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Community Announcements - Ocho

The Infinity Gate lumbers through portentous skies as a dark presence returns to Telara. From the forests of Silverwood to the shores of Pelladane, mortals succumb to a magical sleep. And somewhere off Fortune’s Shore, across a bridge unopened, nightmares plot a haunting reunion with their unwitting creators. Madness Wakes has arrived!

RIFT 2.8 unleashes a story arc surging toward the Nightmare Tide expansion. It throws open the gates to Nightmare Coast, the first RIFT 3.0 Dungeon pitting the Ascended against Lord Arak and his troubled minions with huge implications for the future of the planes. Meanwhile, seas of change bring major additions to Auction House features, a full revamp for the Pyromancer Soul, and more. Check out the trailer for a first look at Madness Wakes, or jump to the RIFT Community Blog for all the details!
Community Announcements - Ocho

We recently introduced four epic Starter Packs for your RIFT playing pleasure! These all-new bundles are loaded with bonus items and goodies to aid in your quest to save Telara. From the Classic Collector’s Pack (including a mount, pet, Patron time, and character and bag slots), to the mighty Laethys’ Fortune (with its bottomless hoard of Ascended loot), there’s a pack to fit your interests.

  • RIFT: Classic Collector’s Pack – Perfect for new players, the RIFT Classic Collector's Pack includes a signature mount and companion pet, additional character and inventory slots, plus a 24-slot bag and 30 days of Patron bonuses to launch your journey in Telara!

  • RIFT: Upgrade Bundle Pack – The RIFT Upgrade Bundle combines rare mounts, pets, and loot with the versatility of a personal Banker and Teleporter PLUS 30 days of Patron bonuses. Perfect for new and returning players alike.

  • RIFT: Glory of the Ascended Pack – Experience RIFT in luxury! The Glory of the Ascended Pack contains a wide variety of mounts, costume items, and pets. You’ll be the envy of the other Ascended riding these stylish beasts and enjoying 90 days of Patron privileges!

  • RIFT: Laethys' Fortune Pack – What’s the only thing that could make the RIFT Glory of the Ascended Pack even better? MORE! Welcome to the Laethys’ Fortune Pack. You’ll wish you had five butts so you could ride all the mounts at the same time, while portably teleporting with Cadbury, your personal banker and experiencing the full capability of every soul. We could layer superlative upon superlative and it still wouldn’t come close to expressing how truly amazing the contents of this pack are! Ride on, Ascended. Ride on.

Purchase a pack today!
Community Announcements - Ocho

In our latest Producer's Letter, Bill "Daglar" Fisher gives first details on our upcoming expansion Nightmare Tide. Visit the RIFT Community Site for more details!

Prepare to join us in combating a Nightmare Tide!
Community Announcements - ecleaver

Heroes have found their options expanded, with the opportunity to fill new roles for their Calling. Follow the words of an ancient Dwarf, and dig deep into the origins of these new souls. Simultaneously travel back in time, and prevent a mysterious foe from changing the history of Telara forever.

We are proud to announce that RIFT Game Update 2.7: Binding of Blood is now live! Visit the Official RIFT Blog for all the details!
Community Announcements - OverloadUT
The golden age of Dimensions has dawned in Telara. Dream Weave your way into an Update bursting with content: a new tradeskill, 15 new Dimensions, Unstable Artifact sets, and Pet Skins, plus a new Bounty System and the first phases of the Air Saga storyline.

Preview all of our 2.6 launch features on the RIFT blog, share the Love Bug in this year’s Festival of Mariel-Taun, and stay tuned for more: We’re rolling out the rest of the Air Saga and our third Carnival of the Ascended along with new raid and event content in the weeks ahead!
Community Announcements - OverloadUT
With the recent issues going around with monetized game videos, and a new group of video makers getting involved with our games, we’ve had a spike in questions over the last couple weeks. Are we okay with our games’ content being used? Are we okay with people monetizing videos?

Here, with as little legalese as possible, is our answer.


We think of streamers, Let’s Play-ers, and people who make their own videos around our games like extended family. We’ve encouraged and supported them since day one.

We also love that we’re in an era where people can make entertaining video content from games and make a few bucks, or even a make a living doing so.

