Wings Over Atreia: Socket this

Wings Over Atreia header
Ooo them's fightin' words!

Any time you bring up the subject of manastones, it's like twisting a hot serrated knife in the collective bellies of Aion's community. It isn't the manastones per se, with their little tempting pluses to different stats, but rather it's the actual process of socketing them into gear that brings pain, frustration, and despair to the masses. If you operate under the premise that a game is a form of entertainment to be, oh I dunno... entertaining (dare we hope fun and enjoyable also?), then you have to wonder what exactly transpired to bring about this particular feature. Seriously, who kicked the dev's dog to make him retaliate with a thing like manastone socketing?

Despite NCsoft's initial attempt to assure players that manastone socketing isn't that bad (that Shugo obviously works on consignment), the company appeared to about-face by recently offering no-fail supplements in the cash shop for a limited time. While socketing is a repeat headache for many Daevas, this particular move brought the subject (and the whole pay-to-win argument) to the forefront of community discussion. However, what really drew me back into the fray was the fact that I finally got myself a Stormwing armor drop and -- masochist that I seem to be lately -- I actually tried to socket it. I couldn't even get the first one in let alone the other four! Seraphim Lords help me if I have to do another six-slotter!

So what's with this game mechanic? Why is it even in Aion? This week, Wings Over Atreia theorizes on the motivation behind this arguably flawed feature and offers some healthier alternatives.

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For those who haven't really played Aion or who haven't reached a high enough level to care yet, manastones are items that provide a specific minor stat boost when combined with armor or weapons. Though individually low, the increase adds up. However, the mechanic works thus: If you fail to socket any particular stone, it destroys all other stones previously socketed. In other words, it's RNG at its most sadistic. Think it doesn't sound too bad? Consider this: After 100 manastones I literally had only two five-slot items socketed. Two. No joke. And I failed on the fifth attempt countless times. Yes folks, for every one I succeeded with, I lost nine others. Now, with the going rate of 1.35 million kinah per stone, just imagine the lost funds. I can honestly say I know someone who left Atreia for good with one of the main reasons being the mechanic of manastone socketing -- because it was the epitome of not fun.

There are different philosophies for manastone socketing. One is to carefully plan out exactly how many points of what needs to be added to which set of armor. As illustrated with the Cleric class build, due to inherent stats and set bonuses, different sets of armor lend themselves to different manastone builds. Min/maxers will insist there is only "one true build" (the flavor of which changes regularly, of course) and will carefully calculate their manastone strategy. On the other hand, some players will actually experiment with different combinations. Others still subscribe to the "let's just plop in any stone I happen to loot" mantra. Some Daevas will even ignore using them until more toward endgame, but very few avoid this process completely.

Aion screenshotWhy? Just, why?

So what really was the motivation behind this feature? Was it to drive players to their knees until they beg for mercy (or thank you for adding supplements to the cash shop ergo padding your bottom line)? Was it because someone, somewhere thought it was fun? Was it as a money sink to help keep the economy in check? Was it meant as a another aspect of customization for characters? Let's explore these options.

A carefully laid out plot to drive people to the cash shop. Well, if that was the goal, then I have to concede success. Heck, while socketing today I was actually bemoaning not having bought any as I watched piles of stones disappear with nothing to show for it. I even moved down to using the white stones. Despite the fact that I never intended nor desired to buy the felicitous socketing supplements before, I wanted them then. As I do not count RMT as an acceptable use of my funds, I am glad the offer had expired before my will broke down.

Fun. OK, I cannot come up with one single argument that socketing is fun. The thrill of succeeding? No, thrill and pride comes from accomplishment, not surviving the evil toying of the RNG beast. Although I have actually seen some "My RNG is better than your RNG!" arguments in LFG, you cannot convince me for a moment that anyone but a masochist would find real pleasure in this feature. Relief when done, yes. Enjoyment? No way.

Money sink. A way to permanently remove kinah from the economy in some attempt to balance it and keep it healthy. Well... possible. But let me just say that if a money sink is truly the reason to have manastone socketing in game, I have some suggestions that would have the same desired effect without adding the pain, torture, frustration, and rage.

Aion screenshotHealthy alternatives

To be honest, the idea of having another mechanic that gives some personalization to your character is a plus in my opinion. However, it has to be implemented correctly. And by correctly, I mean in a way that doesn't make the playerbase want to kill something (other than mobs or opponents) or worse, quit. So how to have manastones without the negatives?

Let me suggest this: Instead of making me undergo the frustration and extremely un-fun dance of socketing, just deduct an amount straight from my cube. I am serious! You could just call it a socketing tax, be it weekly or monthly. I'd truly rather you just yoink that kinah outta my pockets without adding in the anguish.

For those who are up in arms at this suggestion and crying foul that they shouldn't have to pay a socketing tax because they choose not to socket, no problem! For this workaround, make characters go to an NPC and declare themselves "socketers." Then, Daevas pay some big old fee up-front for the privilege of using manastones. Far-fetched? It's not like the game doesn't already have such a feature in place for the privilege of harvesting. Heck, I'd rather go ahead and pay a few million up front and just socket and be on my way back to, you know, enjoying the game. Adventuring maybe. Grouping. Roleplaying. Standing around hopping like an over-caffeinated kirca to gather tokens for anniversary goodies. Anything really other than trying to force manastones into my gear.

My second suggestion is not a new one; I have mentioned this before, and I mention it again: Why exactly are manastones not treated like enchantment stones? If you really want to have the feature by which you risk failing a socket (you twisted sick person you!), why not just lose the stone and the one socketed just prior? Even better, why not lose just the stone you are attempting to socket? There is still an element of chance. There is no good reason on Seraphim Lords' green Atreia that all manastones should break and be lost! Really, that is simply sadism in its truest form!

These are just two ideas. I am sure there are many others, even very logical and viable ones, out there. So come on NCsoft, what do you say? Did you really put this in just to sit back and laugh when people fail? To enjoy fits of giggles as players desperately cling to superstitions and rituals in a futile attempt to help increase their chances of socketing? Making us want to log out and walk away is not good business sense, I swear! Why not trim a bit of unnecessary frustration from the game and bolster the fun factor? Happy Daevas are paying Daevas. And lower blood pressure means fewer aneurysms, which means more Daevas to keep playing! Yah?

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.