In case you've been living under a rock, NCsoft MMO Aion releases this week. More than 400,000 people are lined up to play the Korean fantasy import, and it's looking very much like this is the largest MMO event of the year by a substantial margin.
To celebrate, we had a chat with brand manager Christian-Peter Heimbach at NCsoft's Brighton office on westernizing the game, plans for the future and plenty more.
After the break.
VG247: The fact that it's already a mature Korean MMO must give you a big headstart, as opposed to launching something fresh for the west?
Christian-Peter Heimbach: Definitely.
This is version 1.5: you've done a big build on what's already been launched in Asia. Can you just talk briefly about what you've done to get it ready for western launch?
We can separate it in terms of what we changed for content and taste, what you could call "westernization" of the title. We brought in more gameplay elements that are fancied by our players. For example, we rewrote some of the quests so that they're easier and gettable for us, so that the tonality of the quests... gives you much more of the big picture and your role in the overall story. It's fine in the Asian markets to say, "Bring me ten of those," rather than, "Bring me ten of those so that we can be here to support the overall battle."
We did these rewritings, and gameplay-wise we brought in some big bits. For instance, our players love instances, and our players love to have much more of an individual, single-player game where they can explore more. Asian markets are looking more into competitive gameplay, so we added more exploration content that comes down to new continents. We now have over 20 instances. We've now finally brought in the PvPvE marriage, so, for example, when your PvP players in a legion take over a fortress, now your PvE players can now teleport into this fortress and can enter a PvE instance there that gives them the same points they would normally need to gain via PvP.
We're giving all players the chance to get the same rewards regarding the gameplay. So these are the big bits that we adjusted.
You're using flight as a gameplay element as a hook for the game. Why do you think that flight in general adds a richness to the game?
First of all we made it richer by taking a step back, and that's something that is very a hard discussion for the players, but when we show the philosophy they all understand. We limited flight down to certain zones and certain times. It gets strategic, because you have to think when to fly, how to fly, how to find the right measure of using your powers. No one would ask you, "Why don't I have unlimited money in the game?" The in-game economy would make no sense. Say there is a legion that wants to take over, say, an island in the Abyss. They really have to think in terms of an invasion. They have to have discipline in starting at the same time to arrive safely; they have to think in waves. If they arrive, the enemy can still flee, so there are Sun Tzu kind of tactics in that the one who runs to the battlefield has a disadvantage.
You're running a head start program for pre-orders, obviously to incentivize people to pre-order, but there's this constant internet argument about whether or not head start programs are a good idea. Why do you think they're a good idea? Obviously, they create an immediate tier system.
We have a strong community [including] people that are with us for a long time, and they really supported us a lot... We want to give them the benefit of [being] with us.
On top of that, we have a lot of fansites and partners that also give us a lot of support, and with the headstart we can even out the different street dates between North America and Europe. We can give everyone the chance to be there at day one and have all kinds of chances to have assets for their own fansites and stuff.
We have a strong belief in the game. We know the quality... and we also have hard numbers, as Vero already confirmed. We're happy to say that we're really confident.
The next thing to prove, of course, is that we can keep this up. I think there's a solid audience out there eager to play a new MMO, so I think we're on a good path.
Obviously as the game has a Korean core, from what I've been told by people playing the beta, there's a grindy element to it, a definite "get to the next level" element. Do you ever fear of that element no sitting well with North American and European audiences?
We took care that this got softened with all these content additions. When you talk to people playing the beta, you have to separate between those playing the closed beta and those playing the open beta. The closed beta was still on version 1.0, that had a much stronger Korean core than version 1.5, being played in the open beta.
Have you westernised the end-game content as well?
Yes. Most of the instances come at a higher level. Most of the reward-driven gameplay, when you takeover fortresses, comes into the proper play of the game in the mid-game to end-game, and that's when we start to go away from content-burning gameplay, rather into repetitive gameplay element, with fortress taking-over, with high score lists, who is the most successful guilds, and stuff like this. You come into gameplay we're not having to make content all the time; the players will make the content.
What about post-launch support, then? How often are you planning on adding content?
There will be at least one major update a year. You know this from our previous titles. We're currently adjusting on how we're going to make these available, but there will be free content updates for all players, and we're looking then at how big the major updates will be.