Wings Over Atreia: Bribing for Balance

Nope, this isn't a new game show on a cable network but rather the idea behind the latest program from NCsoft to help increase and balance the populations of the servers in Aion. In a game heralded for its PvPvE, keeping enough enemies around to ensure PvP is more than just a passing fancy -- it's vital to the welfare of the game. And of late, on some servers it almost seems as if Asmodians are just mythical creatures that Elyos tell stories about.

Although I won't speculate (here at least) on the decline, Asmodian populations have dwindled across many servers as has their participation in PvP. Besides the universal events that celebrated the release of patch 2.5, Aion has aimed some new (or revamped) events specifically at reversing this population trend. The basic premise is this: If you bribe them, they will come. The plan, unveiled in May, would encourage players to return to their furry-backed roots or even try some claws on for the first time by offering special faction incentives. Couple this with the free trial and the hope was that servers would see an influx of Asmodians and a return to the days of faction warfare glory.

Just what exactly are the incentives and -- more importantly -- how well are they working? Glide past the cut for details and to join in a discussion on the matter.

Although most events and special promotions involve both sides of the war in Atreia, the faction incentive program is a deliberate exercise in inequality with the aim of bolstering meager populations. The incentives include a creation package, gateway getaway events, and fortress siege incentives. Only Asmodians on select servers were targeted to receive the helping hand. Initially, these servers were Siel, Zikel, Spatalos, Telemachus, and Thor. On Urtem, the Asmodians only get to participate in the two fort-related incentives, and while it wasn't announced officially on the site, one glance at the launchpad shows that Israphel will now participate in the gateway event. In one twist of fate, Perento server actually has an incentive for the Elyos -- pale-winged Daevas there will have the siege incentives.

It'll put hair on yer back

The Creation Incentive Package entices players by offering special amulets to aid in leveling to every Asmodian on the selected servers between the levels of 10 and 49. Berdin's Amulets deliver an additional 50% experience gain from hunting, gathering, and crafting. They last for an hour and have a cooldown of only one hour as opposed to the usual 10. Even more remarkable is that the package grants 50 amulets. Couple this with mentoring (assuming you can find any higher-level Asmodians, of course) and the easier leveling and Asmodians are sure to scale the leveling ladder quickly. The down side is you can claim this incentive only once on one character per account per server. However, there is no need for altaholics to despair -- these amulets can be traded through the account warehouse.

With this incentive, not only are new players being courted, but Elyos -- or even Asmodians-- from other servers are being courted as well. While this looks good on paper, what happens when Asmos jump ship from an already fairly balanced server to start again on one with incentives? Instead of one being balanced, two are off-kilter. Hopefully the trial will cause new players to emerge (and not just migrate). Another thought is that leveling too quickly may make you high-level but also seriously under-geared.

Siege, siege, baby

To start things off, at the advent of Empyrean Calling, the slate was wiped clean for all North American and European servers and all Abyss fortresses reverted to Balaur control. The hope with this is obvious -- that the domination of one race within the Abyss would be broken, giving both sides a chance to start fresh. The reality, however, was quite different. Although the hope of control brought the Asmodians out in force initially, participation seriously dwindled once Elyos got a foothold. And participation is what we all want; there is no fun in sitting around "defending" against nothing.

If there is one thing that set this game apart, it is (was?) the giant fortress siege battles. Unfortunately, these large-scale battles seem few and far between now. Certainly a lopsided population is partially to blame, but some servers (read: Israphel) have the population, only that population just doesn't seem inclined to participate in the Abyss. To help with the apathy, another facet of the incentive program is to award bonus medals at the end of the week based on the number of successfully captured forts in the Upper Abyss and the Core. Just how many medals are we talking about? Each Upper Abyss fortress is worth two medals, and Divine is worth five. These will be given to players between level 35 and 55 via a weekly survey; each player chooses between gold or platinum medals.

However, this incentive is not really much of an incentive for those servers on which the Asmodians can't even take a fort due to being squashed by the opposing faction at every turn. While this program works to help dispel apathy, it really can't do much when a lack of numbers permanently prevents capturing a fortress in the first place.

So what of those Asmodians who cannot take or hold a fort for long? Attempting to alleviate this obstacle, the final incentive is the Gateway Getaway Event; previously for all servers and factions, it will now be cropping up more frequently as a rotating event for the selected servers and factions. This allows a faction access to fort instances regardless of who owns said fortress. The next event will be June 29th through July 6th.

Finally, we get a way to grab some much needed AP to build up that PvP armor set, right? Sure, a week will allow some accumulation of AP, but certainly not enough to be any more than a drop in the bucket on the way to a full set of gear. And isn't this a bit counterproductive? If the underdogs have free access to fort instances, what motivation is there to conquer the fortress? In past events, these instant teleporters severely cut down the amount of traffic in the Abyss. No one was showing up for anything. Perhaps the lure of the siege event will help; since it's so hard to get platinum medals, having free ones mailed to you each week would be tempting.

Community reaction

Overall, I haven't heard anyone really grumbling about the increased XP incentive for Asmos; in fact, I know a number of Elyos who are using it as a chance to try out a new class on a different server. However, there is serious question as to the effectiveness of the sum of these incentives. In the official thread, players are saying these incentives aren't enough as people will still roll Elyos to get those perks all the time and not just on a rotating schedule. Some are suggesting that the incentives are having the opposite effect as the underdogs are getting less than before thanks to the increased push from the dominating faction. Still others say that offering additional incentives such as a siege buff or reducing the cooldown timers on instances for the underdogs would be more beneficial.

Zikel seemed to be a focal point of discussion with Asmodians and Elyos alike stating how Asmodians could never hope to catch up and have an even playing field. Some even suggested mergers while others pointed out any merge would still leave the new server bereft of Asmo population. However, as seems to happen often, the negativity expressed on forums does not always match the attitude of the daily player; while visiting Zikel, I noted there wasn't much doom and gloom in-game but rather sentiments of increasing teamwork and pulling together to meet goals. Even amid severe imbalance and difficulties, many are still just playing the game they enjoy. This quote sums it up pretty well: "Just look at it this way, we got more Elyos to kill." Bravo and good hunting to you, Wrenchnot. I like your style!

In all honesty, we might not see the true effects -- or lack thereof -- of these incentive programs for a couple of months, if not longer. I personally hope they do help to both bolster the populations and invigorate the PvP; even if I am not the greatest PvPer, I certainly still enjoy a good fight. If NCsoft can bribe people into Aion by offering some extra goodies, I am not going to cry foul or complain -- I'll be happy that the game is more of what it was meant to be: a gritty struggle between factions.

Soaring through the Aionosphere, MJ Guthrie touches down weekly to bring you Wings Over Atreia. Featuring tips, guides, and general snippets of life in Aion, the column is better than Tutty-on-a-stick, ackackackackackack! Have a suggestion to share? No need to bribe a Shugo -- just send mail to mj@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.