Q&A: What free-to-play means for Aion

Aion publisher NCsoft answers questions about its fantasy MMOG turning free-to-play in February.

GameSpot UK: Why is Aion going free-to-play?

Gameforge has built up a reputation as the premier publisher of free-to-play massively multiplayer online games in Europe while NCsoft is known to produce only the best in MMOs. Bringing these two strengths together to create the next big free-to-play MMO was the logical step to take.

Our goal with going free-to-play is to bring the Aion experience to as many players as possible across the whole of Europe. Transitioning to a free-to-play model will allow us to show to all these players and fans of MMORPGs what the Aion experience is all about and why it is still the number one MMORPG in Korea today.

GSUK: Aion already had an in-game shop; how will this change in the move to free-to-play?

The current shop for the subscription version of Aion was only available outside of the game. For the free-to-play version, we have worked with the developers at NCsoft to integrate the shop directly into the game client to ensure a much more coherent user experience. This will make it much easier and more enjoyable for players to browse the available services and microtransaction options in the in-game shop.

GSUK: We've seen Champions Online, Star Trek Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, Dungeons & Dragons Online, and now Aion all go free-to-play after launching as subscription-based titles. Is the subscription-based MMO no longer a viable format unless you're World of Warcraft?

Compared to a subscription model, the free-to-play model offers developers and publishers alike the possibility to reach out to a much wider audience of players. Not having any required payments increases your target audience dramatically and will allow you to fill the world with higher numbers of players to group with or to go up against each other in player versus player, making for a much livelier and challenging experience.

GSUK: What gameplay changes will be necessitated by the move to free-to-play?

Apart from slight changes that we have made to the interface, such as integrating the in-game shop and displaying additional information in regards to the free-to-play system, no changes to the core gameplay have been made. The game will be the same great experience in free-to-play, as it is in the subscription version now.

GSUK: Would Aion have been better off launching as a free-to-play MMOG?

When Aion launched back in 2009, the free-to-play business model was only just emerging, so launching the game as a boxed and subscription-based game was the right decision at the time. However, since then, the market has changed rather dramatically, and changing to a free-to-play model is the right move at the right time.

GSUK: Is a subscription-based phase now just a normal early development phase of the MMO business model?

While more and more games will directly launch into a free-to-play business model in the future, for some games that start out with a subscription model, the market has shown that transitioning to free-to-play has become a valid option to extend a game's life cycle.

However, switching a game to a free-to-play model is a significant effort and should not be taken lightly, but only a few publishers and developers alike understand how to approach and realize the free-to-play model.

So it certainly can be a viable option for more MMOs in the future. Companies such as Gameforge who specialize in publishing and developing free-to-play games have gathered experience and knowledge in this area for years. This is also what makes it possible to realize a huge endeavor such as transitioning Aion to free-to-play.

GSUK: Will you be keeping a subscription-based plan in place? And will this result in some sort of premium experience?

At the core of our free-to-play model is the creed that any player can experience the whole of the game's game content for free. In contrast to other games that have switched to free-to-play, we will not have any artificial restrictions on levels, classes, content, or PVP.

The whole game that has been available for a subscription in the past will essentially be available for free without requiring any sort of payment.

For the free-to-play version, we will have two basic account types: Free and Veteran. Any player who has purchased the original boxed version of Aion and created an account with it will receive the Veteran account type, while new players will start the game as a Free account.

These Free Accounts will have some restrictions applied to protect players from bots and real-money trading, which will not be applied to the Veteran accounts.

In addition to these account types, all players have the choice to purchase a Gold Pack, which, for a limited time, not only removes all the restrictions from their account, but also gives additional benefits to improve the game experience, such as lower instance cooldown times, increased PVP currency rewards, and more. We are currently evaluating if we will provide this Gold Pack as an optional subscription service.

GSUK: It's not been long since the 2.7 update landed; by the time the game goes free-to-play, can we expect another major title update?

