This morning while reading legion (guild) chat, I was struck by the different experiences our players were having.
One of our two level 50 guildees was expressing how bored he was; he couldn’t find people to run instances with. I responded in guild chat that people would eventually catch up, give it 4-6 weeks.
If you haven’t played Aion, let me provide some brief context. Relative to mass-market MMORPGs in the past several years, Aion requires a lot of time to level to end-game. My estimate, based on talking to the 1st player in our guild to reach 50 (a Sorcerer named Loreilai), is that leveling to max level (50) will take roughly 500-600 hours. That is multiples of the past 2 games I’ve played (LOTRO and WAR), where I was able to reach max level in under 200 hours. Some folks would debate the 500+ hr number, but check the server censuses. Very few people have made max level in the first 2 months.
I made a comment in legion chat that went something like this:
The players of Aion who are having the most enjoyable experience are those in the “middle of the pack” in terms of their level. They are the ones who can find many near-level opponents they can fight in PVP and plenty of groups for PVE, and while they get occasionally get ganked by the hardcore player of much higher level, overall it’s enjoyable.
Several other guildees agreed, and a picture popped into my head to describe it:
In terms of PVE, the experience of folks who leveled ahead of the curve should improve as the population in the 40-50 range fills out, which it inevitably will. At that point, there will be a high supply of players to run end-game instances, which is good for the player base.
But let’s stop for a moment and consider Aion PVP. Here are 2 areas of concern:
- there is no system for preventing ganks in PVEVP zones. Once you level to 20+, many of your quests will be in zones that the other side can invade via rifts, and there is no “filter” for preventing high-level opponents from coming and ganking your low-level ass. That’s life in the big city, Aion style
- there is no system for ensuring same or near-level PVP against the other faction. Other games have implemented systems for this. E.g. WoW has battlegrounds (and arenas), WAR has level tiering and scenarios (1-11, 8-21, 18-31, 28-40) and a buff to adjust stats for the players at the lower end of a given tier
So what happens, in 2010 and on, when there is a high population of players at max level? There will be a lot of players who deliberately spend time (for fun or out of boredom) invading the other faction’s lands to gank lower-level players who don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of fighting them.
I’ve listened to players in-game and on Vent express frustration at being ganked and then camped by griefers. I have a reasonably thick skin, and from a practical standpoint, I’ll simply move on to a different zone or take a break. But the bottom line is it’s not an enjoyable experience on the receiving end, and getting killed is a time setback, which matters in Aion, given how extremely time-intensive the game is for leveling.
When I look forward and think about what this means for Aion, I think there is a big risk of the PVP system creating a “vicious cycle”:
Simply put, new players in 2010 and on will have a rougher experience than players now, and it should get increasingly worse if NCSoft doesn’t implement mechanism(s) to address PVP level differentials.
I’m not saying Aion will fail or that Aion sucks. After all, I choose to spend my valuable free time playing (and occasionally writing about) it. But I don’t foresee Aion having a strong “pull” based on the PVP mechanics; I expect the opposite to be the case. Most players simply won’t have the patience or willingness to hope that end-game PVP is actually fun, when the road is very long and full of getting ganked along the way. The people who rave about Aion PVP are players already in the game, whereas new players months from now are going to have a very different experience.
There is an inane sentiment from some players, esp the hardcore or old-school ones, that people just have to gut it out, the “uphill both ways” mentality. But that doesn’t fly from a customer or consumer experience standpoint for most products and services.
I can give an example from one of my hobbies: cycling. There is a leather saddle manufacturer called Brooks. They’ve made classic, beautiful saddles for decades. But the kicker is that it took several hundreds hours to “break in” a Brooks saddle, at which point it is very comfortable. But these days, the saddles that sell well are the ones that are comfortable out of the gate, such as the Terry saddles that sold like wildfire to women back in the 1990s, and then to my surprise, to men over the past decade. The game has changed, and even Brooks had to adapt by releasing saddles with a perineal channel to stay relevant.
Will NCSoft respond, if there are long-term issues with the PVP system? We shall see!