RIFT’s Scott Hartsman Talks Transfers, Events, and the Future (INTERVIEW)

Late last week, we got a chance to sit down for a chat with Scott Hartsman, the Executive Producer of RIFT. Interviewing Scott is a very interesting time, as he is demonstrably passionate about what he does. There’s no question that he’s excited about RIFT and where it’s going. As Trion Worlds gears up for E3, we stole a few minutes to ask some questions about exactly where RIFT is going, as well as to chat about where it’s been, and what they’ve learned so far.

GameFront: Let’s start out by talking about The River of Souls event. You had a pretty good event that didn’t end as well as you’d hoped. What sort of response did you get from your players?

Scott Hartsman: One of the things I think we’re becoming at least a little bit known for is our willingness to try crazy stuff, even when it flies in the face of what everybody knows to be true. When we first came up with the idea of invasions and zone takeovers and this world where people can literally lose access to quest content because it’s a living world that’s under attack, the amount of naysaying, even internally, was pretty large, with comments like “Oh my god, that’s a terrible idea, blah, blah blah.” It was a brave experiment, and we tried it. Lo and behold, hey, it was actually really fun and working. We kept it, and it became a signature part of the game.

I think of our events the same way. Our first take was “We’re going to try a big crazy thing and see if it works. We’re gonna have some parts that do work and some parts that don’t work.” I think as long as we learn important lessons and adapt for the future, at least in our experience, our users seem to be pretty happy when we’re up front about stuff like that.

It was a big, explosive thing to try. It was two or three weeks of lead-up events, which were the dailies and the rifts and the zone events, which were fun and great, and everyone enjoyed them. Towards the end, WOW did it get bumpy on a few servers. It turns out that putting an entire server population into the same zone is no problem, but when you put them all on the same 10 foot by 10 foot area of ground, hey, problem.

So, we’re not going to do that again. I think the fact that we pretty much came out with our take on it a day later and said “Here’s what we learned, here’s what we’re going to do, here’s what we’re not going to do again. Thanks for sticking with it.” I think the response was generally really positive. I think as more time passes, what people remember is that it got a little janky towards the end, but those first three weeks were really fun. Now, there are some new, cool events that are part of the normal event rotation forever. So hey, this was actually kind of neat overall.

We took things we learned from that, and had the team that’s working on the events that are coming out for 1.3 right there as well, making sure to take away all the important lessons. Strategically, they’re making sure our future events take away everything important that we learned.
All in all, it was a net positive experience. Man, the end was bumpy, but I like to think we did all right at making good, and I like to think that everyone appreciated it.

GF: One thing that has set Trion apart from other MMO companies is how they deal with their community. When a player asks why you’re doing something, they don’t get a form letter for an answer, they get Scott Hartsman himself explaining things to them, and going back forth in conversations. How did that philosophy come about?

SH: A lot of us play the game, for starters. A lot of us have extensive backgrounds in working with games on a lot of different levels. My first job working in an online game was like a million years ago, and the games were smaller, but back then the people who were doing game design were the same people who were talking to you on the forums, answering petitions, and handling billing. Programmers and designers were answering petitions. A lot of us who were in the business back then are here because we enjoy interacting with customers. We didn’t get into this business to build a world and be like “WE ARE THE GODS!”

To us it’s like putting on a play or a show. It’s a shared entertainment experience, and part of what makes it cool is that you can interact with everybody. I think that’s kind of a philosophy that’s really dominant around here. Our Community Director puts on training classes for people who want to post on forums. Just tips and tricks on not pissing people off and that sort of thing. The first one she did, she announced to the team, expecting to get 5-10 developers. She had 60 developers respond, and had to break the class up into sessions.

We have people that are so excited about working on games that have live players to talk, it just carries through. It’s something that we actively seek to foster among our dev team. We don’t want to hide behind a big wall, and we don’t want everything to come through a formal mouthpiece. I’d rather have us all out conversing with people and occasionally making a mistake here or there on the assumption that because we are talking to people more means that overall, things are going to be better.

We are always going to be outnumbered. It’s always going to look like the dev team isn’t talking, but that’s because there are a lot more of you than there are of us. I do like to think that we are one of the more conversational teams, and it’s something that we are actively trying to keep going.

GF: It seems that players are devouring content you’re providing at a breakneck pace. Do you guys see that and think “Wow, we need to pick up the pace on these updates a little bit.” How do you respond to that seeing players tear through content?

SH: That’s kind of the difference between having real numbers versus what you might perceive from outside. If you’re looking at it from the outside, it may look like “Holy crap, people have burned through everything, fire, fire!” But actually, on the inside, it’s a really small number of people. At the time Alsbeth’s instance release, the guild Addiction beat it on the first or second day. But we have many, many, many thousands of guilds, and only one of them beat it. That’s OK.

I think the big thing we are very consciously balancing for is balancing for the largest mass of people and where they are in the progression, as opposed to trying to balance for stuff that is going to keep the hardest of the hardest of the hardcore grinding for weeks. Bluntly, if we make content where that’s going to be the case, the majority of even the raiding audience is never going to see that content. That methodology was great when I was working on Everquest 1, not so much these days.
That’s been the general thought on pacing. The general thought on keeping ahead of the curve has always been about that all the content we do put out there is over a certain level of quality.

Everything will of course have little tweaky stuff that we’re always fixing, but we’d rather go out with more interesting, better quality stuff. The assumption is that even if people do ‘finish’ it, if it was good and they enjoyed it, they’ll come back when you add more. I would rather risk boring, say, the top 1/10th of 1% of players and having them then come back later, as opposed to having a game that had 100 things to do that were all either mediocre or broken.

