So I decided to check out Rift.
For purely academic purposes of course! Rift is a new MMORPG launched in March 2011 which, since release, has been able to suck quite a sizeable slew of customers away from WoW. Indeed, it’s been called by many a WoW-Clone for its similarities to WoW which I think it a very unfair attributation (and let’s not even start with the WoW is just an Everquest Clone discussion…). Indeed it’s not a WoW clone at all, it could only be called that by someone who hasn’t played another MMORPG apart from WoW in the last 5 years. It’s actually a Warhammer: Age of Reckoning Clone (WAR) (which itself was a WoW-Clone) with strong WoW threads stuck within it. With Age of Conan-like graphics. Indeed, if WoW, WAR and Conan had a love-child it would be Rift. From WAR it takes public/open grouping, fast and furious PvP battlegrounds and an interesting take on public quests/instances. From WoW it takes, well, almost everything else (and fortunately all it takes from Conan is the graphical look!)
It’s literally as one friend put it, as if a number of game designers who happened to be WoW players all sat down and went through WoW with a list and chose what they liked about WoW, and then changed what they didn’t like or didn’t work for them, keeping within the spirit of the game. So it keeps the gear based system which builds game capital and player investment (and thus buy-in), and it keeps the tiers of raid progression etc. But ditches quite a bit of the class based stuff in favour of a quite interesting innovative take on skill trees etc.
From the social and community side Rift developers Trion have wasted no time at all with social networking and web 2.0 integration. With Riftconnect you can play and update your Twitter, Facebook and even Youtube all at the same time. Kill a cool mob in-game? Screenshot it and upload it straight to your Facebook page or even straight upload your instance footage to your Youtube to criticise your tanks ineptitude. The social networking side is of a great fascination to me, and I wonder how many people have been drawn into the game because of seeing a friends Rift update on Facebook or Twitter and decided to try out the 7 day trial?
And on the subject of trials, yes, the game has the typical starter zone trial package, but also (very much like WoW introduced) it has all the customer-to-customer sales tricks up its sleeve as well. Certainly the designers seem to have skimmed the best selling ideas from their competitors with their recruit-a-friend scheme, which one friends of mine rightly pointed out is a very interesting take on pyramid selling. Recruit one friend and get a small ikkle bonus, recruit more and get unique in-game items etc. And all the “teleport to your friends side” etc socially orientated game design functions which you’d expect to go along with it. Is this the standard now?
The social networking side is, of course, just the start. Where’s the websites? Well, currently the fansites are building up. There’s quite a forum community and a fansites programme, but in many ways these are the basics. What they HAVE done really well, far better than any game since WoW is there use of Portal sites like Zam to quickly build online resources for players to use. A number of games miss this critical step (particularly WAR and Age of Conan) but there’s nothing better as a former WoW player than having a number of talent builders, skills explainers and resource search engines at your fingertips. Why? Because that’s what you’re used to! You’re used to being able to go to WoWhead and MMO-Champion and everything else you use as a resource. These online resources help the player feel that they’re in a well supported community. Not all players will be interested in podcast shows or having a constant feed of information, but in a sizeable community a number of them will, and what’s likely is that these people will be your most gamic-social (did I just make up a word there?) people. Your guild leaders, your class leaders in guilds who talk to and influence people to get them ready for raids etc. They’re your influencers and “game paragons” who create and maintain your games social capital structure, so they’re an important stakeholder you need to make sure are kept flooded with what they need (though not necessarily what they want; there’s a distinction).
So overall, a nice little game which has come a long way in just 2 months of release with the social marketing side of the equation. Let’s hope SW:TOR learns similar lessons from its predecessors.
Thanks to a reader for e-mailing me to remind me of the online Youtube campaign. Some great usage of vid's here to capture the imagination of potential customers.