Before the transition to free-to-play, there will be no additional major updates to Aion. However, in preparing for post-release, we are already working on the coming updates to ensure that European players can experience them as soon as possible.

GSUK: What other developments in Aion can we expect in the future? A higher level cap or any new races?

One of the great strengths of Aion and its developer NCsoft has always been the frequency at which updates were supplied to the game. NCsoft did a great job in updating the game since its launch, providing multiple updates each year and adding new levels, areas, quests, dungeons, and gameplay features.

NCsoft and Gameforge are aiming to maintain this update frequency to ensure that Aion continues to stay ahead of the competition. The change to a free-to-play business model will have no impact on the planned updates for Aion.

The version 2.7 update, under which the transition to free-to-play will happen, is actually not necessarily considered a major update by the developers. While version 2.7 already added lots of new content and features, the next really big update for Aion will be version 3.0, which has just been published to the live servers in Korea.

Version 3.0 will dramatically add to the existing game, not only increasing the level cap by five levels and introducing new zones, skills, and a mount system to the game, but also by implementing a full-blown housing system that allows players to own and decorate and their own personal houses in the game. We will be talking more about this exciting update in the coming months.

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26 comments
Battlemed
Battlemed

Aion went free to play simply because it didn't live to people expectation, and lost alot of subscribers (me included). I remember when the game launched, the servers were so full they had to open up new servers. After some months, they had to merge servers, because too many were almost empty ^^. So why spending monthly for a game that doesn't satisfies me? At least with free to play, they gain subscriptions back.

PinkyLord
PinkyLord

yee finaly free to play what else i dont even know what game to play there are so many f2p games ahh so i stick with aion. dc univers. forsaken. perfect world. wordl of warkraft. allods online. conan. batle of imortals and silkroad.silkroadR. lord of the rings :D and that not all i tired to write

Philly1UPer
Philly1UPer

@b10nutz The reason the servers are full again is because people don't have to pay monthly fees to play an online game. when people hear Free, they only think of one thing "I don't have to pay money to play this? Lets give it a go again until I lose interest and something better comes out."

Philly1UPer
Philly1UPer

@Snaptrap Noooo, F2P is pretty much the developers saying "Yeah, we don't have anywhere near the amount of subs to keep interest high in this game" Look at DCU going F2P on PS3 and PC. It didn't go F2P because of it being successful and they could get good money from in game micro transactions, it went F2P because people weren't retarded enough to pay 15.99 a month. Age of Conan is another example. People just lost interest, even after the expansion and subs went down. MMO Developers make their games F2P simply because people lose interest and have no reason to add on to the insane amount of money they would put into an MMO game.

simon1812
simon1812

I think it is about being competitive and staying in business, there are too many MMOs out there and they are mostly free to play, what do u think most newcomers will do? they will try the free games first if they dont get hook up -and probably they will- they may get curious and do some homework about the games that demand monthly fee. but still the games following the F2P model will still look more attractive. the idea of paying a monthly fee for a videogame is preposterous most kids or teens wont be able to convince their parents it is worth it.

Xeogua
Xeogua

They mentioned Europe, but what about America? Will I be able to try this game out finally?

Snaptrap
Snaptrap

@Gelugon_baat Some games are free to play but not free to download.

bboyart
bboyart

I'm not so much troubled by free-to-play model as much as I'm with publishers who become greedy and tax the air u breed in-game. Most of them after +6 months from start of f2p game start pushing into item shop crystals/stones/scrolls/other enchantement that give higher refinement than original ones from NPC, also they modify difficulty of end content instances so u can't kill bosses if u have not refined all your gear with item shop enchants (and it usualy cost around aproximate 2 years subscription to modify all gear). Then u get even higher enchantements in item shop and u need to dish out more money again. After 2 months new instances and more gear comes so u have to pay again. In conclusion playing f2p for one year can buy u 3-4 years of subscription gaming or nice number of boxed payed games. Addicting players and then squizing them for money and precious time is what drug dealers do, they exploit their customers. That kind of behavior should not be legal and I would love to see european Pirate Party or other institution looking over this.

