Interview: Aion's Steam Return and the Future of the MMORPG
Aion has been around the block before. It's done the whole Steam launch way back when. When converting to free-to-play though, Steam didn't really offer the ability to support the type of model NCSoft had in mind for its free-to-play MMORPG. Years later though, the game is returning to Steam and I had a chance to sit down and talk with Sean Orlikowski, Associate Brand Manager, and Michael Shreffler, Assistant Producer, about the Steam launch, how Aion has evolved, and what the future holds for the game.
Magicman (MM): Aion was released here in the West back in 2009 and went free-to-play in 2012. Why is Steam the right move after already being out for 6 years?
Sean Orlikowski (SO): When Aion launched, we were day and date with Steam back then also. The partnership worked out great for us back then but when we made the transition to free to play, Steam wasn’t in the same place it is now as far as support for our business model. As Steam does though, they embraced the new market and started catering to free to play titles, offering great exposure to their huge user base so we thought it was a good time to revisit our partnership with them and bring some fun new collectible content to Aion at the same time through their Trading Card and Badge systems.
MM: In previous press releases it is stated that Aion’s Western player base has been growing ever since launch. Can you give us a “status of the game” report in the West?
SO: One of the great things about Aion in the West is that it has all the content that the core game receives in Korea. We can offer a completely free game that has all the funding of a major AAA title because that work is already being done. Even major updates, such as the upcoming 5.0 expansion, are offered to our customers as free content without any pay gates and I think that’s a pretty big deal in the West. We have a solid, dedicated, and very passionate player base and we hope to expand upon that with our launch on Steam. In fact, we’re opening our first new server since free to play launch because of it. More on that below!
MM: We’ve seem other MMORPGs that have different publishers in different regions of the world get into a bit of an issue with Steam releases. Will Aion’s Steam client have any regional exclusions? If so, can you explain what they will be?
Michael Shreffler (MS): - Aion is licensed by a few different companies in various regions. For now, Aion on Steam will only be accessible to players in North America, South America, Australia and New Zealand.
MM: The Steam launch also adds a new server for Aion. This is the first server added since the free-to-play transition. All players can play on this server. Why a new server instead of just making existing servers more populated with the influx of Steam players?
SO: When bringing in a large group of players such as Steam launch has the potential to do, it’s important to give those players a choice and make sure they’re being taken care of. We have 4 servers that are full of max level players with gear. Those servers also have an established economy that’s been changing for years. Asking new players to jump into servers like that could be overwhelming for some, so we wanted to offer a fresh server for everyone to start on equal ground. It also provides a clean slate for existing players who want to experience a new server once again. For others who are looking for established, veteran legions and experienced players, our core servers are available and happy to welcome in new blood.
MM: Can I link an existing account to the Steam version of the game?
SO: Any account can log in to either our existing service or Steam, assuming there are no regional blockers preventing the Steam download. They could even get started today and download the client on Steam on Thursday to pick up where they left off.
MS: Provided there are no regional blockers, any account can be linked to Steam. The linking is automatic and will happen the first time you log in to the Aion client through Steam.
MM: The latest expansion, Upheaval, launched back in June. What’s the reception been like? What content have players found to be the most exciting?
SO: We’re not going to lie, Upheaval was pretty shocking for many players. Entire zones, some that were in the game for years and some for only months, were utterly destroyed and removed from the game. We understand this decision wasn’t as popular with some players as others, but it is very important to the story of Aion. Those who remember the original lore know that the world was shattered due to this conflict between the Daevas and the Balaur. It is important to show that Beritra’s lust for power knows no boundary. He was willing to sink continents and kill thousands for a single, powerful artifact. While losing zones sucks from a player standpoint, I hope it at least gave them some kind of emotion as to what they’re fighting for and what they’re up against.
MS: In addition to what Sean mentions, Upheaval brought two brand new areas, Cygnea and Enshar, as well as the player’s first battle against Beritra. In addition to the sweeping changes to the world, Upheaval also brought many changes to several important game systems. Many of the quality-of-life changes were received very well, especially a large reorganization of the skill system that trimmed the fat and removed or fixed many redundant and under-powered skills.
MM: What’s coming down the pike? What can Aion players look forward to next?
SO: Steam is the big thing in the immediate future. Our 4.9 update, which Michael will detail a bit below, will drop in November. Beyond that, we’ve got the major 5.0 expansion to look forward to. The expansion goes live on 11/11 in Korea and we’re looking to have it for our territory somewhere in the first half of next year, depending on its size and scope of course. As I said above, that will be a 100% free expansion for all players as well.
MS: 4.9 will bring a major overhaul to the Abyss, one of Aion’s primary PvPvE zones, as well as a new solo instance and some advancement to the story. Additionally, it contains further improvements to important game systems as well as expanding on a few of them. This update will be dropping in November and we’re confident players will really enjoy it.
MM: Asmodian or Elyos? (You should know that I favor “Blood for Blood”) :)
SO: This is going to sound like a cop-out but I actually love both of the races. I love the look of the Elyos and their vibrant world, but the Asmodians have this really great and stoic nature about them. They’re not arrogant, they’re hard working and will never stop fighting for what they believe in. On that note, we are still offering incentives for players who roll an Asmodian on some of the imbalanced servers. You get free gear and items as you level and discounts on certain items on the store just for being an Asmodian. So if you’re just joining the game, now is a great time to issue that glorious war cry, BLOOD FOR BLOOD!
MS: Sean’s much more diplomatic than I am. I’ve always preferred to play Asmodian characters. Elyos are fun too I guess, haha. In all seriousness, though, both races have a great story and background and to get all of what Aion has to offer, I would encourage players to try both.
Our thanks to Sean and Michael for taking time out to speak with us and if you want to check out the Aion Steam client you can get started here.
About the Author
Mike “Magicman” Byrne has been a part of the MMOBomb family for years and serves as the site’s current Editor-in-Chief. His love for MMOs and gaming in general has led him to covering games for numerous websites including Gamebreaker TV and XIV Nation where he proudly displays his fanboy flag for FFXIV:ARR.
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