bit of Jef's Community Detective to see how things fare today. Read on for my findings and for some helpful threads that I encountered in the process!

Forum health check

It's clear that the frenzy of launch has settled down, and so has the community. The community team's efforts to keep a firm but fair hand at moderating probably contributed as well, but it's nice to see that the general forum has far fewer posts arguing about RIFT's fate. I only saw one on the first page, and even that one didn't seem to be as emotionally charged as the ones that flew across the page in early launch. That's not to say that the forum was full of roses and champagne; there were threads that brought up player complaints, but they were about specific features, like Chronicles, world events, and class balance. With the constant labeling of RIFT as a "service," threads like these are probably the most important because from every indication the team is focused on using player feedback to make the game fun and attractive to new and old players alike. I particularly like the fact the forums are integrated with Facebook and that players can "like" another player's post. It allows players to show their approval without needing to make an actual post and create thread bloat.

The extras

What's also nice is that the community team has added lots of regular posts to the forums that give it a welcoming atmosphere. The Talk of Telara is a regular blog that highlights news from around the community. The current edition reveals the finalists in the Halloween costume contest, highlights several new and helpful player-created guides, and rounds up the best fan art, music and videos. It also gives details on the Community Ambassador program, which selects the top helpful and informative players to help answer player questions and make the forums a friendlier place to visit. In addition, just a few days ago, Community Manager James "Elrar" Nichols added a thread called plane talkin', which is the equivalent of open mic night at the local coffeehouse. Players are invited to share their thoughts on a topic of choice in an informal setting. The current topic asks for players to share their favorite and least favorite zones or areas, and it's been fun to follow the discussion in the thread.

Ember Watch Ruins
Hot topics

So what are players talking about the most? One of the largest threads currently at the top of the forum is titled 2nd Class Players; it looks at Chronicles and whether the casual/solo players should provide rewards that are more in line with raid rewards. The conversation revolved around the usual topics of casual vs. hardcore and solo vs. raid. But it brought up an interesting question: If there is solo/small group content that is as difficult and challenging as raid content, should the rewards be on par as well?

Another forum thread brought up the issue of tanking, not just in RIFT but in other MMOs, and how the role (whether in the forum of a player, ship, etc.) is always one that only a minority of players enjoys playing. It requires intangibles like leadership and a thick skin, and games should find new ways to address the lack of tanks in game rather than the usual methods of bribery, increased DPS, or dual specs. The discussion that follows is an interesting one, and what's always bothered me is coming across players who play tanks but don't have the necessary leadership and communication skills when grouped. But there's no easy answer -- putting a tank NPC in charge of a group, for example, isn't something I'd want to be a part of. And while removing classes completely might address things, it's certainly not something that would fit well in RIFT.

My favorite forum gems

I have a few forum threads bookmarked because I find myself going back to them over and over and finding something new and helpful each time. The things I wish I had known sooner thread is one of those because no matter how much I think I know about the game, I always seem to find something that I completely missed. Another hidden gem is Impossible places, not only because I love trying to get to seemingly unreachable spots (and more often than not, there's a shiny in these spots) but also because it gives a helpful tip on changing the zoom distance in game, something I've wanted to do since beta. Lastly, the longer I play MMOs, the more I find myself getting into the lore of the games I play. There's an interesting thread in RIFT's lore forum about "good" and "evil" in WoW, Warhammer Online, and RIFT. The discussion centers around how the factions in each game don't always have a clear "good" and "evil" point/counterpoint, and it asks whether RIFT might benefit from sharpening the lines a bit between the Guardians and Defiants.

Overall, I'm happy to see that the forums have changed a lot since launch, and it's settled down to become a place for good discussion and helpful threads. Sure, the forum still has its fair share of drama and negativity, but it's not nearly as much as in the first few months. It's nice to see that posts have moved beyond the "is RIFT any good?" debate into more specific topics, becoming a source of help rather than strife.

Whether she's keeping the vigil or defying the gods, Karen Bryan saves Telara on a biweekly basis. Covering all aspects of life in RIFT, from solo play to guild raids, the column is dedicated to backhanding multidimensional tears so hard that they go crying to their mommas. Email Karen for questions, comments, and adulation.
This article was originally published on Massively.