RIFT’s Scott Hartsman Talks Transfers, Events, and the Future (INTERVIEW)
GF: The LFG tool seems to be working really well so far since you added it in 1.2. Are there more changes coming to it, and if so, what changes can players look forward to?
SH: We actually have the ability to look at all of the dungeon queues across all of the servers in real-time through an interface, which is sweet. You probably noticed that we launched it and immediately made some tweaks to it. There are also a couple of tweaks coded that haven’t rolled out yet. One of them is changing how we calculate if you are eligible for a given tier of dungeons. We’re redoing a lot of the logic around that to make it a lot more clear to players. The interface around it is going to be about a million times more clear than it is right now. Also, we’re working on another fix that lets players reconfirm the role they want to play when their group joins the queue. There’s still a little confusion around that unless you’ve been using the toll for a while.
It’s basically smaller tweaks targeted at usability at this point. The other thing we’re keeping an eye on right now is this: Experts and higher level dungeons are zipping along great on most worlds, but the experience for those leveling up isn’t as good. Because of our free trial and Ascend-a-Friend, there are a ton of people leveling up. But even though there are a ton of people out there using the LFG tool to register for dungeons as they level up, the timing isn’t lining up for those folks to have a good experience. So, we’re trying to find the best solution to get those people together to use the system.
GF: You’ve recently started free trial and Ascend-a-Friend programs. What’s the response to those been like?
SH: It’s shocked the hell out of me, honestly. We have been intentionally very aggressive in how we go out and recruit people to play the game. There’s no secret about that. From the first ad on, we understood that putting out an MMO in this market, with so many people out there who may have been jaded on MMOs from the past and so on, we had to go out big and we had to stay big. You have to be making enough noise and getting the word out for people to give you a shot.
That same strategy went into all our programs like free trials and Ascend-a-Friend, and carried down to all of our things like sales and ads. That’s why you see the game on sale all over the world, with one having a sale on the game this week, and another next week. The idea is that we’re really aggressive, and that we look like a good game for people to come and try. Both free trial and Ascend-a-Friend got off the ground really well. We haven’t had problems with either one.
The first day we had the free trial, there was a flood of newbies in the city (I’m not going to say which side they play on), and there was a flood of adorable little questions like “Where’s the crafting hall?” and such. Gigantic floods of real newbies are awesome. That’s something that has been sustained since the day we launched the program. I’m thrilled it’s around, and I’m happy that more and more people are coming to check the game out.
GF: I have a pretty good idea which side they are all playing.
SH: Actually, it’s pretty even. Obviously, globally doesn’t matter, because everyone only looks at their own server. Globally though, it is almost perfectly even, at least in terms of people who are online at any given time. On individual servers, there are some where it is 5% one direction or the other, there are one or two where it is extreme. Honestly, that’s a lot of what we hope to remedy with our server moves. We’ll take some of those servers where it’s extreme, and only open up the low side as a destination for moves. We are looking to bring balance to the Force with our server moves.
GF: The newest thing you’ve announced is server transfers, and using some sort of Jedi magic (since we’re using Star Wars references), you managed to make them free. Not only are they going to be free, they’ll be available once a week, and from what I understand, they will be initiated in-game. Is that accurate?
SH: Yes, I walked through it with a programmer yesterday. It’s the coolest thing I have ever seen. OK, one of the coolest things I have ever seen.
GF: So, how much downtime is involved in the transfers, or are they instantaneous?
SH: Yes, it’s instantaneous. Takes about a second. Like I said, it’s really slick. I say this to everybody who will sit through the sentence: Our engineers impress me to absolutely no end. No two ways about it. Our engineers continue to impress me every single time we put in a new feature. They exceed anything I would have thought possible, and this is from a guy who used to be an engineer. Let me put it this way: Me in my engineering days would not have been hired by our engineering team. I am fairly certain of this.
They’re really good, and the fact that so many of them play the game means that they understand the quality of experience they’re looking to ship. They ask themselves, “When I go home, what do I want to sit through?” and then they make a system that they would want to sit through. It works out pretty well.
You’re sitting at character select, you click transfer, and the list pops up. Select your destination, and it’s done.
GF: Does the character take everything with them?
SH: It will block you if you have mails or auctions. You have to go in and clean those out before you can transfer. I can’t get too much into the guild stuff right now, but there may be guild things that could prevent you from moving your guild by the time transfers go live. But a guild leader will be able to move their guild name, level, and experience to another server, and then re-invite everyone else when they show up. If your guild moves, you’ll log in and get a message that says “Hey, your guild has moved over to server X. You should go join them!” You don’t have to, but you can if you want. Stuff like that.
Here’s the overall philosophy behind all this: Happy customers stick around longer. That’s what we think. That’s the beginning and end of it.
Back in the day, WAY back in the day, in the Everquest, Ultima Online days, nobody had real life friends that played online games, so you made all your friends online. These days, you have friends all over the place, and you probably do have real life friends playing the game. The world has changed a little bit. For us, we want to make sure that when you suddenly discover that your buddy from college or from the old job is playing on another server, you can click a button and go play with him. Chances are, you’re going to be happy, you’re going to stick around longer, and then everybody wins.
That’s the underlying, super-secret goal in all of this: Happy customers stay with companies longer. This is the bet we are making, and that’s why we call it a grand experiment.
GF: With regard to transfers, will you be allowing players on PvE servers to transfer to PvP servers, and vice versa?
SH: We absolutely will, and I’ll tell you why. We spent a lot of time considering this. I have leveled up on both types of servers, and speaking just from my experience, and the math behind this backs me up – the leveling is really not that different. In many cases, it’s zero difference. The traditional line of thought, that it’s so much harder to level on a PvP server, well, it’s really not. Besides, even if it was, the PvP server would probably appreciate it – all those soft newbie PvE targets approaching. Plus, the PvE player is happy too, because he’s where he wants to be. I think in the end everybody kind of wins.
Conversely, you get a lot of people that want to go the other way. They rolled up with a group of friends that insisted on playing on a PvP server, I’m max level , really not digging it, and would love to go play with some other friends on a PvE server I’d love to go play with. Most of the appeals we’ve seen from people are pretty genuinely that: Please, please can I just go play with my friends, and we want that answer to be yes.