It’s always been ‘Aim for quality, don’t overreach, and then keep it coming at the pace you can keep it coming.’ We had actually planned out our content rollout schedule for live quite some time ago. We started working on that even before launch. That’s why Alsbeth’s instance was ready to go when it was, and why the 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 stuff is going to come out when it does. That’s the pace we had planned all along. These things are launch quality, and then we’re trying to keep quality coming. If you’re at the level you can go do it, go do it today. If not, then you have something to look forward to, and that way everyone kind of wins.

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9 Comments on RIFT’s Scott Hartsman Talks Transfers, Events, and the Future (INTERVIEW)

matt hurd

On June 3, 2011 at 6:27 pm

i hated rift and the river of souls event made it worse for me, lvling wasn’t that easy and constant rifts/invasions paired with the event invasions made it really hard to do quests, yes i realize rifts were a big selling point of the game which i liked on paper, but they were too frequent and interruptive, especially when you’d get jumped by 6 monsters and had 1 mediocre aoe, so you’d die and there was a death penalty in the game, it was unpleasant, i also felt that skills were not very important as at lvl 25 my strongest skill on 2 characters and 6 souls were all the starter skills. there wasn’t very many aoes, and that made the lvling/gameplay feel slow and tedious (which was only made worse by the constant rifts of OP monsters and river of souls event).

it was generally an unpleasant experience and a huge waste of $60 for me, i tried getting a refund with 2 weeks left on my first month of subscription, but they said if you made it too lvl 2 (yes 2, you wouldn’t even be out of the half rate walk through at lvl 2), you were ineligible for a refund.

i have no interest in what trion plans to do, because if it’s anything like rift, or has to do with rift, i think it will be incredibly tedious and repetitive.

dawg

On June 4, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Really? I love Rift. I found levelling to be quite easy. zone invasions are fun, and fairly easily avoided. I have 4 skill bars of skills that I use, and maybe 8 or 9 skills that I use frequently.

Enkeli

On June 4, 2011 at 4:11 pm

I love Rift, I do wish there were more starting zones simply to make it more interesting to level alts. But overall I am completely addicted to this game.

Javilionaire

On June 7, 2011 at 5:44 am

On the contrary. I’ve found that there is barely anything to do. All raids are locked. Dailies competed. Rifts are repetitive. T2s are WAY too easy now. If Trion starts making raids and dungeon even MORE easy, they’ve lost a customer as I don’t want to o through the whole terrible, awful WoW experience.

If Trion cares about the customer, they will not make dungeons or raids any more easier. This is what WoW did and it is now dying.

Truck69ff

On June 7, 2011 at 8:27 am

I love rift! Anyone who says that they hate the rifts and invasions should just go back to wow and never leave. Rifts are soo easy to close. Sure a major rift and at unstable stages you will need help at times but for all minor rifts which are the ones your most likely to see you can solo. If you dont want to do the unstable stages then wait for tumer to expire then kill. If you can’t do then then delete toon, delete the game an go back yo an easy dumbed down game for morons calles World Of Warcraft!! There also is soo much yo do. If all raids , dungrins and rifts re closed then maybe do some pvp? Not for you then create another toon and level them. With the 4 classes i doubt you have 3 50′s that are fully geared with all their professions maxed and have every arty in the game. So stop your complaining and either enjoy the game or leave for your good old dumbed down cartoonish game that a 5 year old can pawn you at!

Celtar @ Dayblind

On June 7, 2011 at 9:27 am

So far I am finding the game very enjoyable. A fresh point of view on a familiar theme. Rifts are great because they make things happening in the game more fluid and unexpected.

I actually am using crafting across the board, I tend to play three characters at any one time so far I am mostly focusing on two though. I use armor I craft, I use runes I craft, I make potions I use as well.

As a long time gamer who has played a lot of online mmorpgs over the past near twenty years, I’ve experienced a lot. What comes through with Scott and Trion is that they care, will they get it right every time? Nope, but they will try which is what we should want as gamers.

Do I think that the game has room for improvement? Yup, I’d say that Scott would agree with that. That said the game is a lot of fun and I look forward to spending the next couple years or more enjoying it. Hopefully I’ll end up playing for even longer.

mambome

On June 7, 2011 at 1:55 pm

I agree, Rift is the best MMO experience I’ve had since EQ1.

citizenx

On June 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Great game and you have to hand it to Trion for continually working on the game, making it better. There is only so much that can be done on any given time, but if you look at just how much they have done since release, it is unheard of. Now, we are getting 1.3 with free character transfers and another world event? Seriously…this is a great game.

I thing this is only going to get better as time goes on, so we are really just looking at the tip of the iceberg.

Kudos to Trion. Keep up the great work!

Kio@Addiction

On June 8, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Being a part of that 1/10th of 1% and a member of Addiction, I will say that I have definately ran out of stuff to do in Rift on a daily basis, and have both Greenscale’s Blight and River of Souls cleared in 1-2 nights weekly, I am sure 99.9% of other guilds do not accomplish this nor have seen all the content that Addiction has. The raid content is by no means easy, but it was most definately 100% enjoyable and entertaining.

As other guilds progress through the game I can only hope and believe that they will enjoyed their time with the Rift content as much as I did. I don’t play it daily anymore but I still log on a few nights a week to clear the raids and hit up warfronts.

I will certainly go back onto a more hardcore gaming schedule when new content comes out as I have found most of the Rift content to be very enjoyable and am largely looking forward to Hammerknell and all the other future content.