The online game-subscription model has generally waned in recent years, overtaken by the popularity (and apparent profitability) of the "free-to-play" (F2P) paradigm. One of the earliest MMORPGs to switch to a F2P model, the Trion-published Rift, announced a curious change coming to its payment model: a branch-off of one Rift server, and its entire gameplay and payment structure, to return to the flat subscription model later this year.
As reported by Kotaku, the game's developers announced plans for this new version, dubbed Rift Prime, in a Friday blog post. The plan actually began life months earlier when Trion asked fans about the idea of a "challenge server" product—meaning, a version of the game that was harder and segregated interested players into their own, higher-difficulty pool of players. Fan response to the pitch went a different direction.
The players' "strongest cues," the devs write, revolved around "how to make the business model more appealing."
If you're wondering exactly what those cues were, consider Trion's Rift Prime description: a pay-per-month version of the game with "no lockboxes [aka loot boxes] and a significantly reduced store with more of the current store-based items obtained through gameplay (or removed entirely)." Additionally, all progress through the Prime version will be "sequential" and "progressively unlocked." That means players will no longer pay for microtransactions (MTX) to, say, access certain content or increase XP-gain boosts.
Right now, Trion describes the Rift Prime version as a limited-time affair. Players will progress through Rift's systems "at a faster pace than the original launch" and will come to a finite conclusion "in spectacular fashion." The company didn't offer further clarification about that pacing or about a more specific release window or price.
Current Rift players replied with questions about the new product, such as whether any perks from their years of F2P Rift play would transfer, how an existing paid "Patron" system will change, or whether Rift's shrinking playerbase will benefit from current players leaving the F2P version for the paid one. To the latter question, a Trion representative hopped on the thread to offer the company's estimation: the new, paid-subscription version will attract more lapsed Rift players than anything else.
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This may be the highest-ever profile example of an existing, populated F2P game to receive a paid-subscription version instead of the other way around. The common online-game news of the past decade has included gamesgoingF2P while their creators crow about larger playerbases and easier "access." As more games made the F2P switch, including Rift in 2013, critics—including one of Ars's—hailed the transition. But in our case, that came with an expectation: that F2P games could work "without compromising their traditional gameplay."
The microtransactions and random-item purchases that have since defined F2P games' economies have come under greater scrutiny and criticism over the past year, largely because retail-priced games have begun adopting them in earnest. With so many F2P games adopting identical item-driven economies and shoving slot machine-like mechanics into players' faces, there's arguably an issue of burnout. Players have seen these hidden costs, with cosmetics and beyond, in so many games that they may once again yearn to pay up front—and thus avoid certain gameplay issues and manipulations.