Trion Worlds' SVP of publishing David Reid knows that people have been skeptical of Rift. After all, it's the first MMORPG from the company, and is going toe-to-toe with Blizzard's dominant World of Warcraft. The investment into Rift is big -- $50 million so far -- and the risks are real.
But the studio, which over recent years has amassed over $100 million in venture capital, is confident that it has a strong business on its hands with Rift.
Reid told Gamasutra exclusively that the company has sold-through to consumers nearly 1 million units in the game's three months of availability.
"We are on the verge of selling our 1 millionth unit of Rift," he said in a phone interview. He stressed that the figure represents units sold to consumers, not shipped to retailers. Each sale includes a 30-day subscription to the game. "These [numbers represent] real people who have bought the client, installed it, paid for it and played the game," he said.
Reid added that the millionth subscriber, and that subscriber's referrer, will receive something "special" from Trion.
But while 1 million units sold-through is an important milestone for any MMO, for one that is based on subscriptions, the question is if the game has retention. If a subscriber base dries up, that initial surge doesn't mean nearly as much.
Reid and Trion were somewhat hesitant about revealing the current subscription figures for Rift, but the executive did hint at where Rift's subscriber base stands.
"We're really pleased with what we're seeing. And beyond that, it was a pleasure to see that in the latest Activision Blizzard earnings call, they inquired about Rift when Blizzard announced that their subscriber numbers went from 12 million to 11.4 million," he said.
"You can do some math... we know very well where those 600,000 people are," he said coyly.
While there will still be skeptics about Rift's ability to retain players, Reid is confident that three months in - well after the initial 30-day trial period - a lot of players are sticking with the game.
"I think that there is a pattern or history that you can see across other [MMOs]," said Reid. "...We have seen that when new games launch, people go and play them, then people go back to World of Warcraft. That has been historically true."
But, he said, "I think it would be a mistake to look at past history as an indicator of future performance in this case. We know we have a very stick game, we know we are getting a lot of success right now. ... If in fact the 600,000 players [Blizzard] lost came to Rift, I don't think they'll be getting those 600,000 people back as quick as they did from Aion, Conan, Warhammer and the like."
Rift still has a long road ahead of it. The game has only launched in Western territories, with an Asia and Russia launch to take place at some point in the future. "There's an awful lot of localization that needs to be done for the Korean and Chinese market and so on," he said.
That's not to mention new challengers coming from all corners of the games industry, such as free-to-play MMOs and subscription-based fare like NCsoft and ArenaNet's Guild Wars 2, Bluehole's Tera and EA and BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic.
It's a competitive market, but it's also a big market. "The subscription market is not dying, we're clearly seeing that. The MMORPG market is not declining. We believe a quality product is going to continue to be something that gamers are willing to pay for as long as we continue to run the service as we should," said Reid.