Trion Announces RIFT MMO Beta and Opens Floodgates for Free Beta Keys

Via MMO Symposium, for those of us looking for a polished AAA+ MMO that poses a credible alternative to the Blizzard’s dominance of the market, there is at last some good news!  On November 18, Trion announced the beta test phase of their new MMO: RIFT is scheduled to commence on the weekend of December 3-6.

The development of this long anticipated MMO is helmed by Scott Hartsman. In a company of secretive and aloof people, Scott was a breath of fresh air as a developer and many EverQuest fans may be familiar with him as he started working at SOE with during the Shadows of Luclin expansion.

Here’s are some of his comments from the official RIFT press release:

“This is a momentous event for the entire Trion team, as well as the fans that have been following RIFT since we first announced the game,” said Scott Hartsman, RIFT’s Executive Producer and Trion’s Chief Creative Officer. “We’ve created this deep, vibrant world that’s just waiting to be populated with enthusiastic players, and our hope is that gamers will enjoy playing the game as much as we’ve enjoyed building it.”

No More Camping Rift Beta Keys

Big news, people wanting to beta test RIFT no longer have to camp their Twitter feed or their Facebook page — Curse has scads of beta keys available here. You’ll need to log on to the official Trion: RIFT site and create an account, after that you can enter the beta code. These beta codes give you a chance to be selected in any of the upcoming beta weekends.

After expending the effort to get a key, creating an account and then updating your profile, I hope they ensure that everyone that gets into the beta eventually.

If those run out you can also try getting some at Gamrfeed and at IncGamers.

Another ex-SOE employee Cindy Bowens (who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Sigil: Vanguard fan meeting many a number of years ago in Las Vegas) is the Senior Community Manager for RIFT. She has been giving away “VIP” beta keys via Facebook and Twitter — VIP beta keys means you’ll be guaranteed to be in all of the beta tests.

Moving Beyond the On Rails MMO Ethos

As RIFT is still not available to the public, I really don’t have much to say about it except that I’m encouraged to see a prospective MMO is aspiring to be something more than a WoW clone. In a recent interview with MTV it’s pretty clear that Scott Hartsman is not satisfied with the “on rails” MMO experience which is currently epitomized by WoW.

In an earlier part of the interview he also praises the genius of the original EverQuest which in a WoW weary world is music to my ears.

For those of us that are interested in seeing the MMO genre advance with more dynamic events and emergent behavior, we may have found our savior. Here’s Scott articulating his analysis and vision from that short but illuminating interview with MTV:

What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?

In online worlds, I think there’s a lot of room for more emergent behaviors in games. We started out with really open worlds where very little direction, generally fairly loose rules, and finding the fun was half of the game. Relative to the audience sizes of today, they were pretty niche experiences. Turns out, not many people are interested in finding the fun themselves as a full time activity.

On the MMO side, we “fixed” this by progressing to more steered, scripted experiences like you’d find in a single player game. Steering people toward all of the fun lead to worlds that felt like the entire experience was on rails. That strategy definitely has succeeded in reaching far larger audiences, but that’s not the end all be all. Some have tried adding repeatable events to that, but that alone really doesn’t play to the strengths of the medium.

If you’re playing to the real strengths of the medium, you can include all of those kinds of elements – Static content and events – then go one step farther. It’s okay to give up some control to interesting emergent behaviors. Let the systems and content play off of each other. Make a world that’s a living character of its own. Give the players a more interesting experience – Let them explore both the content and the systems in new ways they haven’t been able to.

After years of calling on MMO developers to summon the courage to go beyond the tired WoW formula, it’s gratifying to see that someone in the MMO industry finally seems to get it. I just hope that RIFT will deliver and live up to the hype.


Recent Articles on RIFT

For those interested in some interviews with Scott here are some good articles worth reading:

InGamers – Comprehensive hands on preview

IncGamers – Design Producer Hal Hanlin talks about how rifts work

TenTonHammer – Scott talks about crafting in RIFT

Warcry Network – Hands on overview of what it’s like to play a couple of classes

Recent Official RIFT Videos

From what I have seen from these videos the world of RIFT easily surpasses the beauty and majesty of WoW’s heavily stylized environments. With Scott Hartsman in charge, I hope RIFT will have the depth and complexity of EverQuest combined with the AAA+ production values of a mass appeal MMO.

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