Over the past couple of days I’ve been catching up on podcasts, including some that have featured Rift prominently. First off is the latest Massively Speaking episode 130 featuring Scott Hartsman, Rift Executive Producer, and Cindy “Abigale” Bowens, Senior Community Manager. Cindy Bowens also made an appearance along with David Reid, Senior VP of Publishing, on the latest episode of The Rift Podcast.
I’ve been really impressed at both the down-to-earth attitudes and the amount of excitement that the Trion folks have about Rift. Sometimes it seems a bit like game developers are bit disconnected from the players, are more concerned about what they can say vs. what they can’t say during interviews, or prefer to bask in the glory of the fan admiration of their players. Granted, there will always be questions that can’t be answered clearly, specifically about future content releases and plans for the game, but overall the Rift folks were very forthcoming about the game and open about their development process, which as a player inspires confidence in the team and the game they are working on. It makes the fans feel like they’re actually part of a game community that listens rather than just being another subscriber to a game service.
Even more noteworthy was the level of excitement these folks had about the game. Even though they are in crunch mode while getting ready for release (you know they’ve got to be putting in some mad hours at the Trion offices these days), the amount of energy and passion for their game was very clear during both of these podcasts. It’s not the over-the-top levels of hype and bravado that Paul Barnett and company had during the WAR launch, but it seems like a genuine enthusiasm and pride for the game that they have put together.
Overall the publicity machine for Rift has been just about on the right level. The WAR launch was the most hyped MMO launch I’ve ever seen; perhaps WoW was hyped more due to Blizzard’s size and reputation, but I wasn’t really watching such things in those days. Everyone (including Mythic) predicted that WAR was going to be the great WoW-killer, and there was no way that any game could have lived up to that amount of hype.
Rift is making no such claims of WoW-killerness, despite the tongue-in-cheek “We’re not in Azeroth anymore” reference in their TV spot. Overall their marketing has been surprisingly low-key. This is a good thing: they can launch the game and build their subscriber numbers up after the fact, cutting out their slice of the MMO-industry pie on their own terms.
That said, will Rift be a sleeper hit? My prediction is that they’ll end up with a good-sized userbase, probably larger than LotRO but certainly smaller than WoW. I think a good number of those folks will be current WAR players, a lot of bored and burned-out WoW players, and various folks from other games. The real question is how will Rift hold up once Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: TOR come out? I can’t imagine that their team isn’t looking at solutions to overcome those hurdles down the road.
**See the female dwarf in the picture above? She’s actually cute! Squee!