This week, En Masse Entertainment announced that their game "Tera" is going Free-to-Play this February. This comes as a surprise to exactly no one, as "Tera" has never really been a success under a subscription model. Actually, I could have left off the "under a subscription model"-part of the last sentance, and still been completely accurate. The point being that "Tera" is yet another failed MMO turning to the Free-to-Play model in order to hang on and wring a little more money out of their players.
So what does this have to do with "Rift", then? Simple. "Rift" is one of the few AAA MMORPG titles that still requires a subscription to play in its entirety, along with "Warhammer: Age of Reckoning", "Eve Online", "Asheron's Call", the "Final Fantasy" MMOs (XI and XIV), and "World of Warcraft". We can safely remove "World of Warcraft" (the Aberration) and the "Final Fantasy" games from this discussion (being they are only popular in Japan), leaving just WAR, EVE and "Rift" as Western AAA subscription MMOs.
It's just a matter of time before they go Free-to-Play now.
Now, before anyone mentions it, there's a reason I didn't include "Asheron's Call" in that final list of subscription MMORPGs. Specifically, they are run by Turbine, who have already converted their other MMORPGs "Dungeons and Dragons Online" and "Lord of the Rings Online" to Free-to-Play models, and have recently returned "Asheron's Call 2" from the grave... as a Free-to-Play game. AC2 is still currently in Beta, but the writing is on the wall for original "Asheron's Call", so there was no point in discussing its prospects as a subscription game. They don't have any.
But I digress.
Of the last three AAA MMORPGs that risk going Free-to-Play, I feel "Rift" is the most likely to make the conversion first, as much as I hate to admit it. Why?
So, basically that leave just "Rift" standing alone now, while all of their competition goes Free-to-Play (or Buy-to-Play, but I don't see "Rift" doing that... "Rift Lite" precludes this option). They have the infrastructure for it, at least in part. They may very well have the need for increased income. And the industry is clearly turning to Free-to-Play and Buy-to-Play models, which leaves the few remaining subscription-only MMOs under increasing pressure to change their payment model.
Let me be clear here: I don't want to see Trion change the payment model for "Rift". Well, scratch that - I would support them going Buy-to-Play with an optional Subscription model, much like you see in "The Secret World" now. But full-on Free-to-Play? No, I don't want to see that. Why? Because I have watched many games go F2P, and in every single case the community has suffered, as Trolls fill the servers because the game is suddenly free. These Trolls offer nothing of value to the community, in fact they tear it down at every opportunity, and they rarely spend any money on the game, either. In short, the game gets significantly worse, and I don't want to see that happen to "Rift".
I simply feel it is inevitable now.