5 Reasons Why Aion Failed
by Ron Keith
Not so long ago, in happier times, in September of 2009, NCSoft released Aion in North America and Europe. It got more than a few good reviews. MMORPG.com gave it an 8.7 out of 10. They said, “Aion is probably one of the most polished freshly-released MMOs I’ve ever seen…” IGN gave it 8.5. G4TV said it was “luscious-looking.”
Aion was the biggest MMO release of 2009, selling 450,000 copies before release and nearly one million copies within two months of release. Aion had beautiful, anime-inspired graphics. The character creation was arguably the best in gaming. Players loved the flying and the combat. The game was a hit.
Less than a year later, on June 23, 2010, NCSoft announced Aion servers would be merging, going from the existing 12 servers in North America to 4. Server mergers are a clear indication of declining populations and fading interest in a game, and going from 12 to 4 servers indicates Aion’s glory days are already behind it.
How did this happen to Aion, a game that was such a hit less than a year ago?
1. Grind. Grind. And more grind. Oh, and did you notice the grind?
The first twenty levels of Aion had storyline quests and a decent variety of different types of quests, but then, somewhere around level 25 all those storyline quests disappeared and players were told to go kill 20 Spriggans. When they were done with that, go kill 35 Moss Bears. Then 15 Maleks. And on, and on, and on. Nothing but kill-mobs quests.
Making matters worse, very rarely did anything special ever drop off those mobs. Any slot machine player will tell you people need to win occasionally. People need to get positive reinforcement or they just walk away. At the higher levels, you could literally grind for days in Aion and never get a decent drop.
Confronted with grind and no drops, players walked away.
2. A brutally steep leveling curve.
Most gamers don’t mind a long leveling curve, one that’s a little steep, but calling Aion’s leveling curve a little steep is like calling the Bataan Death March a little stroll.
Aion levels are measured in millions of experience points while the typical monster kill yielded a paltry few thousand points of experience. After level 30 or so, players felt like they were on their own Bataan Death March, and just like that march through the jungles of the Philippines, a lot of people just didn’t make it.
3. A harsh death penalty.
Perhaps you decided to tough it out, that you could handle the monotony of the kill-mobs quests. Perhaps you resigned yourself to the long tedium of leveling curve. But then you died.
Lots of games have death penalties. That’s fine. It makes some sense for players to take it on the chin when they die, at least just a little. But Aion’s death penalty hit like Mike Tyson on steroids.
When you die in Aion you lose experience. Some of the experience is lost permanently, but some of it, through a process called soul healing, is recoverable if you’re willing to pay some cash. At the lower levels, the death penalty was barely something you noticed. You died. You paid a little kinah, Aion currency, and you went out there and killed some more mobs.
But as you leveled higher the death penalty became exponentially harsher. The cost of the soul healing skyrocketed and the lost, unrecoverable, experience could easily equate to a night’s worth of grinding.
An entire night of grinding could be rendered pointless by an untimely death. Two deaths and you probably quit for the night. Three deaths might make you think hard about why you were playing the game. Four deaths? Well, perhaps you signed into your account, fuming about all the lost experience and kinah, and canceled your account.
4. Open PvP
Not everyone likes player-versus-player (PvP). Even if you do, you probably hate being ganked. You know, caught unawares and just rolled from behind by another player. Don’t you just hate that?
How do you feel about getting ganked by a player 5 levels higher than you? Not very fair, right? How about someone 10, 20, or even 30 levels higher than you? Even if you see the guy coming, even if you buff yourself to the max, you know you stand no chance against players even 10 levels higher, much less 20 or 30.
Welcome to open PvP. On an open PvP server players of any rank can go into low level areas and slaughter lower level players. Some people consider this fun. Most people don’t.
Aion was and is open PvP. From level 20 and beyond, most of the Aion world is accessible to the opposing side. Through what’s called rifting, Aion limits the number of players and to some extent the level of those players, but it’s still open PvP.
Other games have open PvP, but they have open PvP servers. Players know what they’re signing up for when they create a character on those servers. There’s no choice in Aion. Because rifting was considered integral to the game, all their servers are open PvP.
Lots of things contributed to player dissatisfaction with Aion, but having open PvP all the time probably drove away the bulk of the players. A lot of people not only dislike open PvP, they loathe it.
5. Here a bot. There a bot. Everywhere a bot-bot.
Aion is a very gold-intensive game. Everything costs kinah and lots of it: Flying from place to place (You have wings, but you have to pay a flight master. Not sure what sense that makes.), soul healing, skills, and crafting. It all costs kinah and lots and lots of kinah.
Aion’s popularity and the heavy kinah burden required to play it brought in droves of gold sellers. They spammed region chat and repeatedly annoyed players with tells. Come to our site, buy our gold. Gold sellers even took advantage of Aion’s private store feature, setting up their own kiosks in the cities and blatantly advertised.
Of course, with the gold sellers came the bots. Lots and lots of bots. There were so many bots in the game, players found themselves competing with bots for kills. It’s bad enough when you have to compete with other players for a kill, but a bot! There were actually more bots in some areas than players. All the botting probably chased off more than a few players.
Eventually, NCSoft brought down the hammer. They banned thousands of accounts for botting. Unfortunately, in a grindy game it’s sometimes hard to tell a real player from a bot. When NCSoft banned all the accounts they inevitably caught some players, too, who were just grinding. The gold sellers and bots returned almost immediately, but the real players who got their accounts closed down just left and joined the growing ranks of former Aion players.
NCSoft has done a lot to respond to criticism of Aion. They’ve reduced the death penalty, both in terms of lost experience and the kinah needed for recoverable experience. They’ve reduced the leveling curve and added many quests. They haven’t significantly changed the open PvP format —œ you can still get your level 20 butt ganked by a level 50 in your own territory —œ but they have made a lot of changes that make the game more enjoyable.
Unfortunately, it’s the MMO equivalent of closing the barn door after the horse is out. It is much harder to get people to come back to your game after they’ve played it and decided they didn’t like it. All those players have moved on.
This is a shame, really. Aion is a beautiful MMO. Its graphics are gorgeous. The character creation is amazing. The animations are fun and everyone enjoys the flying. The game is about as bug free as a game gets. At its core, it’s a very solid game.
Aion 2.0 is coming soon. Only the most hardcore fanbois and fangois expect that will revive the game. That will probably be the last major update for Aion. After that expect the game to be relegated to maintenance mode like Lineage and City of Heroes.
But never fear. NCSoft has put the Aion development team to work on another project, Blade and Soul. Maybe this time they’ll get it right.
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