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Interview: Aion Changes The Game At NCSoft

As NCsoft launches its Empyrean Calling 2.5 update to Aion this week, Gamasutra talks with the MMORPG's team about the game's evolution in the past two years and localizing features for different regions.

Christian Nutt, Contributor

May 25, 2011

9 Min Read

As NCsoft launches its Empyrean Calling 2.5 update to Aion this week, Gamasutra talks with the MMORPG's team about the game's evolution in the past two years and localizing features for different regions. When Aion launched in North America in September 2009, many praised the subscription-based online title for its polish and visual design, but other criticized it for requiring players to grind for hours before reaching more entertaining portions of the game. Aion has made an effort to ease the grind and expand its offerings through regular updates, like today's 2.5 patch that adds a mentor system for low-level characters, two new instances, character customization and pet system enhancements, new skills, and more. NCsoft is also introducing a 10-day free trial option to Aion tomorrow, allowing new players to play the game with a 20-level cap. The MMORPG will begin hosting various in-game events designed to provide players "with a true taste of the game", too. Gamasutra sat down with associate producer Adam Christensen, GameGuide lead Scott Hannus, and GameGuide content writer Sean Orlikowski to discuss how Aion has changed since its launch, and managing the different play styles of Korean and American users. Aion was a game where the push was to make sure the content was developed in concert and localized in concert so the feedback was going bi-directionally with the Korean team. How have those efforts panned out? Adam Christensen: It's kind of a living breathing thing that we slowly have to nurture, but the relationship with the devs over in Korea, I would definitely say is getting better for sure. We're making steps in the right direction with each significant update. With developing the overseas build is a process of communication that's constantly going back and forth between us and NCsoft West and NCsoft Seoul. And we're in contact with them on a daily basis. From the NC West perspective, how have you felt about the uptake of the game and the audience response in the U.S. market? AC: We're definitely excited about it. We want to try and provide the best experience that we can for the North American players. That's something that we're always having to re-examine because there's a huge significant different between the play styles of the players in South Korea and the players here, so we're constantly having to examine that via the community and the feedback we get directly from the players, whether it be on the forums or submitted tickets from customer service. We're always trying to re-examine how we can make it a better experience for the North American players. So, when we get feedback from the players, we try to wind it around and spin it into a way that we can directly make an increase to the quality of life within the game. I've gotten the impression that there is definitely a cultural difference in how players in different markets play games, not just Korea and North America but also even in Europe and Japan and other places. Trying to satisfy those different styles seems tricky. AC: Yeah. Totally tricky. I mean, if you want to look at something in particular, look at like fortress sieges that we have within Aion. We have opportunities to gather everyone together and take over a fortress. In Korea, if one faction has owned the fortress for too long, there's even some instances where they'll actually give it up just to keep the game fresh and new for everyone. So, if they've had it for long enough, they basically just turn it over to the other faction I don't think the North American players would. You know, you'd be hard-pressed to find a time where the North American players would just give it out just because the game's health was dependent on it, you know what I mean? So, to keep the gameplay fresh and everything like that, we're always trying to come up with better ideas on how we can better maintain that quality of life. Would you say that's due to the specific audience you've attracted? Or is that more just a cultural North American thing? AC: I think it would probably be a mixture of both. When you talk about fortress sieges, of course you're going to be referring to one specific audience within the Aion world, and that would be people who are really into PvP. And so that audience is, you know, pretty hardcore. They care a lot about faction balance and everything like that. They're going to do their best to maintain fortress ownership and maintain faction supremacy and everything like that. But I think there's definitely a little bit of both in there. There are cultural differences and style of play differences. The Korean seems to have a more general casual PvP than we do, where a casual audience would approach PvP more openly. AC: Oh yeah. That definitely plays a part in it, too. There are so many different styles of play out there, so it's hard to pinpoint one contributing factor. One thing we're always trying to do is work with community, as well. Like I mentioned earlier, the direct player feedback that we get and how we can spin that into improvements in the game, we try to maintain the interest of both the PvPers and the PvPEers, and just the plain PvEers. There's all those different audiences that we always have to maintain balance with game content and everything like that. The community has actually been able to come up with some events that are trying to appeal to those people. We run an event called "For War And Glory," which is the rifting event where we actually open up the capability of rifting. Rifting is basically teleporting to the opposite faction's territory, so you can go in and straight-up PvP.  