Tuesday, October 23, 2018

And the Gods Laughed

No more than a month ago I thought that Rift Prime was doing well enough that Trion has kept the server going for the time being. In retrospect, I should have likely not invoked the Gods of Irony, because there was some pretty eventful news surrounding Trion.

Trion, developer of MMOs such as Rift and NA publisher of ArcheAge, has been sold to the German company Gamigo. While sales or spinoffs of games and game divisions isn't unheard of in the video game world*, what is more unheard of is what happened after the sale was announced: Trion laid off almost all of its staff.

That has happened before in the game world, when boardgame company Avalon Hill --best known for games such as Diplomacy, Civilzation, Squad Leader, and other wargames-- was bought by Hasbro. Hasbro's representatives at the time expressed displeasure at the loss of the AH staff**, because they thought they were getting the entire TAHGC staff, but I chalk that up to the owners of Avalon Hill, the Dotts, being greedy asshats.***

So why Trion laid off its staff is currently an unknown, I can't imagine that Trion's staff knew that it was coming to that degree. After all, the Rift Prime server just released the Storm Legion update, and there were still livestreams scheduled even as of last week. Obviously, all of this is going to come crashing to a halt while Gamigo takes over assets, but given that Rift Prime is still in existence (as of this morning, at least) the Rift portion of Trion is still hanging in there. They even set up the Autumn Harvest event on servers as of last week, so Trion's staff was planning on being in place at least.

As for ArcheAge, Trion was the publisher, so basically Gamigo takes over the publishing portion of that arrangement.

But what portends for the ex-Trion staff? Its entirely possible that Gamigo hires them on as a third party, or they'll simply take the assets and then change direction. I perused the games that Gamigo currently has, and I don't think they have a game out there like Rift. I'm only vaguely familiar with Aura Kingdom, and most of the others seem to be MOBA, PvP, or strategy oriented games. Even the games listed as "MMORPG" don't really fit what we're used to in AAA MMO space. I raised an eyebrow when multiple game descriptions include "an engaging story" while at the same time emphasizing the eye candy in the toon pictures.

If this is the sort of game that Gamigo puts out, then I'm not sure how exactly Rift will fit in. ArcheAge will fit in much better than Rift, for certain. Even Devilian would have fit in better in Gamigo's lineup than Rift, to be honest. If Gamigo tries to change Rift to match its other game titles, I'd imagine that Rift would become unrecognizable to its current and former playerbase.

So here's wishing the best of luck to the Trion employees who were laid off.

EtA: I've done some more digging on Gamigo, and apparently they are a "maintenance company". They purchase F2P games and then amp up the cash store and P2W purchases to a level that would have made the "old" Rift P2W controversy tame by comparison. No new development, just a bit of fluff, and that's pretty much it.

About the best thing for Rift would be that some company with deep pockets and a love for the game would step in and purchase the game from Gamigo, but things look pretty grim for Rift.

As for ArcheAge, all bets are off. They do fit in with Gamigo's lineup better, and their development house is separate from Trion, but I've no idea what will happen there. I was working on a "Fun With MMOs" post on ArcheAge, but I might shelve that entirely. Or maybe I post it with the caveat that "this will likely be obsolete by the time you read this".

EtA: And here is the link to the official announcement from Gamigo AG. Here is one very pertinent part of the article: "It is expected that the Trion Worlds acquisition will add on gamigo group level revenues of at least USD 18 million in 2019." I have no idea where they're expecting those revenues to come from --outside of Trove, which according to the forums is apparently Trion's most profitable game-- without adding tons of cash shop items and P2W items. I could also see them attempting to sell some of the assets as well, or even license the game engines to other companies.

*For instance, there's Standing Stone, that was formed from ex-Turbine developers, that bought the assets to LOTRO. And even Activision-Blizzard itself was spun off from parent Vivendi into the "capable" hands of Bobby Kotick and his fellow investors.

**I can't find the reference to it, but it was in the Usenet group that followed board games, rec.games.board.

***They were arrogant enough to try to sue software developer Microprose for its release of the wildly popular Sid Meier's Civilization in the mid-90s, and they actually lost that lawsuit. The net result, however, was that both Microprose and Avalon Hill were financially weakened to the point of being sold off. Both, ironically enough, to Hasbro.


  1. I'm not that surprised by this news - I'm more surprised by the number of people who seem to be utterly surprised by it, lol. I guess it's because many people still remembered Rift fondly as "that game they used to like (some time ago)", so if they liked it, it must still be good and doing well, right?

    As some noted in the Massively OP comments though, there had been plenty of signs already, even if you disregard the way players moan about every game dying at all times. The factual reporting of cash shop shenanigans had shown them trying to find ways to make more money out of fewer players in half a dozen different ways in recent months, clearly with limited success. And even when the Prime server launched with some success, their biggest brag about it was that it had "thousands" of players. For a game that originally launched with a million subscribers that's really not that impressive.

    My guess is that they just couldn't find a way to keep things profitable and players happy, so decided to cut their losses and sell what they had left. I would also think that the lay-offs were initiated on Gamigo's end, because they seem to be in the business of running things in maintenance mode, and you don't need 200 people for that.

    So I guess on the plus side for Rift players, the game is unlikely to be shut down any time soon, because why else would a company like Gamigo have bought it? On the negative side though, there likely won't be any updates or much support at least for a while, simply because you can't cut that much staff and expect things to keep running as usual.

    1. Well, I think it surprised me because Rift Prime was one of those servers that if there were financial issues it would be the first to go, given that it was designed to be a temporary server. I found roughly the same number of people on the Rift servers I played on than on, say, the classic zones in SWTOR or the original zones in LOTRO. In fact, I'd frequently find more people playing GW2 than any MMO not named WoW, and even in the last months of my WoW experience in Mists I'd find more people playing on GW2 than WoW as well.

      I guess I just grew accustomed to not seeing that many players out in the wild.

      As for Rift, however, I don't see it staying operational --or in the Gamigo stable of games-- for very long. It kind of sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the Gamigo lineup.

    2. I don't think that comparing activity levels in levelling zones in most MMOs to WoW is really useful, firstly because WoW is so top-heavy and leans heavily on instancing, but also because most of these other games don't have a mandatory subscriptions - so even if you see fewer players running around in WoW, they are all people who have paid to be there (or someone else has paid for them), while most other games are F2P or at least offer extensive free trials, so bodies alone aren't really an indicator of profitability.

    3. I would argue that with WoW there are two distinct entities: those who login and those who subscribe. While (almost) everybody who logs into WoW has a subscription (they do have that L1-15 free account available), a subset of those subs actually login regularly. Sure, Blizz gets all that subscription money, but active users certainly appear to not be as numerous as they used to be. I remember making it to Firelands in Cataclysm about 3-4 weeks after it dropped, looked around, and said "WTF? Where is everybody? I'm actually on current content and there's nobody here!" And that was repeated in Mists, although by the last 8-10 months of my subscription I'd simply given up and decided to hang around areas that I enjoyed being in, people or no.

      And yes, you're absolutely correct about bodies playing not being an indicator of profitability, but in F2P people who actively play are the ones more likely to either take up the sub option (like what I have in SWTOR) or will spend money to purchase items in the cash shop (like some of the zones/expacs I've added in LOTRO). WoW is uniquely positioned in the market to be profitable by inertia alone, but my point was that in-game activity in MMOs hasn't been at Wrath or early Cataclysm levels since 2011 --product or expac launches excepted-- and you become used to the lack of people being visible in-game.