If you run into any difficulties with content removal notices when you make videos or streams using materials from our games, please do drop us a line at our communications@ email address if there’s something we can help with. We’ll get your back as best as we can.

Scott Hartsman
CEO, Trion Worlds
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Rift’s “state of the game” address hints at future updates, the road to its second expansion">RIFT

Rift - or 'RIFT', if we really must - is one of the few MMOs that still has a place on my hard-drive, even if I'm not actively playing it right now. It's a strange lesson in competently assembling a bunch of well-trodden systems, to create something that's both derivative, but likeable. Part of that good-will is the generosity of its updates and expansions, making it one of the few MMOs that could justify a subscription, back when it had one. In a recent post to the community, RIFT game director Bill “Daglar” Fisher talks about what's coming up next for players as they move towards the game's second expansion.

In the direct future, Rift's developers are working on the following features, building on some of their other recent updates:

Continued Graphical Optimizations

Cross Shard Functionality and Internationalization

Dimension Enhancements

Streamlined Zones and Tutorials

Content Additions

PvP Improvements and Adjustments

Beyond that, they're working towards the next proper expansion, which plans to take players beyond the game's worlds and to the elemental planes.

"Since as long as I can remember people have been asking when they’d get to take the fight to the planes, and we aim to deliver that," Fisher writes. "We want players to dive deeper into the worlds beyond Telara, and explore entirely new otherworldly areas as we move forward."

"We here are Trion are anything but traditional when it comes to development," he continues. "We want to shake things up and keep things fresh for you. We want to provide the best experience possible, and we want to add new things every step of the way ... Why wait for an expansion pack to release a new crafting profession? Why wait to introduce new souls for each of the callings? Why wait to start introducing the story of 3.0?"

Last week, RIFT released its 2.5 update, which added a new 'mini-saga', a Planar Attunement Nexus, and level 60 instances. The trailer for that update is below.

Community Announcements - OverloadUT
A haunting melody drifts across Telara. Part dream, part compulsion, it beckons the Ascended to Ember Isle. There, under the surface, the ephemeral lilt takes shape, offering a vision of things to come!

Song of Dreams pits the Ascended against harbingers of the Wanton in an all-new underwater Saga. Dive into the story under Ember Isle, but remember to come up for air – Update 2.5 piles on additional features including International Shards, a new Planar Attunement Nexus, and six weeks of Level 60 instances (Chronicles, Slivers, and a new dungeon!).

Click here to read more about everything new in 2.5 over on the official RIFT blog.

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Microtransactions: the good, the bad and the ugly">Team Fortress 2

"Free-to-play" and "microtransactions" are dirty terms to some. That's understandable. Famous Facebook Skinner boxes like Farmville have clouded attitudes toward today's free-to-play games, and there's an assumption all microtransaction-driven game design is handicapped by the need to create ways to charge players. For some games, this is certainly true, but there are excellent free-to-play games out there that represent good value for money. Below we've assessed some of the most common methods used by free-to-play games to make money from players, and highlighted some of the fairest examples of free-to-play that are worth your time.

Convoluted shops and fake currencies

A lot of the distrust toward microtransaction-driven games comes down to the way they habitually obfuscate both what exactly you'll be paying for, and how much you'll be paying for it. This starts with the standard practice of exchanging of standard currency for fake fun-bucks equivalents. In Rift, it's "Credits", in The Old Republic, it's "Cartel Coins", in War Thunder, it's "Golden Eagles", to name just a few. The deliberately awkward exchange rates are of course designed to hide the actual value of the items you're buying, but hiding the value of every transaction at this fundamental level appears dishonest.

There's a widespread lack of clarity around the payment systems attached to free-to-play games. The price and payment method of engaging with a game should be quickly apparent, and expressed in a way that lets players know exactly what they're getting for their money. It should not, like Star Wars: The Old Republic, require the careful study of three different screens to unravel the various interlocking currencies, subscription deals, expansion packs and "preferred status" upgrades available.

If you're inviting players to make a purchase that you believe is worthwhile, why hide the price? Quake Live has two tiers of membership, which grants players various levels of access to premium arenas, and the ability to host matches, but look here, at the top of the page, a clear list of features and a price tag.

