Justin from Massively came up with a really good question about why Rift didn’t do better. Quite obviously, I cannot answer this question in general or even for the majority of players and it may even be something different for everybody.
For me, it’s not that hard to answer, actually. I didn’t mind their switch to the free-to-play model. In fact, that’s when I really started playing the game. It was at a time where I couldn’t just afford to pay for two monthly subs (as I’m doing now – for Elder Scrolls Online and World of Warcraft, but not for Rift anymore!). I later paid for a sub for Rift, so for me, it wasn’t about the money in the end. I also never felt that I had to pay a sub to enjoy the game (unlike ESO with the crafting bag).
Before I get into why I stopped actively playing the game, I would like to muse about what I love(d) at first. I played the game during their beta weekends and when it launched, I gave it a try for two months or so. I really loved the dynamic open world experience where you couldn’t even go afk on a road because the NPCs (who come into Telara through rifts) there could take over parts of the map. It really made the world feel so much livelier! I loved and still do love the housing in Rift. None of the MMOs I’ve played (other than maybe Wildstar but I like the graphics better in Rift) ever came close to that quality of housing. When I returned to Rift after it went free to play, the housing system is the one thing I wrote about!
What I always had a hard time understanding was the game’s lore. One faction came from the future… or what was it again? It never even sticked in my brain! I wrote about the game’s basic lore before (just scroll past the short bit about Trove). And then they came with the Nightmare expansion where everything you saw was… a dream? It was confusing and on top of that, so much of the world was underwater. It was all dark and gloomy and that’s not at all what I want in my MMO. Of course, the story itself can be dark and I guess there needs to be a sense of danger around. I personally would rather prefer something like Elder Scrolls Online where there are several main storylines, but nothing that seems so desperate knowing the end of the world is just around the corner.
Also, there were so many areas where people really lived in Rift. The “major cities” of the two factions are a good example. Meridian is supposed to be a city, but it’s actually just one big building. Tempest Bay is better and has some really nice parts, but I only ever really need to be where the crafting dailies are and that’s one tiny bit of the whole place. The rest of Tempest Bay seems dead and I hardly ever see any players there. Compare that to Stormwind or Orgrimmar in World of Warcraft, for example. Or the cities and towns in Elder Scrolls Online that are full of quest givers and stories to explore! Bree in Lord of the Rings Online comes to my mind as well. As lively as the maps are with the dynamic events, this game doesn’t have a world that I want to dive into.
Back to Rift: It does have a lot of lore, so that part isn’t bad at all! It is just that, for reasons I can’t really word properly, I really dislike the lore and don’t feel comfortable playing in that world. With the Nightmare Tide, it became so bad for me, that I really didn’t want to play the game anymore. I levelled one character to the maximum, but that was it. After that, I crawled into my dimensions and just built in them, but didn’t care about the rest of the game anymore. Maybe what I don’t like much about the game can be visualized: This non-combat pet gallery shows what I mean in a way. It is all weird companions, but only very few that look like a “real” animal.
When they released Rift Prime, I hopped back and actively played again, because it was so much fun to relive the base game again where I didn’t dislike the lore as much and my main concern was the lack of living and breathing cities. Now maybe, if the game was to get another expansion and the zones weren’t that… weird… I would play the game again. Maybe.