Wings Over Atreia: Aion's Black Cloud Marketplace evolves to let you play more your way

Wings Over Atreia  Aion's Black Cloud Marketplace evolves to let you play more your way
Those of you who know me a bit know that I am not really a fan of cash shops. In fact, I don't sit in the cheer section for free-to-play at all; I am a die-hard subscription gal. But I know free-to-play and cash shops are a very entrenched and popular part of our gaming culture now (though I do celebrate when F2P games turn to subs!) and as an avid gamer, I can't avoid them. However, I also feel that there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to do both F2P and cash shops. The former, Aion already nailed on the head with the Truly Free model where all content is actually free to all players. The latter... well, in my opinion the Black Cloud Marketplace had definite room for improvement.

As it turns out, some of those improvements are happening now. And according to Associate Product Manager Sean Orlikowski, those changes represent a permanent new direction for the Marketplace. We're going to delve into those improvements and how they might affect the grand scheme of Aion right here in this edition of Wings Over Atreia.

Aion's Black Cloud Island
The wrong way

What about Aion's cash shop did I think was wrong? It created haves and have-nots according to wallet size. To me, that's just a big no-no. When it comes to my gaming, I firmly believe that skill and time investment should open the doors to all the goodies a game has to offer. If someone puts in the work, she should be able to get the reward. But with the Black Cloud Marketplace, only those with the bigger wallets could obtain special items because those items were bound to the player. Hence those who put in the time and effort and accumulated masses of in-game wealth lost out.

Additionally, many times the items in the cash shop were not bound to the player, but bound to the actual character. So even if players bought something, they couldn't decide to use it on a different toon without having to buy it again. That is definitely not playing my way -- it's restricting me.

The resellers' gameCorrecting the course

Currently we're seeing more things in the store that can be traded. It isn't an aberration, either. During our interview, Orlikowski talked about the course change away from player/character bound items in the cash shop. He said, "We're always looking at better ways to make BCM items more accessible." He continued, "We've been trying to get as much tradeable stuff in the store as possible so more people have access to them."

This allows players who prefer to work for in-game items to access to things previously only available to cash shop users. It also opens up the ability for players to get items and give them as gifts to friends in the game (which happens to be the one way I am most likely to use a cash shop!). Of course, players can do more than just give away these items -- they can sell them. Orlikowski noted, "NCoin buyers who want kinah can make a business out of selling to free players and everyone is happy!"

Personally, I think this change also better addresses the idea of pay-to-win that rankles so many people. While some players might want to take the easy road and use cash to buy items that make their lives easier in game, those who prefer to pay with sweat equity also have the opportunity to use those same items. The important part is that those who pay with cash are not treated better and given advantages over those do not.

Expanding the market

Orlikowski specifically pointed out how the new XP amulets available from the marketplace can be traded, whereas previously they were bound to a player's account. This gives more people access to them even if they don't buy any NCoin. Why does this matter? After all, there are different permanent quests in the game which reward players with XP amulets, and players also get more from different events (I still have stacks from a past Halloween event!). With the XP amulets, it's not a matter of not having something available in game, it's a matter of not having the same quality available.

A small bonusThe newest XP amulets are significantly more powerful than anything a player can obtain in game. They're called Elim's Amulets, and you can actually buy an hour-long boost that grants a 200% XP rate increase as well as a 50% drop rate increase on top of that. Many of the in-game amulets offer a 20% boost in XP only, or -- like the ones from daily quests -- add a minuscule drop rate increase. They also tend to have longer cool-down timers. This is a bit of a discrepancy, no?

Just the beginning

While I am heartened by Orlikowski's words and with the addition of some new tradeable items, the Black Cloud Marketplace still has a ways to go. A number of the boosts and buffs -- such as XP amulets, crafting boost charms, socketing boosts, stat scrolls, and Empyrean Crucible boost packs -- can be traded. Same goes for clothing and weapon skins. But a look through the products shows that many items are still bound to players. For instance, a very minute number of housing items can be traded, even on a player's own account. Manastone chests, waykeys for Infinity Shard and Danuar Reliquary, and Administrator's Boon scrolls (a buff that removes soul sickness, XP loss on death, and grants one-kinah transportation costs) are also still character-bound.

Aion's Black Cloud Island
Hopefully, the items that are currently locked will also become tradeable at some point. Whether it is me buying a cash shop item or another person buying the item and selling it to me for kinah, NCSoft gets the money either way. But when folks cannot or prefer not to use the Black Cloud Marketplace, NCSoft loses the chance for profit on items bound the buyer.

So those are some of my thoughts on the matter. What are yours? Share them in the comments below.

Soaring through the Aionosphere, MJ Guthrie touches down biweekly 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.