In short: We see this practice everywhere, even in otherwise decent free-to-play implementations like Card Hunter. The cost of playing a game should be clear, and that starts with straightforward price labelling.

Crates/card packs and random chance drops

If you hand someone a closed box full of promised goodies, many will happily pay you for the crowbar to crack it open. The tremendous power of small random packs of goodies has long been known the creators of physical collectible card games and companies that made football stickers a decade ago. For some, including our former reviews editor Rich McCormick, the allure of a closed box full of goodies is too powerful to resist. Whatever the worth of the randomised prizes inside, the offer of a free chest and the option to buy a key will make a small fortune out of these personalities. For those that like to gamble, these crates often offer a small chance of an ultra-rare item.

In Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2, a chest will drop into your inventory every so often. Keys can be bought with real money, or traded for, and are very popular - five of the seven TF2 store bestsellers are keys right now. As with card packs, the process of discovery and anticipation that goes into opening a box is as exciting as the item inside. Everyone has to decide for themselves whether that's a valuable reward, and whether £1.50 / $2.50 is a worthwhile price for that rush. The important thing is that players know exactly what they're gambling for when opening a box, and have at least a sense of the odds involved. The Team Fortress 2 wiki exposes estimated percentage odds for each crate, but as any Vegas slot machine designer will tell you, revealing all of the maths maths can ruin the glamour of the gamble, and make no mistake, this is gambling.

Boxes are easily deleted and ignored, but receiving one isn't a good experience. At worst, it's a taunt that pops up in the same space ordinarily to message gifts. Receiving a crate for the first time, and then learning that it requires a purchase to unlock, is a betrayal of the expectations that the rest of the drop system instils. The positive side, in the case of TF2 and Dota 2, is that revenue from crate sales goes back to community item creators, and the items you can earn don't unbalance the core game. Team Fortress 2's random drops also shower you constantly with gifts, which balances everything out somewhat.

In CCGs like Hearthstone, Fifa's Ultimate Team and Mass Effect 3's multiplayer mode, you can unlock random cards/players/guns from packs earned through in-game money as well as real currency. This accepts payment in the form of a chunk of your spare time, which is a good deal if the game is good. It operates more like a randomised unlock system that you can speed up with money if you wish.

In short: card packs and crate drops are a form of gambling. If you're okay with that, then there's no reason not to enjoy games like Hearthstone. It's worth checking to see if packs can be earned with a sensible amount of in-game progress before investing lots of time.

In-game item stores

There are two main questions to keep in mind when a game is asking you to spend real money for specific items.

1. Can they only be earned by paying up?

2. Are they better than what you have already?

The answer to both, if a game is being as fair as possible, is no. Games like Team Fortress 2 have a selection of alternative weapons and gadgets you can unlock for your class. That's alternatives, not straight upgrades. Many combine certain situational benefits at the expense of a well rounded, overall build. The Sniper being given a rifle that shoots piss is not at an obvious advantage, especially when against one that shoots bullets. And, in League of Legends, it's hard to know if the angry polar bear is inherently better than a girl with the shark cannon, but both have their uses when played effectively, and the rotating roster gives you options regardless.

Not that pure upgrades are inherently wrong. In games like World of Tanks, where a natural tier system denotes each country's best metallic beasts, it comes down to matchmaking to keep things fair. Put the paid-up kings against the outgunned newbs and you start edging towards a pay-to-win scenario. Keep everyone grouped around their unlock level, and the only advantage for those that pay is a quicker trip to the top tiers.

Even good in-game item stores can go bad over time. The community's faith in a game's integrity can be destroyed by a single update, and in competitive games weapons sometimes have to be rebalanced. That means the items you're buying might not retain its characteristics.

In short: Item stores that sell objects that affect your in-game performance are risky. If a game sells guns/cars that can't be earned any other way then treat that as a big alarm bell. Even if those items can be earned through progress, it helps to favour games with good matchmaking services and large playerbases, which can smooth out balance issues.

Cosmetic item stores

Offering players ways to stand out is a lucrative business. In the Dota 2 Steam Workshop, item creators compete for audience upvotes and Valve’s approval, and the successful ones have made a small fortune in the process. If you spend a lot of time in a game world with friends, cosmetic items like hats in Team Fortress 2, or new player skins in League of Legends, can set you apart without tipping the game’s systems. At worst, new outfits can corrupt character silhouettes or dilute a game's aesthetic, making battlefields harder to parse at a glance, but this is a minor trade-off for a system that lets developers support themselves and keep games running.

