Rift’s headstart goes live today, at 1 PM EST if everything goes off according to plan on Trion’s part. They seem to have things in hand, and I expect no major delays.
In charting the course of its development the interesting thing has been to watch it grow from a relatively obscure, nichey-looking game into what appears, on the eve of formal launch, to be a major contender going forward. Nobody’s touting it as a “WoW-killer” only because most commentators have come to realize just how asinine that appellation is.
Meanwhile, WoW continues on the same trajectory it’s been on for years. People get tired of the content, and an expansion releases. Folks return to the game. Eventually, they get bored again, a cycle which has sped up every time in every respect except the time between expansions. The dedicated people stick with it, but people with a shorter attention span jump to the new hotness when it releases, only to go back to WoW when either the New Hotness has worn out its welcome, or when Blizzard releases another expansion. A few probably never return.
I point this out because as much as people (rightly) do not consider Rift a WoW-killer, Trion has also positioned its product in direct opposition to WoW. The ads on TV and all over the internet tell us we’re not in Azeroth anymore. Those ads appear on many a WoW site, including WoWHead and WoWWiki. As much as we’d think, and as much as Trion would like us to think, that Rift isn’t directly challenging World of Warcraft, it is.
A large majority of potential Rift players are likely to come from the pool of current or former WoW players, and the timing is good for Trion, with enough space from the last expansion for some players to have tired of it already, yet far enough from the next expansion, and from the release of SWTOR, to give Rift a chance to cement a place in the market before everybody jumps ship. The longer Trion can keep those people, the more likely it is that they’ll start to think of Telara as their virtual home, and the less likely it is that they’ll jump away once WoW hits the top of the news cycle again (and no, the re-release of two retuned old dungeons won’t do that.)
Trion has done a lot of things really well ramping up to their launch, but one of the things that’s most impressed me is how they’ve managed expectations. Nobody thinks Rift is going to shake the foundations of the hobby. Nobody is calling it the Jesus game. No knucklehead from Trion is shouting about millions of players from every rooftop in sight. What they expect instead is a solid, novel yet familiar experience, something that’s fresh yet conforms to their expectations of what an MMO is supposed to be and do. Compare to the WAR buzz for an example of the opposite.
The key here is that people will consider Rift a success if it has 200K players six months from now. If it has 500K players it will be the biggest success story in MMOs since the release of WoW itself, handily. Even at the lower number (and somewhere in the middle is what I personally expect,) it’ll mean that Trion, along with Blizzard, CCP and Turbine, has become one of the development studios that other folks look to when cooking up their own blueprints for success. And that’s really something.