Aion Ascension- A new philosphy in Free to Play
Optimism- The Triumph of Hope Over Experience
I was really excited when Aion first came out. It was the first game that I got invited to beta test without having to fork out any money, and I took part in all the weekends. I got a free copy of the final game for my work, and felt like I actually did something worthwhile as far as my hobby was concerned. So I bought a copy for my wife, we got the collectors editions, and set about our adventures in Atrea.
It was great at first, but around level 23, quest dried up. All we were being given is repeatable quest, with nothing to do but grind, we lost interest, and we canceled our subs. It's not the first time this had happened, but we really wanted to like the game, it was pretty, we loved the lore, and expansion possibilities were endless. All that is great, but as the saying goes, you can paint a turd gold, but it's still a turd.
The Companies Dirty Little Secret
So we went back to subscription based games, and when we got bored we would go find a Free to Play MMO. There are some good ones out there, but all MMO's exist for the same reason. To make money. Only the truly naïve really think that game companies stick to some archaic value system and make games a certain way because they think it's the right thing to do. They do it to put food on the table.
My fellow writers on this site, you may love to write, I know I do, but I don't practice honing my skills so I can one day write a novel and give it away. I don't post articles to make someone else money. There is a reason why game companies are companies and they charge money for their games. Whether up front or later on. The ftp model is one that gives players a taste of the game, but the curve of time needed to invest quickly spikes upwards. So if you want to continue to advance, you will have to spend a lot of time doing it.
You can pump in a few dollars and get a boost, cut that time into something more managable. Sure you see it as harmless at first. I mean, you can quit at anytime. Then BAM! You wake up, tons of xp potions around your bed, your head aches, your wife is leaving for some end game heroic geared toon, and your still only halfway through the game. You have come this far, surely you can justify spending a little more.
How Aion does it
So when I heard Aion was going FTP the first thing I thought was this grindy game was going to have some xp pots and some buffs to be purchased that would be required for the end game pvp. I can tell you now though. I was wrong. Oh so wrong. Apparently somewhere between me quitting 3 months after release and going FTP they had made vast improvements to the amount of quest available in game, had restructured the instances so they are not so narrow in terms of entering, and really changed the focus on needing to enter the abyss. But that isn't where the changes ended.
When the Aion team made the claim “truly free” they were not doing so simply cause it was catchy. Here is a list of a few of the things that most FTP games will restrict without buying from the cash shop:
Removing death Penalties
Overcoming extreme XP curves
Unlocking races, classes, and skills
Ease of Travel
In game crafting success chances
Then of course there are sometimes weapons and other gear that can be bought that is superior in quality to what you can buy. In the new Aion FTP model, none of these things are present. There are NO restrictions on what class you can play, how you can design your character, how much in game money you can make, what level you can go to. As a matter of fact the gold sinks that were previously in the game are almost all gone. Skills and travel, removing death penalties immediately, these things have all decreased in game currency cost, and can't be purchased with actual money.
The entire subscription game is available for free. Aion lets you do anything in the game without having to pay a cent. The xp curve needed to level is fairly standard and on par with subscription based games, and the game was developed as a AAA subscription game, so none of that quality has gone anywhere.
The only thing that may turn people off on the game is “forced” pvp. There are zones in the game that world pvp is rampant, its called the abyss, and sections of the expansion content where there is world pvp too, but there are also equal sections where you can quest with no issues, and PVE to level cap with almost no pvp issues. I say almost none, because there is a rifting system, but the way it is set up, a higher level toon gets a debuff when attacking a lower level toon, or the lower gets a buff, regardless, point is a higher level toon can't even hit a lower level toon. So no worries about ganking.
To avoid this turning into an Aion review, I am going to quit talking about the different features that it offers and the ways that it breaks the mold of the FTP mindset, just basically keep in mind that there is no VIP or otherwise way you can subscribe to the game for a better experience, there is a cash shop, and there are boost, but nothing that would give you an edge competitively.
What really caught my eye with this whole system was the whole concept that was adopted with this FTP model. Every FTP MMORPG ultimately has a point where you are more or less forced to either pay, start over, or quit using their bandwidth. Aion doesn't force that decision, the whole game is only enjoyable if many people are playing, so their whole concept is about making the game enjoyable to play and not giving any reason not to. The theory was if your having fun with it, you will spend money on it. If you don't your participation might make someone else enjoy enough to spend their money instead.
I can see where they can afford to do this, Aion is wildly popular in the east, so that's where they make the most of their money off of the game. Now I am pretty sure as long as they can pay for their on expenses in the US the game is in no danger of going the way of the Matrix Online, or Lego Universe.
After thinking about this, would you give this company your money? Knowing that your not being coerced into doing so, and that your gaming experience isn't lessened without it? Or would you just play for free since you can with no ill effects? I have given NCsoft some money, and got some sweet xp boost that to be honest I didn't even need, I just wanted to tell them thank you for a great experience.