Buying cosmetic items is also a very transparent, obvious transaction. Buy the item for the clearly labelled cost, get the item, it’s yours until the game loses popularity and expires, or the heat death of the universe occurs. There’s no trickery, the integrity of the game is maintained, and everyone gets a nice hat. Cosmetic items make money out of happy players who want to express their fandom, which makes every purchase positive.

In short: A straightforward, easily understood transaction that doesn't unbalance the game. Ideal.

Energy bar restrictions

Energy mechanics take various forms, whether action points that expire with every interaction or a continuously dwindling energy meter that stops you from playing when it expires. The crudest variations attempt to encourage the player to buy more energy at the point of expiration, oodling out a few bucks of the sheer frustration of having a game cut short. Subtler time limiting devices are designed to encourage "sessioning," in which players devote five or ten minutes of their time every day to tending to a garden/city. The intent here is to turn the game into a regular life fixture that increases the player’s contact with other the monetisation mechanisms built into the game’s economy.

Energy bar systems straightjacket players with arbitrary systems. You’re not failing to progress because of a lack of skill, but because of the expiration of an invented abstract resource. Besides all that, the amount of time you choose to engage with a game should be your choice alone, and a pop-up message that says you’re done unless you buy X or wait 12 hours just feels insulting. Sure, game demos will stop you when you’re having fun and ask you to buy the full game, but players know the rules when they start the download. Energy mechanics, can be hard to spot until you've spent a certain amount of time playing. Very unpleasant.

In short: No no no no no no no no no.


Expiration systems cause components of the game that you use regularly to wear out and break unless a certain amount of money is spent on repairs. In Fifa’s Ultimate Team mode, players are benched if their contract expires, and you need to apply new contract cards to get them back on the pitch. These are dropped randomly in card packs that can be bought with in-game money or real money. If you pay for contract cards to support a player you bought through a card pack or on the transfer market then you’re essentially paying ongoing rental costs for a virtual product you’ve already bought. Sometimes expiration is designed to drain your reserves of in-game currency. A game might ask you to spend in-game bucks on restoring expired items so that you run short, and might feel the need to top up with a real money purchase. In the worst cases, there are shooters that charge players for ammo to fill their guns, and even offer premium varieties of ammo to give them a battlefield edge.

Being charged money to maintain the status quo earned through play is terrible, and can undermine any sense of achievement you may have enjoyed earning your gear. It creates a persistent, unpleasant pressure to pay and is an unsatisfactory purchase if you do cave. You know that you’ll have to pay again to recharge that item/player/gun soon enough. Expiration creates that poisonous sense of being slowly nickel-and-dimed.

In short: A great way to annoy players fast. Watching items expire isn't fun, paying to stop them expiring isn't fun. Putting money into a game should feel rewarding; paying to stave off the entropic decay of your virtual possessions isn't.

Item rental

You could frame the renting of in-game items as a more transparent take on the expiration mechanic. In most cases you’ll understand exactly how long you’re getting an item, which can be tricky to ascertain in energy systems when you’re buying an abstract resource that’ll deplete as you play. The difficulty with rental items is that, in order for them to be desirable enough to purchase for a limited period, they need to be powerful. Need For Speed World let players rent blindingly fast supercars to take into races with ordinary cars, ruining the experience of the majority for the benefit of the paying few.

Even if a rented item isn’t overpowered, the perception among players that it must be is almost as damaging. The same effect applies to any in-game item purchases. If there’s a price tag attached, it’s natural to assume that it’s more powerful in some way, and if a competitive game doesn’t feel balanced it quickly becomes more frustrating than fun. Also, the notion of paying for a virtual item is enough of a barrier for many, the idea of paying for one that’ll disappear in a few days is even more absurd.

In short: If you're only intending to play for a short burst, a temporary item might be a cheaper option, but the cost of renting cars in games like Need For Speed World is surprisingly high. Rented items normally just aren't a good deal.

