Let’s Set Aside the Game for a Moment and Talk About Trion.

In today’s post I want to set aside the game.  What I really want to do is talk about the company making the game, Trion Worlds.  Let’s forget about whether you like the game or not.  Maybe you love it, maybe you hate it but I think one thing should be agreed on by everyone who plays or follows MMOs.  That is, quite simply, Trion should be the model on how future developers interact with the community, run their beta and develop their game.  If you compare the development of Rift to WAR, Age of Conan or a whole slew of other MMOs pre-release, you will see a refreshing difference when it comes to how Trion does this.

The NDA

 

First, let’s talk about the NDA.  Mark Jacobs, formerly of Mythic Entertainment, had this to say about the NDA and the dropping of the NDA:

“As to NDAs, the rule I’ve always gone by is my “time before release rule” in order to judge the confidence the publishers have in their new game (doesn’t apply to ports or games that are already out in other places). I add a +1 for every week prior to release that the game’s NDA has been lifted and come up with a score. If <4, there’s a lack of confidence in the product, if you are >8, they really believe in the game. WoW had a great score (the highest I believe) and some of the MMOs that failed, had, as expected, low scores. A score of 4 is just about the minimum you should expect from a MMO publisher.”

I say he was right and his own game proves this.  Warhammer Online‘s NDA drop happened only a scant few weeks before the game went live.  We can now see that Mythic had little confidence in the game and rightfully so.  By contrast Trion dropped the beta NDA a full three months before release.  Now, it must be said, there is still an NDA covering the Alpha participants but I have seen very few MMOs allow beta players to talk so freely about their game so long before release.

Access to the Game Pre-Release

 

With the release of the newsletter last week, Trion opened the flood gates to the beta servers.  Each subscriber now has VIP access to the beta servers, which allow for automatic entry to every beta event.  In addition, each newsletter subscriber was given a VIP key that allows for 25 more people full access to the beta.

For all intents and purposes, the Rift beta is now completely open.  With the number of VIP keys available from the subscriber newsletter and websites like MMORPG.com giving away hundreds of keys everyone who wants in can get in easily.  Never have I seen such open access to a game this far out from release.  WAR went open beta just 11 days before release.  Age of Conan just 22 days before release.

Not only are they allowing unprecedented early access to the client but they are letting players see more of the game than most developers do.  The current beta client will allow leveling up to level 30 but future beta clients will allow access up to level 42, only 8 levels before the cap.  Age of Conan capped their beta to level 20 which, coincidentally,  is the exact level in which content ran out.  Trion is allowing access to the full world at each cap.  Dungeons are open, War Fronts are running, Rifts and invasions are running.  Bottom line, by the time the beta is ended you will know whether the game is worth buying or not.

 

Responsiveness to the Players

 

Trion has also set the precedent when it comes to listening to the players and responding to their complaints and suggestions.  Look at the list of things Trion has added, fixed or improved upon since the first beta client and you can not help but be impressed:

  • Players wanted to gain access to Souls sooner.  Trion completely changes the Soul acquisition system, making Souls easier to get and giving them the ability to get them sooner.
  • Players thought the combat was a bit too unresponsive.  Trion adds ability queues and changes the way key presses trigger abilities.  Combat is now much smoother.
  • Players thought Rogue energy regenerated too slowly.  Trion now allows energy to regen during the GCD.
  • Players thought that invasions and Rifts were not powerful enough and happened too infrequently.  Trion unleashes the events upon Telara.
  • Players wanted Open Groups ala WAR.  Trion puts them in.
  • Players complained about the lack of anti-aliasing.  Trion adds it.
  • Players complained about Tab Targeting.  Trion fixes it.

The list goes on and on.  They have even more in store for the future, fixes to Racial abilities, master looter and a whole slew of things that the community wanted.  Every developer claims to listen and many try but I have never seen a developer do so as quickly as Trion does.

Polish and Promises

 

I have talked about this before but I wanted to state it again; Trion promised only what they could deliver.  They did not promise the moon, only to have to pull features before release.  They under promised and over delivered.  Exactly the opposite of most developers.  The game, in its current state, is more polished, complete and bug free than WAR, AoC and even Aion was months after release.  It runs well, there is a distinct lack of bugs, all features are present and accounted for and everything works.  Compare this to most other MMOs on release and the difference is striking.

You May not Love the Game but You Should Love the Company

 

As I said above, you may not like Rift and that is fine.  Just like other MMOs, it will not appeal to everyone.  Some are looking for a game that is radically different from prior MMOs and if that is the case, no Rift will not appeal to you.  Some don’t like the graphics, the combat or the lore and that is okay too.  I understand that.  But, no matter what you feel for the game itself, every MMO player should love how Trion is handling this release.  It is the standard by which every other developer should be held accountable.

For too long we, as MMO players, have stood by and watched as developers released buggy, unpolished and incomplete messes onto the gaming public.  We watched as they hid their faults behind NDAs and open betas that just began a scant few days before release.  We watched as they promised to do anything and everything and then failed to deliver even the basics.

Finally, we may have a developer that does not do that.  That is not afraid to let players see what they have to offer pre-release and that is not above listening to player suggestions and then implementing them quickly.  Whether you like Rift or not, you should applaud that.

