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Enter at Your Own Rift: Cry me a river

Karen Bryan

Yep. That was the sum of my experience with Phase 2 and 3 of RIFT's world event this past weekend. I was unable to log in early to stake my place for the fireworks (I was over in Lexington watching the Red Coats and the Minute Men putting on their own fireworks show). As I learned later from guildmates, it wouldn't have helped even if I were on early, since Trion Worlds took down the servers just before the event, causing a mess of sharpened elbows and broken keyboards as people frantically tried to log back in.

It was a white hot mess, and no one will argue that fact. But there are a few interesting observations that can be made from this rather bleak moment. Read on for a look at what Alsbeth's finale can tell us.

Don't blink! First off, what struck me about this event is that it's the first time Trion had really failed to learn from the lessons of other MMOs. World events that have set objectives tend to go badly. EverQuest II fans are still bitter about the spires' being constructed before they got home from work to log in, just as World of Warcraft players tend to recall the opening of the gates of Gates of Ahn'Qiraj with mixed feelings. It's unfortunate that the event had such a short objective, and on top of that, the objective wasn't even clear for everyone involved. The problem with quick, one-time world events is that they force the player to play at a specific time, which forces people to choose between the game and real-life obligations, which is never ideal.

What surprised me even more is that the team seemed to have had warning that this would happen. When Phase 2 and 3 were launched the week earlier on the European servers, there were posts complaining that things went by too quickly and that players were lagged out. Perhaps there just wasn't enough time to drastically change the events, but it's too bad that Trion seemed to have a second chance and couldn't dodge the bullet.

People are playing. The queues were unfortunate, but on the other hand, that's a good sign. People have been going nuts lately trying to speculate whether RIFT has started to experience that downward spiral of population when the tourists leave. What this world event showed us is that it might be too early to channel the spirit of Henny Penny. Some have argued that the only reason there was a queue was that the event fell on a free trial weekend, so the servers were overcrowded with non-paying players. Perhaps, but according to a post by Elrar, paying customers had priority in the queue over non-paying trial players. So the fact that there were 108 people ahead of me, nearly two hours after the event had ended (as I found out when I got in) says something.

Trion is still quick to respond. Just as I was about to utter, "Say it ain't so, Joe," along came the post from Sr. Producer Scott Hartsman to set everything right once again. He was apologetic, sympathetic, and pretty generous with Trion's offer of event rewards to every paying player. Hundreds of pages later, the vibe from the players was overwhelmingly positive. Despite the event itself being a flop, Trion had once again quickly and clearly addressed an issue and presented an acceptable solution.

The big picture. No, despite the event's flopping to an end, RIFT will not end up dying on the vine because of it. Games have made much bigger mistakes in the past and lived to tell about it. I remember when the Sleeper was awakened and abruptly GM-killed when the impossible had unexpectedly become possible. Following that, there were loads of angry forum posts, but I don't recall too many saying that it would be the death of EverQuest. On the contrary, the anger stems from people being so invested in the game that they care about missing something. That's a much better sign of a game's health than having the world event be met with indifference. There are a lot of things that RIFT could stumble over that would hurt subscription numbers, but I don't think this world event will hurt much in the long run.

It's really about the context of frustration and how well Trion can manage those levels overall. That can probably be said about every MMO ever made. This event was frustrating, no doubt, but it's worth comparing other games' early days. Remember camping a mob for days-on-end only to have it despawn and reset its timer because of a server reboot (EverQuest)? Or being stuck in the kneeling position trying to loot something, or even worse, being stuck offline for long periods of time because the servers had crashed (WoW)? What about bugged quests, incomplete content past level 35, and falling through the world repeatedly (Vanguard)? Every game is frustrating, but players don't leave until the game is unreasonably frustrating, when things aren't being addressed properly. This world event might not be RIFT's best moment, but when put into proper perspective, it doesn't seem quite so bad.

In the end, though, it is unfortunate that after such a long build up, the final phases were gone in the blink of an eye. The event loot that's coming has definitely calmed the tone, at least on the official forums. But for many, the event wasn't about the loot but about the opportunity to see unique content, bear witness to an important moment in the story of Telara, and walk away feeling like you were part of something remarkable. I read a couple of accounts from those who did participate in the events, and I wished even more that I had been there to see it. Next time around, I'm going to try to plan better so that I'm not dodging musket fire as the event is closing in -- hopefully Trion will plan better as well.

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.

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