One-off account upgrades

The one-off upgrade offers a limited feature-set to new players that expands when you pay a one-off sum. In Team Fortress 2, buying an item, any item, at any cost, will upgrade a free account to a “premium” one. Free players have a backpack limit of 50 slots, doesn’t have access to rare and cosmetic items, and have access to limited selection of crafting blueprints. Buying anything from the Mann-Co store expands the backpack to 300 items and removes trading and crafting limits. Star Wars: The Old Republic’s free-to-play transition added more severe limits, constraining free players to handful of space missions and dungeons per week, forbidding new players from sprinting until level 10. Those limits could be lifted with any purchase of more than $5 on the in-game store.

The cost of transitioning to a less limited set-up is often minor, the intention being to familiarise players with the game’s shop and, in some cases, get players to enter card details. Team Fortress 2 is entirely playable with its free-to-play limits in place, but The Old Republic’s draconian restrictions leverage player frustration to incite a purchase. Not good. If you're looking to familiarise players with a store, then Guild Wars 2's tactic of gifting XP boosts and items provides a much better experience.

There is something to be said for one-off payments that unlock everything. Players put off by the complications juggling ongoing micropayments can instead just buy the game in an ordinary way. In Card Hunter, you can play a flat $20 fee and unlock all of the missions. This lets players treat the free-to-play element as a demo, and still gives players that don't want to spend a big lump sum a way to play for less money.

In short: Contrived limits like the The Old Republic's give new players a handicapped experience, which makes it unlikely they'll stick around, especially when the competition includes MMOs like Rift and Lord of the Rings Online. These offer a huge amount of playable content without charging for basic features.

Account Buffs

Buffs give a temporary percentage increase in the amount of gold, XP, or other desirables that the player can earn through regular play. It's another example of microtransactions allowing players to pay to reduce the time spent between rewards. Unlike energy, though, buffs are a bonus applied to someone who pays, not a penalty against someone who doesn't. That's a key difference in their philosophy that, for the most part, stops them being exploitative.

For them to work, it requires a careful balancing of item prices and levelling progress. There's a strange psychology here. If a game is enjoyable, then a lengthy spell between rewards shouldn't be a problem. But if progression and upgrades are built into the DNA of a game, having to wait too long for them can feel frustrating. In games like World of Tanks, progression is swift to begin with, but slows greatly as you advance. This deliberately plays on impatience to incite a purchase, and is a classic example of game design serving a monetisation system rather than the player. If a game is perceived as a grind, then a buff becomes a requirement rather than a bonus.

It's not just currency that can be boosted. In the case of Card Hunter, your account subscription provides you with an extra piece of loot for every quest you complete. It's an upgrade that neatly sidesteps the balance problem. It doesn't feel like a significant loss compared to the 2-4 rewards you get in regular play, but a guaranteed rarity makes for a nice bonus for those who do subscribe.

In short: In free-to-play games, XP boost items can be symptomatic of an overly sluggish levelling curve, but for patient players there may never need to go near account buffs. If a game is entertaining enough, putting a lot of time into it shouldn't feel like a chore.


Blurring the line between microtransaction and full-fat DLC are these purchasable packs of extras and bonuses. Rather than a free-to-play focus, you'll generally find these attached to AAA releases. We're talking the added profile portraits of Crusader Kings II, the silenced sniper of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the Air Propulsion Gun of Just Cause 2, and the squirting blood of Shogun 2 (to name just a fraction of a percent).

As a practice, these mini-DLC packs are the most variable in quality of all the microtransaction methods. There's nothing inherently wrong with providing fans with a fun extra to flesh out a world they're enjoying, but too often they're created with little attention to balance or value. The worst, inevitably, were once pre-order bonuses leveraged as an incentive to tempt early buyers. As well as the aforementioned sniper rifle, DX:HR's Tactical Enhancement Pack added 10,000 credits at the start of the game, effectively destroying many of the game's early purchasing choices.

For non-narrative led, systems-driven games, mini-DLC seems to fare better. Crusader Kings 2's profiles and music packs focus on aesthetic improvements in a game about strategic depth, while Civ 5's extra civilisations expand user specialisation, without changing the core of the game. But that doesn't mean that other types of games can't utilise mini-DLC in a way that adds something enjoyable for the user, that doesn't make the original game feel lacking without.

