Rift TV: The Road to a Golden Age
By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW) – OnRPG Journalist
It sneaks up on us from time to time. On an average Saturday after seeing a great movie, you and your friends go on a gaming binge. It gets mundane on its own after a while and your mind starts to wander. It wanders until it reaches a question older than the MMO genre itself.
‘Imagine if this game was a movie/live action show?’
Of course this is soon laughed off with multiple terrible examples of why not to go there. The Mario Brothers movie, Dwayne Johnson’s Doom, and Street Fighter to name a few.
But as long as your inner child can fight off the pessimistic MMO gamer mindset, you just cannot help but imagine the possibilities this combination still holds if done right. Trion Worlds founder, Lars Buttler, believes he has the magic formula to finally make it a reality. He intends to form a television series that incorporates major events occurring within the Trion Rifts world into the weekly televised episode. Think of it as Riot Game’s League of Legends weekly ‘Journal of Justice’ being televised on a national cable television network. The first thought that came to my mind is “this has to be ludicrous fiction”.
Fiction Becomes Reality: The Partnership with SyFy
Lars Buttler has looked back on these movie failures and seen the core trend connecting one failure after another. The first and foremost problem with all these gaming based movies is compressing the large amount of content available in a 50+ hour content game into a 2 hour movie. He realizes the futility of this and has instead opted for a live action television series spanning multiple seasons to bring the gaming world in its fullest to the small screen.
Of course it would take a radical television network to take on such a strange and risky proposition. That is where NBC Universal’s recently reorganized SyFy Channel comes into play. SyFy, famous for its wildly unorthodox original series and Science Fiction B movies, has the in-house staff and technology to bring the alien races, fantastical creatures, and world destroying portals of Rift to life.
But do not expect this to be a bland thrown together project to pass for another month of content on the SyFy network. Dave Howe, president of SyFy Network, has been quoted calling this project “The Holy Grail.” Mr. Howe has put his money where his mouth is and pressed a rumored $25 million budget into making this series a reality.
Rifts Ahead: The Rocky Road to Reality
So Lars Buttler has the funds and the vision to make this show a resounding success. But can his team actually build the Holy Grail that Hollywood has failed to create for 20 years?
To be blunt, it is doubtful. There are already rumors of culture clashes between the Trion Worlds team and SyFy writers about the creation of this combined world. On one side you have the game designers behind the monumental production of Rifts, dedicating themselves day and night towards perfecting a believable world that can capture the hearts and minds of thousands of players for an extended period of time. These men and women have an unwavering vision of what the Rift world is supposed to be and will attack like savage fan boys if you cross their pre-written rules of the Rift Universe.
On the other side of the spectrum are the screen writers and accountants of the SyFy Network. They have been trained to build a series around lead characters with the world and environment they live in coming in as a secondary function to help build upon these characters. These professionals are normally bound by the limitations of budget and the talent and degree of actors they can acquire to populate their televised world. Add to it the limitations brought on by being bound to the rules set by Trion’s game designers and NBC’s profit expectations, and you have enough pressure to form diamonds out of coal.
This problem becomes even more troublesome when it comes to attracting your player base to this televised experiment. They will want to see a noticeable difference in the television show based on the changes in game. They will want to see how their organizations are impacting the series to be able to point and say, ‘Yes, that was us. We caused this.’
Now take into consideration the sheer impossibility that this can happen. Maybe if the entire Rift game was featured on one server with a small community base, you could provide such an experience. However, Rift’s immensely successful launch has resulted in 58 North American and 41 European servers (as of February 28), most of which remaining heavily populated at peak hours.
There is simply no feasible way more than a handful of players’ efforts can be featured to cause a noticeable difference in the weekly televised Rift series when presented with this scale. Though if done correctly, it may create room for community competitions and events tied in with the televised series. This is just one of the many tight ropes Trion and SyFy must walk in the coming months.
Gamer vs Geek: The Rift Gap
Beyond the technical points covered thus far. There is one grand issue to rule them all.
If you are a truly dedicated MMO player, you put a lot of time into your games. If you put a lot of time into your games, you will surely have less time for other things in your life.
One of those time wasters is television. So this televised show would fall short of capturing the attention of the most hardcore gamers. Watch Rift on tv? I have gear to farm!
On the opposite spectrum, a less hardcore gamer is in most cases going to have less interest in the content provided by Rift. So when offered the chance to experience their part-time gaming hobby on television, the results are likely going to be less than stellar.
Even greater difficulties arise when luring in your average SyFy viewer to buffer the required audience enough to prevent an early cancellation. In this case you cannot just point at how successful the video game is and expect these geeky television watchers to instantly jump on the band wagon. If anything they will be skeptical. This does not come from a famous fiction writer. In the worst case scenario, it might even be labeled as a cheap advertising tie in and shunned by the community at large. Danger lurks on all horizons for Rift.
The Light at the End of the Worm Hole
By now a dreary picture has been painted of the success for this wild Rift project. But still my inner child hopes beyond hope that this could be a success. In recent years many gamers have given up hope that a nearly flawless bug free MMO launch could exist. Trion Rift has come out strong and broken this preconception with the launch of their game. If there is any company I have faith in right now to break the norm and achieve the impossible, it is Trion.
The light at the end of the tunnel may be the simplest solution. What motivates MMO gamers in all things? Fatty loot and epic rewards! What happens when you hide a give-away code to unlock said fatty loot within the televised series of the show, and said fatty loot is more rewarding than an hour of grinding within the game? That’s right, so long as there is limited time to turn in this code, you will get an audience looking to find it. Now say Syfy hits the mark and the audience likes what they see? You just might get people tuning in regularly instead of searching Rift fansites to obtain that code. Especially if they make the obvious connection that gamers like to watch TV on the Internet, when their raid schedule permits it.
And you never know. This glorious union might catch a geek or two outside of the gaming realm who asks the question ‘This show is so cool. Imagine if it was a game?’