 

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Scott Hartsman Takes Some Time to Talk to Rift Fans on the Official Forums

Scott Hartsman (COO of Trion Worlds, developers of Rift: Planes of Telara) spent some time talking directly to Rift fans on the official forums this evening.  In my many years as a MMO gamer I have seen a number of top developers speak directly to the fans, either on official forums or unofficial ones.  Mark Jacobs, of Mythic Entertainment, was famous (or maybe infamous 🙂  ) for this.  He spent many hours of his time on unofficial forums, both for DAoC and Warhammer Online, and posted about players concerns and questions.  I have always found it refreshing when I see a developer do this, a direct line of communication with fans is always a good sign of a development team that cares about its fans.

One thing that jumps out at you about Scott as compared to Mark Jacobs is his brevity.  Mark would post long, almost encyclopedic, entries when answering fan questions.  Nothing wrong with that at all but Scott was very much to the point in his interaction this evening.  He assuaged a lot of fan fears and pulled the curtain back a bit on where Trion is going with Rift and what they expect down the road.

Here is a short summary of his posts:

Each role saves its own hotbars.

That isn’t a wishlist or “some day” item — That’s how it works in game right now.

The soul system would be a much less fun experience without it. We treated that as a core part of the system.

(Hm. I should possibly go back to the “kill six bugs” thread and point out that it was decisions like this, and making sure that we had a solid 1-50 leveling experience all finished, that led to other things being shifted until later, like the tech required for super-exciting introductory quests.)

The “kill six bugs” quest that begins the current Defiant experience did what it had to do — It helped get us to alpha, and gave us a very simple starter experience we could use as a step toward the rest of the experience that picks up later.

In the time since that build, we’ve been working toward levelling it all up, including the intro. Just wasn’t there for PAX.

No need to panic on this one.

  • On whether players will be forced to PvP on PvE servers or whether participating in a Rift on a PvE server will cause the character to flag for PvP:

In general, on PvE servers; neither.

Exactly right. As soon as one of the big boys decides your game might actually launch and be good, they guess at a price and post it up for preorder.

First one to guess and post ends up setting the trend for the others.

I’m going to reply to this on an outside forum, but wanted to post here first:

The way that alpha is currently set up, you can communicate across sides in chat that has spatial qualities (think of them as in-character) — /say, /yell, /emote.

Each side gets their own private comms for out-of-character channels (think: tells, zone chat, trade, etc). Places where there’s really not collaboration going on.

I think it would be great to be able to launch like this. I think there’s also at least a 75% chance I’m being naive, but we’d all like to give people a chance.

The core reasoning isn’t the abstract “that would be a customer service nightmare!” – It’s that we do have to set a bar for the experience of the service as a whole. That bar can’t be dominated by swearing and epithets aimed at people’s race/religion/orientation in a system-supported communications channel.

That’s not a good experience that keeps people playing premium games.

We’re not saying that all chat is expected to be all hugs and bunnies and people singing Kumbaya, but at the same time, we won’t be having our game turn into xbox live chat. If it goes that direction, the opposing sides won’t be able to communicate. Depends entirely on what happens between beta and launch.

Hope that makes sense,

– Scott

This must be “Reply To Huge Threads” night!

I’m supposed to be working on schedules right now – This is far more fun. 

I mentioned part of this in the Kill Six Bugs thread, and another part in the Will My Hotbars Save With This Whole Souls Thing thread but it bears repeating here.

The newbie experience we showed off at PAX was solid fun for a lot of people. That said — It was, entirely unashamedly, the alpha newbie experience.

Let’s talk about the things it did show: It was very playable, rock solid, showed that souls are real, abilities are real, combat is smooth, animations are good, movement is fluid, characters look great, rifts look awesome, rift loot works, contribution works, many types of quests function smoothly, rewards exist and work, and as a bonus, did have a pretty interesting story on both sides for those who chose to read it.

Remember, we had to make sure to have an experience that was entirely approachable by someone who had never played an MMO before. It would have been a huge mistake for us to chuck someone onto a high level character with all of the souls discovered, then have them make headway against high level, advanced types of dynamic content.

Not for a brief walk-up demo at a convention, anyway. To the majority of the people who played, that would have been the antithesis of fun. 

That we already have a game that works so well that people are talking about the quality of the content is incredibly high praise for pretty much every system that sits under it all.

Yes, we’re going to be levelling up the starter experience.

For the moment, however, I’m going to think the team should be taking comments like this as a huge compliment to all of the things that are already in place. How many games have you played that didn’t have them solid by launch?

– Scott

Very informative answers and straight to the point.  You have to love it.  I really love that hotbars will be saved between Soul specs, I actually started that thread and was worried about it.  Moving buttons onto your hotbar can be a tedious process.  Having to do it every time you switch specs would be a nightmare.

I am also very happy that the PvE’ers will not be forced into a play style that they do not enjoy.  Personally, being a PvP’er, I would be bored to tears if I did not have the option to gank or be ganked once in a while but I am happy for those who do not like that style of play.

I am also very happy that the initial quests are, for the most part, just placeholders for alpha.  I kinda expected that but it is good to hear that acknowledged officially.  I bet we end up with some pretty epic quests to begin the game by the time it releases.