Developer Appreciation Week is here! For the uninitiated the concept of Developer Appreciation week dates back to 2010 and was started by Couture Gaming the Blogger formerly known as Scarybooster. The idea was simple, spend a week talking about all of the things you love about various game development companies and studios. As a blogger we spend plenty of time pointing out what is wrong in the games we love, and talking about ways that they could be better. That said it is important to understand that for most of us this critique comes from being a huge fan of the games and genres as a whole. So during this week we point out the things that are going right and make a point of mentioning all the things we really appreciate out there. If you too are a blogger please feel free to join in by posting your own Developer Appreciation Week ideas.
So this year I am kicking off developer appreciation week with Trion Worlds. 2011 was a bit of a fraught year for me as far as gaming goes. Cataclysm had just landed in World of Warcraft, and I was reaching this point where I found myself falling out of love with that game. Early in the year I had friends who were talking about this new and exciting game called Rift. It turned out that it was precisely the sort of experience I was looking for. If you had put onto paper every single feature that I ever wanted in World of Warcraft… you would end up getting a feature list that looked a lot like Rift. While it failed to gain serious traction with a number of my friends, it was my gaming “main squeeze” for quite a long time. So much so that I ultimately rebooted this blog into a Rift fan blog, and became an official fansite listed on the Rift game website. From that point onwards Rift has been one of those games that is always somewhere in the background of my life. One of the most awesome things about the launch is that I ended up striking up a friendship with some of the folks responsible for building the game.
Now over the years I have done the same for various companies, but I was remarking the other day how few of those folks are even in the industry these days. The ones that are still in the industry are rarely at the company I first knew them through. However in the case of Trion Worlds, all but one of the folks I knew there… are still there and seemingly happy five years after the launch of Rift. That tells me that Trion as a whole is doing something right to keep employees engaged for that length of time. As with every company in the MMO space there have been a lot of false starts, and some cancelled projects… but I have been pleasantly surprised that they have managed to weather that cancellation of these projects. Rift for example started as a subscription game, and successfully navigated the transition to free to play, with one of the more viable cash shop models out there. Sure there are some things that they do that I find egregious… like the various mounts that can only be found on lockboxes, or the constantly limited sale mentality. Overall though even with all of these things taken into account, I find them a really great company and I am always interested in whatever they happen to have going on.
One of the more interesting experiences with Trion was the development cycle for Trove. This was really the first time that I had ever seen a AAA title do a fully NDA free Alpha program. Even more interesting than this however is the way that this game community embraced Reddit. There are no official forums for Trove, but instead they have an open community on Reddit that has also spawned a separate sub Reddit for users to submit creations. I love that when you pick up an item in game, it tells you which user in the community designed it. The only problem with this development style is that it felt like Trove was constantly changing, and in drastic ways. There was a period of time when I would log in and never quite know what design decisions would have been made in my absence. The end result is a really fun experience, but it was interesting to see these false starts and reworks happening in real time. Trion as a whole seems to genuinely care about and cherish their player base, and they were one of the first companies that I can remember embracing Discord as a means of keeping in contact with the player base. There are a number of discord servers that I am on that have devs and community staff publicly available for conversation, which goes a long way into making players feel connected.
I feel like Trion also has set the gold standard for interacting with the community on a regular basis. Each Friday they do a lengthy Twitch stream where they alternate through a series of back to back shows dedicated to each of their games. During these shows they of course do the standard give away construct, but also have the folks actively working on the games in the hot seat to answer questions live from the community. These also serve as a place where players often get a first glance at upcoming tech, features and content. Savvy players have learned how to read the comments from the community folks, and been able to glean additional information pretty regularly. While updates have slowed down significantly since the frenetic launch days of Rift, they still put out a steady stream of content. The negative over the years has been that two of their products they have limited control over. So I feel like they have maybe taken unnecessary flack over both ArcheAge and Devilian at times, when in truth they only run the servers and manage the localization… but have little to do with the overarching development direction. Localization is going to be a structure that we see more and more of, since South Korea is still going through a bit of an MMO renaissance, like we did in the 2000s. I feel like they have done a better job than some other localization efforts, but could still have some room for improvement.
Ultimately… while I can go for long periods of time between playing Trion games, logging into them always feels a bit like coming home. So if you have never played Rift, Trove, Defiance, ArcheAge, or Devilian I highly suggest you download Glyph their proprietary launcher and check them out. The upcoming Atlas Reactor seems really interesting, like a sort of competitive X-Com, but also not really my sort of gaming experience.