That's something they actually put the kibosh on in Korea, and we have buffs in place so that rifting was significantly weakened. So, during these rifting events, we actually take away those buffs. This is an opportunity that we want to give the players who want to PvP to be able to go in and be able to do that. Scott Hannus: I think it's also worth mentioning that one of the reasons we did it is we sent out these surveys to players, and it turned out that 70 percent of the population in the Western territory like casual PvP or hardcore PvP from time to time. So, by seeing that data, we said, "Hey, we need to put this back in." AC: And right now we're running these events on kind of a week-on, week-off basis so we can try to appeal to both. You know, one thing I've heard spoken about is the difference between the audience you want and the audience you have. AC: Right. Which audience do you operate the game for? AC: All I can really say about that, like I've been mentioning, that's one of the reasons why we're constantly trying to get feedback, to take a proper gauge of what the audience is that we have. There's almost this vocal minority. The people that speak on our forums are not always going to be the majority of players. It's going to be the most vocal. So, we want to try and find every way we can to really be in touch with the pulse of the players and really find out what they need and what they want for an enjoyable game experience. SH: That's something both the game guide and the community work on together. We play Aion. We see the changes in the game. Sean, he's played Aion since... Sean Orlikowski: Beta. SH: ...the dawn of time. I mean, we all have an idea of, you know, what players want, what they expect in the game. SO: Mostly because it's what we want to do. So, we're our own advocates in a lot of cases. Having played Aion since the dawn of time, has the shape it's been taking been satisfying? SO: Yeah. One thing I mentioned in earlier interviews is I just leveled another character recently. I had two characters previously that I had leveled early on, and I just went through and leveled another one. It's literally night and day how much easier it is to level, how much more experience you get for the quests you're doing, how much content there is to help you along toward the next level. So, it's an unfortunate stigma that's stuck with this game since the beginning when some of that content wasn't there. We've really been trying to communicate that Aion is a very different game than what it was even a year ago with all these player-driven content updates that we've come up with for feedback. Well, it's really hard to convince people to either come back. I mean, I don't know how hard it is to convince people to hop on a train that's still in motion, but it's definitely hard to get people to come back to it. SH: Yeah. We have been very successful with our re-activation events, re-activating accounts. Every time our population has seen a significant bump from doing those. I think we are reaching out to that audience. We're hoping to do that with 2.5 as well. AC: And like you said about getting new people to come in, we actually have a free trial system that we're going to be implementing as well. It's something we haven't really done before. It's a ten-day pretty much unrestricted free trial. You can get as far as you can. The only restrictions are some safeguards. That's interesting. I mean, at this point, there are a lot of mature games in the market. There are a lot of games with large audiences, so pulling people has got to be harder than it's ever been, I think. And there's a lot of free games, and whether or not the free games are any good, they're still free. And some of them are. At this point, some of them are good also. AC: Yeah. Some of them are quite good. Some are a lot better than they were two years ago. SH: Yeah. For sure. It's interesting to see the evolution of a game and seeing people keep a game going, and seeing a game take new shapes because ultimately very often we only end up, you know, hearing about games when they launch. AC: Right. Games are breathing entities now. AC: That's right. SH: Especially with MMOs more than anything else out there. SO: Aion is definitely taking a new shape with how it was. Like I said before, from day one to now, it's a very [significant] difference in gameplay and how easy it is to get to the fun stuff where you want to go.

About the Author(s)

Christian Nutt


Christian Nutt is the former Blog Director of Gamasutra. Prior to joining the Gamasutra team in 2007, he contributed to numerous video game publications such as GamesRadar, Electronic Gaming Monthly, The Official Xbox Magazine, GameSpy and more.

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