Chain Reactions: Unforeseen Consequences
Getting a bit out of hand...

Getting a bit out of hand...

Traditional computer games don’t tend to change much when they’re released in countries beyond their original target. They typically get the dialogue and interface translated, perhaps a few name tweaks, and occassionally certain specific elements get modified to meet certain countries’ laws (such as restrictions on pandas or skeletons in China). But even those changes tend to be only cosmetic in nature.

Every so often (and much more likely in the case of MMOs), a game has significant changes made to its actual mechanics. These mechanics need not be limited to the game play, either – sometimes the most significant changes take place outside of the game world yet the impact is felt within it. A good example of this would be the recent release of Aion in the West. One of the biggest changes, though neither those playing in the West nor the East might realize it, centers around the billing model for the game.

In Korea and China (the markets in which Aion originally launched) players pay according to the amount of time they spend in-game, buying time credits which are consumed while playing. In light of this, the game itself is set up in such a way as to allow (and encourage) players to stay online for long periods of time, as this earns the game provider more money proportional to the additional time. Players are never kicked off the server due to inactivity because that would be counterproductive profit-wise.

For the release in the West, however, the billing model was changed to match other Western MMOs, using a fixed monthly subscription fee. As a result, certain design choices made to cater to the Eastern billing model have now come back to bite: when faced with the problem of queues to login to popular servers, many players are taking advantage of the lack of auto-disconnects when a private store is active and are simply leaving their characters logged into the game. Not only does this somewhat negate the point of queues in the first place, but it also makes those queues worse for unfortunate players who didn’t get onto the server early since the AFK players count against the population cap.

Luckily, in this particular case the Aion developers identified these unforeseen issues quickly and found a viable solution: just limit the time for which a private store can be open without being re-created. This is just one example, however, of how changes to one element of a game (both including and beyond game play) can affect what would nominally be completely unrelated aspects.

9 Comments Posted in Design
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  1. Interesting. I didn’t know about the difference between Western and Eastern pricing models. I’m probably going to be dropping WoW until Cataclysm comes out, but I’m waiting for opinions on Aion to roll in before I decide to make that my game of choice.

  2. It is a shame that the private stores have to be limited in such a way. Personally I find Personal Stores are far better than Auction Houses.

    I wonder what other problems will be encountered with the westernization of Aion.

    • I’ve found that each system has its merits – private stores are a little bit more flexible in location, but auction houses are much more convenient for browsing and finding decent prices. It’s nice to have both.

  3. In my opinion I never really saw the personal stores as a problem. I do understand for the mainstream population of the game that it might be annoying to have to sit in queues then log in to afk players using a shop to keep them in those queues. I didn’t run into that problem, but it’s understandable to be frustrated by it. I did find myself thinking about what could have been with a payment model similar to what was used in the eastern releases of the game.

    I’m not sure it specifically applies to me but, it seems that it might be a more effective way to do things. Assuming there was a system that would charge as you go that would allow players to pay for blocks of time as they became needed. This type of system may appeal to players with time constraints more then a fixed amount. Instead of paying for time that may not be used, players would pay for what is actually needed. The opposite of that argument is that players who can play for longer amounts may end up paying more then your standard $15 a month. I believe that it might balance things out where some parties would pay less and others would pay more. It would be an interesting system to try if you ask me.

  4. When I heard about the queues I remembered back to how much I hated it in Warhammer Online. I’m no longer in a rush to get the game. Hopefully by they get it fixed by the time I decide to pick it up (if I even do anymore). It looks like a really nice game, and jaw dropping art that I can imagine inspiring me some how, but I just hate queues so damn much. :P

  5. @Zukan it was fixed this morning re: Kotaku

  6. Also Zukan, there are servers that don’t have queues – it’s only the 3-4 highest population servers that were queuing, and even then the queues usually died out by the late evening.

  7. :X

    well now I have no excuses.

  8. Interesting read. But it’s also interesting to note that for Aion, at elast imho, western players will have to somewhat get used to an asian MMO mindset – e.g. things such as boss mobs not dropping any usable loot for run after run. I’ve done Fire Temple for two days now without any unique drop. And I doubt they will adjust loot rates for the western market. If they had planned to do so, they would have already done that. Uhm yeah…kinda gone a little offtopic there, sorry :D