Ahead of Legends of Aria’s upcoming free-to-play release, we had a chance to catch up with Executive Producer Jeffrey ‘Miphon’ Edwards and take a look back at where the game came from, why it is going free-to-play, and what this change means for both new and existing Aria fans.

Magicman(MM): Thanks for spending some time with us! Before we get started can you introduce yourselves to our readers and walk us through what you do on a typical day with Legends of Aria?

Jeffrey Edwards (JE): It’s an absolute pleasure! My name is Jeffrey ‘Miphon’ Edwards, and I am the Executive Producer on Legends of Aria. Citadel Studios is an independent team funded solely by our players, this makes us a particularly driven yet small team. It also means we don many hats. A day in the life of a Producer on such a team can be particularly wide and varied, but you’ll mostly find me working with the design team, offering ideas and creative direction. I work closely with marketing and community management to ensure our message is getting out there, and I also work alongside our fearless leader Supreem (Derek Brinkmann) on Product Management and other more boring company-wide tasks.

MM: Legends of Aria is advertised as a “Moddable Sandbox MMORPG.” Can you take us through exactly what that means? Most people think of MMORPG modding as more of a UI or data add-on, but Legends of Aria seems to be more than that.

JE: Legends of Aria is, to my knowledge, the only commercial MMO to allow you to change just about everything, and not only that, we distribute to you the source files to work with. Modders of Legends of Aria have full access to our live production files (minus premium items and services). This offers an invaluable source of assets and information should players want to make some modifications to the live game or to use it as a resource, or tear it apart and start over. It’s possible to build Neverwinter Nights style modules for players to progress through a scripted narrative adventure. We’ve also had players build PubG style battle royale games, and others have been meticulously bringing over entirely new rulesets and combat mechanics from pen and paper games. In addition to mechanics, modders can create UI elements and even import custom maps and assets to be used alongside our existing assets, or in creating an entirely new experience. There really are few limitations when it comes to what can be achieved.

MM: Legends of Aria initially launched with a box fee and a subscription (well, technically the subscription was related to server costs according to the FAQ). In a time where box fees and subscriptions are a risky way to go without a seriously well-known IP, what made the team decide on this initial launch model?

JE: I believe the subscription being referred to would only apply to Modders running a live service as Citadel Studios do maintain and run some aspects of this service. Legends of Aria (formerly Shards Online) has up until now always been a B2P (Buy-to-play) game without a subscription. Our origins with Kickstarter are a big part of this business model as our initial offering, Shards Online, was much smaller in scope, and pledges are the cornerstone offering when kickstarting a game. Following the end of the Kickstarter, these naturally matured into similarly priced pledges and Early Access offerings.

In the years following our Kickstarter, we moved from strength to strength, and our player base was asking us for something bigger and bolder than we had previously thought possible. Legends of Aria was born, and with the expansion of the team, our player base, and with new prospects of creating a full-scale sandbox MMORPG, we knew our revenue model would have to change.

MM: In December, Legends of Aria will open a free account option, not to be confused with a trial. This will be a full account with some limitations (that can be further unlocked through the purchase of a Citizen’s Pass for $19.99, the current “box fee”). Why the change? Was it solely done due to needing more players or were there other considerations?

JE: Our style of game is, for better or for worse, targeted in offering a very unique, very challenging, and highly social experience that players may not have truly experienced since the early days of MMORPGs. We want as many people as possible to experience Legends of Aria with as few barriers to entry as possible. Our move to Steam taught us a lot about how a seemingly retro or niche offering is perceived by very modern crowds, and we received a lot of feedback from players on this journey. Participating in an MMORPG is a serious question of investment to many people. With the Steam refund culture now in full swing, it was important to us to give players the time to really get into a game that rewards curiosity and exploration into its mechanics and its communities.

We feel that offering free access whilst maintaining full access at a Premium is the perfect balance to give both free and premium players alike the best possible experience.

MM: One of the limitations of the free account is the inability to place a land deed or build a house. This is a pretty big feature that sandbox MMO players look forward to, why lock it behind a paywall?

