Enter at Your Own Rift: What Scott Hartsman's AMA portends for RIFT

Scott Hartsman
The Trion team is nothing if not persistent. In an elaborate plot involving Dr. Pepper and a one-way locked office, the devs were able to finally get Trion CCO and RIFT Executive Producer Scott Hartsman to participate in an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit. It was an engaging discussion that touched on a variety of topics, from up and coming titles such as End of Nations to Hartsman's journey from GM of the MUD Scepter of Goth to his time with SOE and his current endeavors with Trion. We learned that he's a pretty hardcore raider, that he plays incognito, and that his raid drink of choice is Grimbergen Blonde. But the focus of the conversation was RIFT, and while he didn't shed too much light on the upcoming expansion, he did drop a few hints about what we might see in the future. In this week's Enter at Your Own Rift, we'll look at some of the highlights!

Free-to-play and RIFT

We're in the age of free-to-play right now, so it's not a surprise that one recurring question was about whether we might eventually see RIFT join the ranks of the free. In the past, the answer has always been that RIFT was comfortable with its subscription-based model, but during the Reddit discussion, Hartsman hinted that Trion might indeed add in something resembling free-to-play. He explained:
One of the things that shocked me when we first launched RIFT and were doing our own research was the number of people who admitted they were previous Sub-based gamers only, who, in 2011 would now simply refuse to play any game that required a subscription. Obviously there were plenty who were okay with sub still existing, but the swing in the general sentiment was definitely there, and very pronounced. We took that as our challenge to make damn sure we were going to be able to go above and beyond in terms of what people were actually getting for that sub, which we express through our updates and what they contain. When we drilled down, the resistance to a sub in 2011 was in no small part because of the overall state of the economy. The number of people who simply would reply with: "Look, I'd love to play - This is exactly my kind of game, but I just plain can't afford the $15 a month I used to on entertainment. It sucks, but I can't."
He went on to say that RIFT Lite was one solution that makes the game accessible to those who might be tight on cash. Later in the discussion, he added that the focus is on the expansion and the live game, so players shouldn't expect to see a new payment model until after that. It's noteworthy that Trion is exploring ways to create a more flexible plan, but even more eye-opening is the revelation that players have not only accepted the free-to-play model but expect it from modern games.

Bards, sing and rejoice!

While we know that Storm Legion will have new souls, one person asked about whether existing souls will see any major changes. Hartsman confirmed that souls will be tweaked and that the Bard in particular will be given some attention. He said he's been playtesting it and his team is looking at ways to make it a more fun class to play, particularly on raids.

Enter at Your Own Rift  Some RIFT hints from Scott Harstman's Reddit AMA
PvPers are like snowflakes

Some players expressed dissatisfaction with the new three-faction Conquest instance and believe that Trion has neglected its PvP community. Hartsman gave a surprising answer, with a little pushback to the oft-heard complaint:
On segmentation.. One thing I've definitely noticed since we got Rift off the ground - is that a lot of people use "PvP Player" as if it was a single minded segment that's easy to address, "if only we'd listen!" I'll use a totally unfair and exaggerated example just for illustration's sake - It's almost like referring to "The Liquid Drinking Public" and trying to come up with one answer that fits them all - while forgetting that even among themselves, there are many, many contradictory opinions.

At this point, there are at least a dozen types of "PvP players" out there, who all tend to describe themselves as "The PvP Player." People who think arenas are the end all be all, but want gear progression. People who want TF2 - No gear, just cosmetics, perfect balance. Bring your skill only. People who want Frontiers. People who want Alterac Valley. People who for some reason REALLY enjoyed six hours of "beat up the keep door" in games in the past (PvDoor? Did we just invent a new genre here?) ...and plenty more.

The best we can do in this world is to make the best PvP that we can, that actually fits in our gameplay system, and hope an audience is there to enjoy it. Could we pick one of those pre-existing types of PvP and do a more focused and modern updated version of it? Absolutely. But we're trying to make our own way. That will yield some fun things, and there will also be missteps along the way. So - Short answer. Do we value our PvP players? Damn right. Do we plan on continuing to trying to create and refine our own PvP? Hell yes. Is everything we do going to make everyone who identifies themself as "a PvP player" happy? Not a chance. Maybe half if we're super lucky.
This reply really highlights something that often gets overlooked, which is that we easily identify the wide range of PvE playstyles but don't always acknowledge the same to be true of PvP players. It's refreshing to hear a game designer talk about some of those different playstyles, but it also helps explain the challenges of making a game that includes both PvE and PvP content. He went on to say that Conquest took months of work from the team in order to create 1,000 player matches on live servers and make it work. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but Trion continues to tweak PvP and plan new PvP content to satisfy a greater number of PvP playstyles.

Alternate-ruleset servers

One question about permadeath and experience loss led to a curious hint about whether RIFT fans might see some servers with more hardcore rulesets at some point in the future. Hartsman posted:
Funny thing. We have an internal playtest list that also accumulates random ideas. A similar idea has come up there from time to time. Most recently, last month! Never know what the future will bring. I do agree, though, that special ruleset/short lifetime servers can be a really fun thing.
I'm intrigued by the idea of a short lifetime server because it's so contrary to the never-ending persistance of MMOs. Gamers are used to some sort of closure in single-player games, but that's not really the case in MMOs, except when a game has to shut down from financial difficulties. If there were servers with a special ruleset and a pre-ordained, limited lifetime, we might change our approach to MMOs and how we play.

The state of gaming

Several questions came up about MMOs in general and how they've changed through the years. Hartsman offered his view on not only the evolution of gaming but where we might be headed down the road:
Competition has gone through the roof, clearly. 10 years ago, just getting to launch meant that a reasonably large number of people would at least check you out. Not so anymore. Following on to that, production costs of what it takes to get to launch with something done "the classic way," that can stir up enough interest to get enough people to check you out, have gotten insane and are at the point of being unsustainable. I think that, in concert with the fact that people use other online services (like facebook) for social connections, which didn't used to exist -- when previously many gamers used MMOs as their outlet for "being social, at home, on a computer" -- has led to the new styles of online games that are focused much more on gameplay -- LoL, Minecraft, and so on. Tighter focused games that are clearly all about the gameplay. I think we'll continue seeing more of "online, more focus" and less "MMO world that costs practically a quarter billion dollars."
He went on to explore the topic in a later reply, and I added it here because I think it's an interesting point of discussion about whether the hardcore gameplay of early games like Ultima Online would have been as popular if there had been a large number of MMO choices back then. He explained:
Though at least inside the industry is the open question: Did it ever even work for UO at all once competition existed? Losing everything was frequently a death sentence for the customer - they'd walk. Some would stay. Many would bail. Given that, I don't know that it's as black and white of a subject. Is it "the crowd who plays games now is THAT much more risk averse" or is it "that it didn't really work even among a large crowd back then; and it only worked as long as it did because it was the only game in town at that point?" Or something in between? Like I said, I'm definitely not the expert there - Just repeating what I've heard others opine on. Some smart people have said some smart things on the subject.
I'm only able to highlight a few quotes here because of column length, but the full Reddit AMA is well worth reading because Scott Hartsman has a lot to say about the MMO landscape over the years and the state of the industry today (including a great comparison between Star Wars Galaxies' NGE and EverQuest II's drastic revamp right after launch). And if you're a budding game designer, he offers up some valuable advice as well. So break out the Dr. Pepper and check it out!

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