Wings Over Atreia
Amidst all the possible topics for Wings Over Atreia floating in my head, one decided to lure all the others into a dark closet and lock them in. What precipitated the nefarious mental culling? While I was campaign questing in Asmodae for last Friday's livestream, it hit me. You could say it just clicked -- like the sound of the key turning in a door's lock. What topic was trying to look innocent while a key dangled from its grip? That would be newbness in Aion.

Wait, what? How can you possibly talk about being a newb when you've been playing since launch-ish? I heard that! And I can explain. Granted some people might contend that once you have a high-level character in a game, you can't ever be a newbie again (although you can be a n00b anytime by embracing ignorance). However, this simply isn't true, especially in Aion when a change in archetype, coupled with a change in server and faction, makes things all new.

I have to admit that I never really thought I could recapture that total newbie feeling again either, but I certainly did. In full-force, even. The experience revealed a few things to me about Aion as it continues toward its third anniversary. What I found may surprise you.

Aion screenshot
Newbie reborn

By most standards, if you play through a game to high level, you don't consider yourself a newbie. Even before that, most people start singing, "I've lost that newbie feeling, now it's gone... gone... gone... " when they finally get past that what's-going-on-here stage and start feeling a bit more in-the-know. But there are circumstances in which there feeling can re-manifest itself, ranging from slightly to completely.

One, any player who has left a game for a few years and then returned will tell you she has a period of feeling new again. Of course, it is usually like riding a bike: You know the basics, so it's only a matter of learning more details. Sometimes, a player needs to unlearn keybinds or special actions from a different game (I swear I will be trying to glide in every game I try for the rest of my life!). Those feelings of newbieness wear off quickly.

Some folks will feel a few newb pangs when they start an alt of an unfamiliar class. However, if they have grouped with folks of said class, then they already have at least a slight idea of skills and such just from group chatter. Also, alts tend to get twinked, so that pretty well quashes those pangs fast. And the quests? By now you know the tricks to get things done. Efficiency beats exploration.

Aion screenshotA whole new world

Now consider changing not only classes but archetype, server, and faction. I'm talking starting over. Sure, you know what some game mechanic basics are, but you no longer have a rich high-level alt feeding you goodies, you don't have high-level friends to power-level you through your content, the skills are foreign, and -- for any non-riftable zones at the very least -- the land itself is unfamiliar. When I first donned some black wings, I felt a bit newbish as I gawked over the lovely landscapes in Asmodae. Then I changed from priest class (which I was familiar with) to a caster and found myself adding a new layer of newbness as I tried to figure out how to play a Spiritmaster. I am also on a server with no support, no friends, and no twinking available. I had to start the game from the beginning. And still, I didn't feel particularly newb-like until Friday when I grouped for basically the first time.

In a nutshell, I went to do a campaign quest with some other folks. And that's when it really hit me. Newb hammer! I was completely unfamiliar with the quest and the landscape and was definitely shaky on the best way to play my class in a group setting as opposed to solo. How clueless was I? The mentor gave the simple instruction to go click the portal after she pulled all the mobs away. Simple... unless you don't happen to know that the portal was not a typical swirling mass of light but rather a statue that blended into the background. Add to that the fact that my lowbie self couldn't handle the area at all; I was dependent on my groupmates for protection.

I haven't felt so new and out-of-the-know in Aion since, well, forever. In one way, it was totally exhilarating to be able to see the game from such a perspective again -- all fresh, new, and full of things to learn and discover. On the other hand, I got to see the game from that perspective again. And that highlighted some important basic principles I think we forget the further away from level 1 we get.

Aion screenshot
Will I stay or will I go now

One thing this journey showed me was the importance of remembering that newbie experience. Folks often forget what being a newb is really like once they have passed through the fires of leveling. But keeping the experience of new players in mind (and acting accordingly) is vital. Think about it: The new-player experience can make or break a game's longevity. New blood is needed to replace people who leave. You might be thinking, "The newbie experience is the developer's job." This is a deadly error in thinking. NCsoft put care into the newbie experience with starting zones that help show new folks the initial ropes. However, how the community treats the new people has a greater impact on whether they will stay and help build the game or just get frustrated, disgusted, and just leave.

Case in point: As I said earlier, during my group campaign quest, I was a certified clueless newbie, so I really was at the mercy of my groupmates. One group member actually got ticked that the group was stopping to fight adds that another member and I were attracting due to our low levels. The guy kept sprinting ahead and getting all huffy that the group was slow. Complain, complain, complain... then insult. The guy had no patience for those who didn't know what they were doing just because he was doing for his 100th time. That's the very attitude that chases people away.

Now I know some people think this is the norm in game, that new people are ignored at best and badgered and insulted for asking questions at worst. But I am happy to report that my experience showed otherwise, which gives me more hope for the future of the game. Not only was Mr. JerkyPants in the minority in that group, but the healer booted him to the curb for his behavior. When his demands for heals went ignored, he became even more childish (apologies to all well-mannered children out there). This guy actually started trying to train our group repeatedly in an Aion-esque tantrum. Luckily, the healer was mentored, so she was able to handle things. Sure, I died a few times, but I knew I was squishy in a hard area. The rest of the group's members stuck by me and helped me as long as I needed it, never once being judgmental or condescending. This is exactly how all new players need to be treated, and it's our responsibility to make sure they are!

That wasn't even the only display of helpfulness on that trip. When the entire group zoned into a force-field protected area via aforementioned portal statue, I didn't. Along comes another high-level character who waltzes up, gives me a rez, and then aggros all the mobs so I could get up and regroup with my team. I'm hoping that guy survived! That random kindness and the class of my groupmates really heartened me that the game is not filled with folks who will chase everyone away, despite how LFG chat sounds sometimes.

Aion screenshot
She's a keeper

We are all agreed that retaining new folks is important, yes? Anyone who wants a game to continue should! Despite the naysayers who still scream out Aion is dead, the free-to-play model is bringing more new players all the time. And the responsibility to treat new folks in a way that doesn't chase them off rests squarely on the shoulders of the community. I am pleased to reaffirm that there are awesome helpful people in game, but everyone should take part. We should make folks feel welcome and demonstrate that not everyone is a Mr. JerkyPants. Here are a few ways:
  • Don't feel you need to toss kinah at new folks; give them a few minutes of your time instead.
  • Don't assume everyone is on his 24th alt -- ask whether anyone in group is new. If not, go right ahead and speed-demon through content. Otherwise, take a moment to explain what is coming up, especially in dungeons or intense areas.
  • Don't always use acronyms when talking about everything, especially when answering questions about skills. A new person may not even know the name of the skill in the first place; that's why she's asking!
  • And here's a big one -- mentor! The system is there for a reason, so let's take full advantage of it. Having a mentor along doesn't mean people want to be powered through things. Just having a guide in group is nice.
In short, be kind to the newbies. After all, you were once one yourself, even if you forgot. And someday they might be saving your keister! New players are going to pay forward the experience they have (assuming they stay!), so give them a good one and keep a positive cycle going. And while we are at it, take the opportunity to re-newb yourself if you can. The experience is a good reminder and definitely worth it.

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.