Ramiro00
Ramiro00

I don t think it s bad to be free 2 play. The only problem this type of system has is that the ones with money go up higher in the ranks because they have better gear faster exp. points etc.

sangdolee
sangdolee

yay!! now im gonna try this one i always wanted to play this game now free omg ^^ thanks thanks ~

Snaptrap
Snaptrap

@Philly1UPer I don't know why you keep spewing this rubbish in regard to F2P games. Some companies prefer their games to launch as "free to play" because they have a different belief in providing a service for a game people paid for. ArenaNet is a good example of a company who supports that belief. Does that mean the game sucks? Hardly. GW launched with rave reviews. Some companies also switch to experiment with F2P even when they're doing well enough with a subscription. That's because there are F2P games which have so many players that they earn as much from mini transactions as they would from a subscription.

Szeiden
Szeiden

What free to play means for Aion: I'm never going to play Aion.

Rammone-X
Rammone-X

@fatee: One man's meat is another man's poison.

fatee
fatee moderator

i'll never understand why any of fools PAY per month to GRIND. so you PAY to WORK, is grinding honestly more fun then skyrim? BF3? MW3? Dark Souls? Can you honestly tell me "weee leveling for 80+ hours is so much fun and I love paying for it"?

Battlemed
Battlemed

I don't want to play the "trolololo guy" but I knew this game would become sooner or later F2P. Many claim that this is a PVP game, but even in that field, it was a failure. Templars and Gladiators stood no chance against Clerics and Sorcerers, even with Full Fenris/Miragent set. Personal experience....

b10nutz
b10nutz

@Philly1UPer i don't agree whit you at the fact that free to play isn't profitable, i can tell you that my friends already spent on Lineage 2 (become free to play less than 1 month i think) in 2 weeks more than in 1 year subscription (and probably other ppl to) so tell me what do you think it's more profitable? And the fact is that you could play the game relax even without those items from the shop :).... also from what i see the servers are once again full and lots of new ppl playing....

fustahman24
fustahman24

Philly1UPer Actually LOTRO was doing fine with its 800k subscriber base, but decided to shift to F2P model once they realized that the market for sub based mmos is dwindling. The average consumer prefers F2P over sub based. The numbers don't lie.

Philly1UPer
Philly1UPer

What "Free to Play" means in general for any MMO is that, the game pretty much lost interest amongst players and they decided to take their money somewhere else and thats, that. I've never heard or read about any developer saying "Aw man, this MMO is doing really, really good. Its doing so good that we have to go to a F2P model!"

tagz00100z
tagz00100z

u gota give it to wow tho, they holding together even after years. while other games go free.

commando1992
commando1992

Free Accounts "protect players" by limiting half the game to them. To play the full game, you have to pay for it, the same as if you were paying a monthly fee. F2P is a farce, people.

oopomop
oopomop

People need to stop saying things that were true at launch and comparing them to now. The game may have changed quite a bit. I've personally never played aion, but have played many other mmos where they sucked at launch, and a year or so down the road people are complaining that the game sucks because of something that was fixed a week after launch. It's like today, saying germany is full of nazis. It's not true. Sure there may be some there, but the majority of the population are normal people with normal lives.

VikingPhobos
VikingPhobos

Too much grinding. I hate grinding games. Everyone should do what GuildWars did and make a PvP only server, where you're instant high lvl.

Breyant
Breyant

Aion is fun until about level 15. Making the game free to play isn't going to change that!

TheTrueObelus
TheTrueObelus

I don't care how pretty this game is. As long as it's a grind I'm not playing it

momoh410
momoh410

Can people outside of Europe play at their servers? :)