It’s entirely possible that the unexpected departure of Scott Hartsman from Trion Worlds means little for the future of RIFT. While Hartsman undeniably had an influence on the game and its development, RIFT is being left in the capable hands of Daglar, Dahanese, and other familiar faces. That being said, there is one particular topic that seems now up for debate in the wake of this change, and that’s free-to-play.
While perhaps not outright against the F2P model in MMOs in general, Hartsman became known as certainly not a supporter of the payment model in his games. After spending many years with Sony Online Entertainment working on Everquest II, Hartsman left — first to create his own company, and later to join Trion Worlds — shortly before the game launched their free-to-play option. Although he never spoke out directly against F2P at the time, it was heavily rumored that the payment model change pushed him to explore other opportunities.
RIFT has remained one of the last few subscription MMOs in a sea of casual F2P titles, and this time it seems to be directly attributable to Hartsman. He said in an interview with Eurogamer in November, 2011, “One of the assumptions people make is you can just take a game and throw a switch and change the model. For starters, you’d have to decide that that would be a good thing, and I do not think it would be — that would be a fairly large net negative for RIFT and the RIFT community.” Hartsman continued by explaining that the free-to-play model relies on a game securing “whales”, or big spenders, and that this changes the mindset and goals of MMO development.
It’s of course impossible for us players on the sidelines to know exactly what’s going on in the glass offices at Trion Worlds, but it is a fact that Scott Hartsman was a powerful advocate of the subscription model, and RIFT no longer has that advocate.
Is free-to-play on the way? A month ago most people would have said there was no chance, but now.. today it suddenly seems a lot more likely.