After much ballyhoo about taking great pains to avoid the dreaded pay-to-win stigma as Aion converts to free-to-play (including screen time in the producers interview), NCsoft went ahead and began offering an eternal-grade weapon in the new BlackCloud Marketplace. Granted, it is for a limited time only, but the fact is that it's been offered at all has sparked a few tizzy-fits within the community. Of all the low-down, double-crossing...
I know some players feel lied to and misled. A few profess they've been downright hornswoggled by that single announcement and have turned away from the game. Meanwhile, others are sitting back chortling "What did you expect?" or mouthing a big "I told you so." But was this really an underhanded trick? Did the devs really go back on what they said? You have to wonder why, right in the midst of generating excitement for Aion, the developers would spite the players they are trying to lure in. And maybe they didn't.
Was this an innocent bonus or portent of things to come? Before we start stringing someone up in effigy, let's take a look at the details. Might just be all the fuss is much ado about nothing.
I totally get why the company made the offer. I do. Let's look at this rationally: NCsoft needs to get people excited for the cash shop. It wants people to go check the place out. The more window shoppers there are, the more likely someone will buy something. After all, the game isn't going to make any money if no one buys anything, and without money, there won't be any staff, content, or even working hardware for long. As much as we dive into Aion for fun, it is a business, and it needs money to stay in operation. So what better way to get people to at least go take a gander than by offering something hard to get? It's like BlackCloud Friday.
The loudest uproar is over the idea that this offer proves Aion will be pay-to-win. But does it really? Although I admit that the first moment I read about the weapon bonus my first thoughts were exactly that, I actually took a minute to think about it. And my conclusion was that no, it doesn't. And judging by comments, unless some readers actually managed to peek at today's Wings Over Atreia early, I am not the only one thinking that.
This single -- or multiple, if you choose to buy many large C.U.B.E.s -- weapon gift does not equal pay-to-win. Why not? Because NCsoft is not handing out game-breaking advantages. Beyond the fact that the weapon can be gotten in game (albeit with great difficulty), it is not the epitome of gear. Think about it: Although it will give give an edge to players who are level 50, how many characters in game are sitting at level 50? Many players have been holding at level 55 and will be aiming for the level 60 gear once 3.0 goes live, gear they will have to earn themselves. And if they have been holding at 55 a while, chances are they already have better level 55 gear, so why downgrade? These players won't be very interested in the weapon. Personally, I really appreciate the fact that they are not offering something level 60 -- that would be a pay-to-win scenario.
What about the other cash shop items -- don't they denote pay-to-win? Again, I say no. Obviously fluff outfits and pets can't do anything, but the boost packs aren't a free pass either. To me, pay-to-win means a definitive immediate advantage. The XP amulets, the ability to negate resurrection sickness and XP loss upon death, the boost in AP... all of these require the player to go out and work for advancement. It may shave off some of the time investment, but there will still be significant time investment. It's not like players are buying AP straight out of the shop; they're just getting a bonus to earning it -- the key word here being "earning." Scrolls that erase cooldowns for instances? You still have to go into the instances and earn what you get. Consumables? You can get them in-game; it may cost a bit, but even new players can afford items because kinah practically falls from the sky when you are leveling. (Calling all Daevas to check their pockets when soaring!)
Previously, people who had the chance to play 20 hours a day had an advantage over others. Now, some people with real lives will also have the chance to be more competitive (if they have a healthier wallet than mine, at least). But those who play so many hours will still have the experience of more playtime under their belts. And to top it off, many of the scrolls and consumables can be traded, so even those who don't fork over real world cash can do so in-game to get the same items.
Despite the fact I just said that the deal doesn't equate to pay-to-win to me, that doesn't negate the fact that there are inherent problems with this deal. For one, it does feel a bit like getting conned. If this deal is a unique thing, then fine. But what if it really is just a foreshadowing? What if this is just NCsoft's testing the waters, tossing out one little bit of gear before opening the floodgates and truly heralding pay-to-play in all its diabolical glory? While I very much hope that isn't the case, I can't help but remain wary. After all, people are beguiled subtly, not with a sledgehammer. Only time will tell what other trinkets and baubles will be added to the marketplace.
Another problem I have with this whole thing is the ridiculous level restriction; it completely and totally leaves out the whole segment of population that will be joining the game at Ascension's launch. Basically, people just joining the game gets nada, nichevo, zilch because they can't even get it without having a level 30 character. And how can they have level 30 toons if they haven't started playing yet? I am all for veteran rewards, but this is a cash shop we are talking about. The only discrimination that should be going on there is willing and able to pay vs. not.
Honestly, I think there shouldn't be any level restriction on obtaining an item -- using, of course, but not actually buying! Any item that goes into a cash shop should be available to all who want to spend the cash. Why have any restriction here? That really smacks of unfairness. If someone wants to spend her moolah out on something she may not be able to use for 50 levels, why stop her? It's her own warehouse space she's clogging. By the time she levels, she may not even remember she has the item! And what if the player leaves before reaching the level? Where's the downside to NCsoft for selling an item that never gets used? I see no benefit to restricting item purchase by character level, especially a soulbound one.
Another con to this whole situation is that NCsoft just lost face with some of the crowd it wants and needs to woo. Even though the bonus offer isn't dire when meditated upon, first impressions can and do mean a lot. And the knee-jerk reaction was OMZG PAY-TO-WIN!! I admitted that was my first thought, and sadly, in a world with ever-decreasing attention spans, some gamers probably never even took a moment to ponder twice. Aion lost some folks at "cash shop weapon." Hopefully, this little mess can be mopped up quickly and those folks will turn around and give the game another look because there really are many reasons to play, not the least of which is 3.0 this week!!!!! WOOOO!
So, who's going to join me for some livesteaming of Ascension this Wednesday (assuming servers come up in time) and Friday? I look forward to seeing you folks!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.