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Q&A: NCsoft's Aion Team On Increasing Engagement Through Guides

NCsoft Game Guide lead Scott Hannus explains how the company's evolving policy of providing guides helps the team communicate details about the game and inform players.
Hardcore MMOs have a problem. They need tremendous depth to keep a paying audience around, but that can make them complicated and inaccessible. For years, third party sites have provided comprehensive information on just how to play these games to help solve that problem. Korea's NCsoft has another idea. The company has launched its own Game Guides -- wiki-like documents that cover the games exhaustively. The team hopes that these will help bring new players into the fold and also inform current fans. "It's basically almost like a wiki but the staff creates all the information for it," says Game Guide lead Scott Hannus. "It's like an official wiki that we create for the players. We create articles about different game mechanics, how to play the game, how to run through an instance dungeon, or like how to PVP." Recently Gamasutra had a chance to speak to Hannus about using these guides to drive engagement with Aion, helping to guide players and also help them maintain a continued interest in the game. What's the goal of the Game Guide? It's really just to inform players, to provide them with the information they need. You know, MMOs can be very confusing, especially for casual players, so we just want to give them enough information to say, "Hey, you're this level now. You should go here. You should do this" -- just basically to educate them on different things. That's one of the things that [about] NCsoft, and the Aion team specifically, is unique. A lot of other MMO companies rely on fansites to provide that information. We have our own team dedicated to doing that for fans, so we try to provide the most accurate in-depth information we can. Why do it internally? Well, I think the advantage is that we can actively QA things. We can make sure that we get out the right information, official information. A lot of time with fansites, there's a lot of speculation about, what it actually does -- game mechanics and that kind of thing. So we can work directly with the developers, with production, to understand things that players just have to make assumptions about. What sort of effect have you noticed it having on the player base? Especially in Korea, it's had an extremely positive effect on their overall culture. Players participate in the Game Guide and make comments on it all the time, just really taking an active role on trying to facilitate information for all the users who play the game. And here we've had some trouble replicating that, but I'd say we're on the right path for doing that. Is it an idea that came out of the Korean side? Yes. Originally it was something that they decided that they wanted to do, and they wanted to extend that to the Western market. You said that while it maybe didn't take off at first, it's been getting some uptake recently. Can you talk about what has helped your player base get interested in it? There are a lot of fansites that went up initially, like Aion Armory and Aion Database, that had similar information. What we do is we kind of provide a different service from those. I'd say our information is like "how to," whereas theirs is for if you're looking for a specific piece of data on an item or something. So, I think initially we were trying to do that, trying to create that database thing, but ultimately we realized, "Hey, we need to have writers here creating all these guides, making all this content." So, I think the Game Guide has evolved a lot in the last several years, to where it's a lot more focused on articles and that kind of thing, than just having game data. And we've also expanded our team, too. We've gotten a lot bigger in the last couple of years. Initially we just had a couple of people working on it. It was harder to keep up with all the updates and everything. For [Aion update] 2.5 especially, we've been ramping up on the content for that. Again, we have kind of game experts for all the other departments, so we work with production... They ask us, "How does this system work? How can we use this? How can we market this to players? How can we inform players about this?" That kind of thing. Different companies have experimented with ways of connecting this kind of information to their players over the years, but I don't think they've really stuck. Yeah, I think that's true as well. I think the Korean team especially is extremely dedicated to this, moving forward. I mean, they really want to move this over here into the West. And I think personally that would be a great move -- to be able to create kind of like a comprehensive database for every title we have, to have that information for players, so we can really connect. [We'd] work with the community team, work with the Korean team, so we can inform players about all these game mechanics, and also kind of give them outlets of, "Hey, this is what's fun to do at this level. This is what you should do. This is how you do it." Not necessarily give them all the information, but enough information so they can experience it for themselves.

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