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Enter at Your Own Rift: Happy half-birthday, RIFT!


It's hard to believe -- but amazing nevertheless -- that RIFT is almost a half-year old. Six months ago, hundreds of thousands of gamers rushed through the gates to become the first to explore Telara, included me, and we were introduced to what's become one of the most dominating MMOs of the year.

Following this smooth release (and it was smooth), Trion Worlds set a remarkable standard for itself by pumping out meaty content updates at a steady, rapid pace and marketing RIFT out the wazoo. We've already witnessed two live events, numerous subscription specials, the addition of a ginormous raid, and my not having hit 50 yet -- to my eternal embarrassment. Of course, there have been bumps in the road as well: a lackluster initial world event, a segment of disgruntled players and opponents, and the looming specter of several heavy-hitting MMOs waiting in the wings.

But for right here and right now, this is Trion's time, and the company is taking advantage of this half-year milestone to light the fireworks and lay out the good china in celebration. We got on the phone with Scott Hartsman and his Justice League to talk about what the studio has up its sleeves for this event -- and what's next for this rapidly expanding title.

RIFT sanctum
The cake is not a lie

Everyone loves a good party, no one so much as MMO players -- especially when there are free goodies involved. On August 25th, as RIFT nears its six-month mark, Trion is planning a full week of festivities to celebrate the occasion.

For starters, the party doors are open for everyone. RIFT will be available for everyone to play for free from the 25th through September 1st, including both new and returning players. If you're just starting out in the game during that time and like what you see, Trion is discounting the cost of the client tremendously; you can get a copy of the game for $4.99 if you sign up for any of the subscription plans as long as you do it by the 1st.

During the celebration week, the dev team is setting the game mechanics to pay out more than usual. Players will enjoy bonus XP for kills, guild bonus XP for completing quests, bonus favor and prestige in PvP battles, and bonus planarite, marks, and plaques in the game world.

As a cap to the birthday bash, all subscribers will receive a special gift package on the 1st. The first part of the gift is a way to take the celebration with you in the form of bonus potions. These potions will let you trigger some of those awesome buff bonuses, like XP and favor boosts, at a future time of your choosing. The more exciting gift is a reusable half-birthday cake that you can put on the ground to give a buff (currently stamina) to you and your friends.

During the week, Trion is also hosting several half-birthday contests, such as garnering in-game achievements and baking real-world birthday cakes, which will pay out in gaming laptops, video cards and more.

RIFT altar
A grassroots celebration

The notion of a half-birthday celebration was born as the dev team looked at the busy August convention season and realized that RIFT's six-month mark sat square in the middle of it. "It was a month where we were like, 'What could we give back to people?'" Hartsman said. "We thought, as gamers, what kind of party would we want to experience?"

From this grassroots notion was born a full-fledged celebration during which the team tried to plan an event that had something for everyone. Hartsman explained that no matter who you are -- a current non-player of RIFT, a returning player, or a current subscriber -- you'll end the week with something more than you started.

The team is also working hard on the next iteration of the way it handles the massive influx of players during these special events and promotional weekends. While trial players are certainly welcome to come and check things out, subscribers will get increasingly preferrential treatment, not only by being able to jump queue lines, but also by being able to stay in the game longer before timing out due to inactivity.

Ultimately, the devs excited about events like this because they are gamers at the core: "We're playing the same game you are, and this is the kind of stuff we think is fun. We're putting on the sort of stuff we can enjoy together."

RIFT cutter
Gaming for peanuts

When asked about the vastly discounted client during the half-birthday week and what that said about Trion, Hartsman simply replied, "We aren't afraid to try crazy stuff."

One of the company's top priorities is to lower the barrier of entry for everyone and to get as many people in the doors of RIFT as it can, and if that means Trion has to be a little unconventional, so be it. Hartsman fully admitted that Trion is being as aggressive as possible and that this approach would not change.

I told Hartsman that I recently attended GenCon Indy, where I was surprised to see a full box copy of RIFT in each and every one of the attendee swag bags. I asked him how this came to be. It turns out that Hartsman and several members of the team grew up going to GenCon annually and have a lot of affection for the convention, ergo the special effort to reach out to that gaming community.

RIFT Iron Pines Peak
Celebrate good times, come on!

Trion has a good cause to celebrate, too. The company recently announced that it's seen more than a million customers since launch. In this instance, "customers" are defined as those who have installed and played the game but have not necessarily subscribed (it was explained that a lot of those people have yet to hit their 30-day mark, when they would be forced to make a choice). Any way you cut it, Hartsman confirmed that the population is still growing and has yet to plateau.

He also said that the recently implemented PvP rifts have proven to be "insanely popular," much more so than the team predicted. More than double the amount of activity has centered around these specialty rifts than was forecast internally at Trion.

RIFT's also been blessed with an incredibly active community that's put on numerous player-run events. This has been welcomed by the team members, who love seeing the innovation that players conjure, and the team has utilized the feedback from these events to pave the path for even more in the future. "I think anything you can do to empower a community to keep itself more engaged is one of the most powerful things you can do for the game," Hartsman said.

Scott Hartsman wrapped up the call by saying that the team is still hard at work on getting out all of the new features promised by last month's State of the Game address. Planar attunement, instant adventures, and the Chronicles of Telara are all shaping up nicely and growing ever closer to shipping. The team already has three or four Chronicles prepared, and Hartsman is dying to show them off as soon as he can.

Personally, I love a good birthday bash -- even a half-birthday one -- as much as the next guy, and I'm nothing but pumped to have a fun-filled week as we cruise into the fall season. Here's to another six months of gaming excellence!

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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