For the second time in less than a month, NCsoft has shown wanton disregard for my already-prepared comments for the week, derailing the scheduled Wings Over Atreia with some out-of-the-blue announcement. And not just any announcement, but one that can have a profound effect on Aion in the coming months. What is this announcement, you say? Shall I help you out from that rock you've been slumbering under? Why, last Wednesday's bold free-to-play announcement, of course!
Now, before hyperventilation sets in -- either from glee or disgust -- note that there are set parameters to this specific conversion, including first and foremost that it is for the European market only. And while details aren't exactly pouring forth, there are a few tidbits to pass along, just enough to whet the appetite of future F2P Daevas or enrage current ones.
Breathe into the paper bag and join me past the break for a look at the details that have been revealed and some thoughts on those that have not!
So here's the scoop: Come February 2012, Aion will convert to a free-to-play subscription model in the European market. What does this mean for folks on that side of the pond? According to the PR machine, it means little will change except opening the market up to a wider audience. In fact, NCsoft expects that there will soon be plenty more Deavas flocking to Atreia for grouping and PvP goodness. Well, ignoring the likelihood of a launch-day fiasco, who can argue against more compatriots and more enemies filling out the server? Other than that, NCsoft's devs were quick to say that little would change for current players.
What they say: Free-to-play increases the target audience significantly allowing for more robust server populations.
What I hear: I'm feeling really nostalgic, man. Let's re-live some of those launch-day queues for old-times sake!
Holy free play Batwings!
Surely there is more to it than that, you say. But of course, I reply! Though stop calling me Shirley. Of the details revealed, the outline of the payment models captured my interest most. There will be three distinct levels: Starters (the free group), Veteran, and Gold Pack. The free group is -- drum roll -- free! There will be no cost to sign up, install, or start playing. Starters will have access to every class, level, quest, region, and all equipment in the game. Sounds like a far cry from what many other free-to-play models offer, right? The Veteran group will be comprised of all those who have ever bought and subscribed to Aion in the past, whether the subscription is active or not. This group will enjoy privileges similar to the Gold Pack. The Gold Pack will be a temporary purchase that gives Daevas "full functionality" as well as bonuses like higher AP payouts and (see below) shorter instance cooldown timers.
What they say: All content is available even at the free level.
What I hear: There's a catch...
Can't buy me looooove: Free
The most important question for those impacted by this conversion is what are the restrictions? Can't get everything for nothing, right? Starters do have limits, although the exact scope of the limits isn't necessarily clear; some of the sources coyly hint and dance around without being especially enlightening. So forget the free-to-play blurb on the official website, the press release from Gameforge, and even the less-than-detailed chart of F2P features. Instead, take a gander at this feature list on the FAQ that I dredged up for your viewing pleasure. Reading this, all the little PR speak is swept aside by actual listed facts.
From this chart we learn that the freebs will have daily limits on gathering materials, limited fortress siege rewards, limited ability to sell to NPCs, and increased (yes, increased) instance cooldowns. They won't be able to send mail with attachments, give items or kinah (but they can receive) in trade, open a personal store, or buy or sell on the broker (though they can see listings). So while starters can use all the equipment in game, they will just have to make it themselves or get it as a drop since they can't participate in the economy. That, or get a sugah momma.
Another crippling limitation of this level? Two character slots instead of eight. Two. Since this is game-wide, that means that a player has a severely limited ability to test classes out. If a player has the audacity to want to explore both an Elyos and an Asmodian character, any changes will mean deleting and re-rolling on the respective servers (assuming there is more than one as notes so far indicate server), removing any possibility of testing the waters of classes then coming back to what was preferred. In my humble opinion, this is not a good way to convince people to really give the game a chance.
What they say: A limit of two character slots.
What I hear: Let's force them to delete their characters repeatedly in order to find something they really want to play instead of letting them actually invest themselves in a character because this will really make them want to stay and play and feed more money into the system...
Been there, done that: Veterans
All accounts created before the conversion have the opportunity to be tagged as Veteran. This group will enjoy the game just as players currently do with two main exceptions: increased instance cooldowns and limited fortress siege rewards. It is important to note that only the accounts that agree to move characters over to the new Gameforge server (singular?!) will be bumped to Veteran standing. NCsoft also explains that there will be a way to upgrade an account from Starter to Veteran once the conversion is complete.
Who else noticed the discrepancies in instance timers between sources? The table on the official forums specifically lists "increased," while the Gameforge press release pointedly says "reduced." Which is right? Looking at the list on the second table of features, I'd say OMGWTF increased. Arenas go from 15-minute cooldowns to 46 hours. Dredge? Twenty-two hours. Beshmundir Temple, Udas Temple, and the Empyrean Crucible move to 70 hours. And if you want in an Upper Fort instance or Esoterrace, be prepared to wait 118 hours. Unless, of course, you buy reduced timer scrolls.
What they say: Increased. Reduced. Timers.
What I hear: Let's really mess with their heads!! Hah, seriously, easy money on these scrolls, I'm telling ya.
The Midas touch: Gold Pack
For the players who really do want it all, there is the Gold Pack. What incredible game- and life- altering extras does a so-far-unspecified amount of cold, hard cash get you? A Gold Pack entitles a Daeva receive normal fortress siege rewards and enjoy normal instance cooldown timers. Other benefits include a bonus 20% AP from killing Abyss mobs, 20% more medals from the Crucible, 20 more Courage insignias from the arenas, a huge boost in energy of repose, and 10 XP amulets. The packs are only listed as temporary, and players can determine their duration. Also, only Daevas who buy this pack will be able to accrue and receive veteran rewards.
What they say: We give a bonus to those willing to invest in the game financially.
What I hear: Anyone who wants a chance at competing is gonna pay up. Now, how much should we gouge?
One of the only changes to the actual game system coming with this conversion is adding the ability to access the cash shop from inside the game. This way, Daevas do not have to leave the game to browse and purchase goods. It's not a bad thing really, but what all will be in the cash shop? We already know those reduced cooldown timer scrolls for instances will make an appearance. How else might players have to pay for their game experience?
Reading through all the information available to me, I get the impression that new players might have to pay for the privilege of experiencing Aion's in-depth character creation. This line in Gameforge's press release especially concerns me: "Players are given the opportunity to pay real money to create their own individual character by purchasing, for example, unique pieces of clothing, rare pets or a new hairstyle." While this doesn't explicitly state that the extensive character creation options currently available will become unavailable, the fact that NCsoft is emphasizing that you need to pay for a unique character (including hairstyle) certainly gives one pause, doesn't it?
What they say: Integrating the cash shop with the game will make it a more seamless experience.
What I hear: We want our taking of your money to be as easy and painless as possible for you! We are quite considerate that way.
Resistance is futile
Europe only? Come on. I certainly can't believe that NCsoft is really interested in juggling multiple subscription models across the continents for any length of time. Let's get a pool going on what month the NA servers go F2P!
What they say: The free-to-play conversion is restricted to Europe.
What I hear: Let's just test this baby on these guinea pigs before slapping it on everyone else!
I say June 2012. What's your prediction?
Soaring through the Aionosphere, MJ Guthrie touches down weekly to bring you Wings Over Atreia. Featuring tips, guides, and general snippets of life in Aion, the column is better than Tutty-on-a-stick, ackackackackackack! Have a suggestion to share? No need to bribe a Shugo -- just send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.