JE: There’s a number of reasons, but chief amongst those is that Legends of Aria is and always will be a Premium product. It’s imperative to us that we never forget our original Kickstarter offering or owners of our Buy to Play product offerings in reaffirming that you will need to pay to get the full experience. This also has a lot to do with the genre of Legends of Aria. Our game simply does not take well to fully fledged ‘free to play’ offerings. Our economy, housing and many areas of Celadors delicate ecosystem would not fair well under an onslaught of free players. To us it’s as simple as that requiring a premium to have full access to Legends of Aria will always ensure that we deliver a premium experience and the most robust game world possible.

MM: Free accounts are also limited to Steam versions of Legends of Aria, you cannot play via the game site’s launcher. Why is that?

JE: This comes down to accountability and bot prevention. By restricting free accounts to Steam users, we go a long way to restricting players to a single instance of the client. Additional restrictions such as limited bank access, the inability to sell items to other players, or own a plot, and the inability to be a co-owner of a house for free players are several of the things we’re establishing to combat botting and other nonsanctioned activities.

That being said, we have received feedback from many players, and we are investigating means to offer our Free Access via our website; however, we will only do this as long as we can maintain a similar or greater degree of accountability and bot prevention.

MM: What are you looking forward to the most with this upcoming update? What should players be excited to check out?

JE: Legends of Aria: New Dawn is the most comprehensive update we have released in over a year. It’s being touted by many for the return to the pre-Steam ‘Wilderness’ environment in which we have removed guard protection from all areas but towns and cities and simultaneously deployed some very ‘risk versus reward’ deterrents to make criminal and PK activity particularly perilous. We’re introducing a new bounty system where losing your head can result in permanent stat loss to criminal and murderous players and may be turned in by the bounty hunter to receive Skill Scrolls! This is undoubtedly a significant change to Celador, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

If you’re a hack and slasher, then you need to check out Martial Abilities, 9 new powerful abilities that use our new Bloodlust mechanic, which are nothing short of game-changers for fighters both in PvE and PvP. If PvP is your thing then, the Wilderness change aside, you can participate in our new Town Militia system, joining as a soldier of Helm, Pyros, or Eldeir in a battle to capture each other’s towns and fight over key locations in the wilderness. The Leagues of Celador and our new World Bosses offer unique challenges whether you enjoy quests and accruing reputation or large team based raid encounters. Crafters can now complete their crafting professions, get a ton more essences for their crafting orders, and can access all new Resource Missions. Last but not least, Stealing & Snooping has finally landed, allowing players to train Thief like characters and take great risks to part others from their belongings.

MM: These types of MMORPGs normally come with a HUGE learning curve because of how much players can do. What does Legends of Aria do differently to ease players into the vast number of options they have?

JE: You’re not wrong. With the freedom and pure open-ended choice afforded to players in Legends of Aria, knowledge is everything. During our preparation for Steam, we took great strides to make this easier for players in introducing our Profession system. This was tricky as it’s difficult to both show a player the ropes whilst not forcing their actions. We do feel; however, we have hit the nail on the head as the Profession System gives players the right incentives and the slightest touch to ensure that it’s a fun and balanced game aid to what is a very unrestricted gameplay experience.

New Dawn has mostly been focused on much-needed content. However, with Point Release 9, we will be doing some serious work to broaden our Profession system. This includes a great deal more assistance and diffusing of information to players.

MM: In parting, what last piece of information or advice would you want our readers to know about before they jump into Legends of Aria.

JE: Words are increasingly cheap when we hear Open PvP, Sandbox, or Open World. The industry has grown to a point and scale that communicating a game like ours is increasingly difficult against all the noise. We’d like your readers to know why we make games like Legends of Aria. Those moments in other MMORPGs where you experienced a moment of gameplay that was organic, either a fail, something humorous, or a moment of great skill or heroics which transcends what any designer might have anticipated. When you lose or gain something more significant, that means more to you and your fellow players than time spent or a pixel on a screen. When guilds become world-famous for their prowess, or a lone trader or explorer becomes famous for his or her character. We want to make games to be lived versus being consumed, and to many people, it’s not apparent that this genre of MMO exists. We’d simply like to tell them that it does and we hope they’ll come join us, (for free!) in Legends of Aria New Dawn.

I would like to thank Jeffrey for taking time out to chat with us and if you’re excited for the Legends of Aria: New Dawn launch, stay tuned to MMOBomb.com for all of the latest updates!

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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