In short: Mini DLC like the Total War blood pack and the inventive Just Cause items are a bit like professionally built mods. There's a perception that mini-DLC is stuff that's been held back from the final game to screw a few extra bucks out of players, but more often they're ideas on the developer's big brainstorming board that they can't justify putting resources into during the development of the main game. Mini-DLC is easily ignored, at least, but beware of pre-order DLC that gives you guns and gadgets at the very beginning of a game like Deus Ex - they could ruin the balance of those opening hours.

Games that get microtransactions right

At their worst, free-to-play monetisation systems create a negative experience that the player has to pay to resolve, but you'll miss out on a few great games if you steer clear of anything with a microtransaction in it. Here are a few quality examples that offer great value for money. In no particular order...

Dota 2 - You can buy cosmetic items like character armour and alternative announcer packs, none of which alter the balance of the game. Dota 2 can be played to a highly competitive level without any need to pay. Valve's in-game stores are clearly labelled with real-money pricing and profits are shared among item-creators, rewarding an involved and productive community.

Team Fortress 2 - Team Fortress 2 isn't terribly coherent these days, but it's still huge fun. Given the number of items that Valve have added over the years, it's a miracle that TF2 remains competitive, but the hard counters that defined its nine classes at launch remain intact, and it's still frequently the funniest game on the internet.

Card Hunter - Card Hunter's premium items feel like a sugary bonus on top of a heap of good loot you'd earn through play anyway, and you always have the welcome choice of being able to pay a flat $20 fee to unlock all of the quests and content, making it a traditional pay-to-play game. It's a friendly and satisfying CCG/turn-based strategy hybrid that's certainly worth your time.

Guild Wars 2 - You'll have to buy the game to play Guild Wars 2, but there's no subscription fee, and many of the XP boosts, dyes and other store goodies are regularly awarded as levelling gifts as you play. Your character's level is less important in Guild Wars 2 than it is in other MMOs, which makes its XP bonuses less essential, and most of the shop is full of inventive cosmetic items.

League of Legends - LoL's rotating selection of playable characters gives players a broad slice of the game, and works well on a try-before-you-buy basis. Aside from buying heroes, you can put money into new skins for your favourite heroes.

Planetside 2 - If you catch a good battle, there's nothing quite like Planetside 2. The huge sci-fi wargame gives new players a lot of war for no money. Players endured a catatonic levelling curve early in its life and its currency system was hugely confusing, but that doesn't dent the spectacle or the experience when you're actually on the battlefield.

Those are just a few. MMO fans might enjoy Rift and Lord of the Rings Online. Tribes: Ascend developers Hi-Rez have moved onto Smite. Action RPG fans should look in on Path of Exile. World of Tanks commits a number of the sins in our list, but has a huge playerbase and a tiered matchmaking system that'll support competitive matches at any level.

Do you steer clear of microtransactions on principle? If so, why? Have you had any particularly bad or unsatisfying experiences buying items in games? Have you been playing a free to play game that you'd like to recommend? Share away in the comments.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to RIFT now available through Steam, developers detail the road to 3.0">RIFT

I had a whole intro planned around the combination of RIFT's fire and water elementals. It would have been like a nature documentary, the end result of which was a little Steam baby. To be honest, though, who wants to be forced into considering the technical difficulties of magmic rutting? And wouldn't creatures from the other planes just feel left out? Instead, we'll try this: RIFT's free-to-play incarnation is on Steam now, should that be the distribution platform that you favour. For existing players, the more significant news is a recent livestream held by the developers, in which they revealed the content roadmap leading up to the next expansion, RIFT 3.0.

Alongside the free download, RIFT's Steam version offers three DLC starter packs: the Ascended, Patron, and all-out ridiculously named Ultimate Hardcore Patron editions. Not that they're needed. RIFT had one of the more impressive free-to-play transitions, essentially giving access to the full game with no real penalties.

As for the future, Junkies Nation diligently wrote up the upcoming features, taken from the livestream. They reveal that update 2.5 is due out soon, and will feature a new sliver, dungeon, new chronicles, and a new questline, which will introduce the new water continent, planned for the 3.0 expansion, and act as a test bed for underwater combat.

Thanks, Massively.

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