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Jul 29 2010

Lance Stites Talks About the State of Aion

Published by at 4:07 pm under Aion

Last night, Lance Stites, Executive Vice President, Game Operations and Production NCsoft West, posted a reply over in the North American forums on several questions about Population concerns, Westernization, Server balance and Promises unkempt/delayed.

Hello everyone,

Thank you for the “invitation” to speak. I can appreciate that many in the community would to hear from the Studio Head on occasion and honestly, I enjoy the privilege of interaction with the players. I’m glad to answer the questions that I’m able, but let me lead off with pointing out the tone of the questions painting a bleak picture of Aion population isn’t necessarily accurate. It’s true that we’ve seen declines from our initial 30 day peak, but I would not characterize them as totally anticipated or unexpected. We have seen a percentage that have left after determining that Aion wasn’t what they wanted, but we’ve also banned a significant number of fraudulent accounts. In spite of this, we’ve seen our CCU and activations stabilizing, we still have a strong community and we’re committed to improving our service and product, including the recent 1.9 update and our soon to be released Aion: Assault on Balaurea expansion.

1.) Decreasing population

A. Does he as Executive Producer recognize this situation?

Yes, we track the numbers on a daily and weekly basis.

B. Are their any plans to regain population?

We’re working to deliver quality events that players can enjoy and are providing feedback and request to the core dev team. We think we made some good changes with 1.9 and think that Assault on Balaurea will further improve the game. We also have recapture plans in the works as well as other acquisition plans. We’re thoughtfully examining the proper timing to conduct this initiatives (bringing in new players in front of 1.9 and other quality updates may not result in the retention numbers we’d like, as an example.) Additionally, someone mentioned that “he’ll never give hard numbers”—I am sorry to say that this is indeed true. That information comes out of our finance group if deemed appropriate and as a publicly traded company there are things I’m simply not authorized to reveal.

C. Is there any thought (with failing pop) that Aion has not been westernized enough?

I think there could be an argument for this, there’s a lot of data and feedback we’re providing to the dev team and I believe the game has room for further improvement. I know the devs are working hard on updates and supporting all the serviced territories.

1. What about the activity increase during double xp weekends? Are you working to get that as a standard or was that an exception?

Mixed feelings on this one. Personally, I love ‘em. But you’ve sort of got to step back and consider what’s good for the long term health of the service. It’s great as long as it lasts, but when it turns off, you get a bit of a hangover. (But my Dad used to say the best cure for a hangover was to never stop drinking…)

2.) Westernization

A. What does this mean to the game? In what ways has it been implemented? What do we have different that Korea does not?

The bulk of westernization has been in the creative rewrite of the game and not in specific game play mechanics. We did participate heavily in the direction of the 1.9 patch.

B. No other Korean game has made a successful pass to the western market. We were told that Aion would break that trend. Currently this game is declining as well. Will you look at revamping it to be more?

If I put as much spin on my answers as was put into this question, the readers of this thread would be ticked off. Our number have seen a decline, but they’re stable and have seen some weeks of growth since 1.9. Aion is a good game, it has a good foundation and some good mechanics. It’s not the perfect game for every player, but it delivers on a fun experience. We’re going to continue to work to deliver the changes the NCW player base wants and needs.

C. What works in Korea does not work here. If it did, Aion would not be in it’s current condition. Are you expecting a pure Korean update (Aion 2.0) to be the answer?

This is a question I have to be a bit evasive on at this time. We do have an initiative in place to address this question, but I can’t share the details just yet.

3.) Server balance

A. It was promised that Aion would maintain balance between race ratios. As a pvp centric game, this is essential. Where did these mechanics go during transfers?

This is a tough one, we really felt obligated to let players shift their characters during the merge. Friendships forged, legion allegiances—it’s a pretty important thing. So, we relaxed the restrictions to allow players to shift their own characters. We also have a situation where players have ended up with both races on a single server and need to move them around to solve that problem.

B. What are you going to do, to get servers rebalanced?

At this point, we’ve got a few ideas to help resolve the problem, but we need to verify our ability to execute. We’ll announce this when we have full, confirmed details.

4.) Promises unkempt/delayed

A.Do you feel NC west has kept it’s promises to the community?

Not always, no. Frankly, we’ve committed to things we shouldn’t have with the best of intentions that we never should have. That being said, we don’t take it lightly when we have to delay things or break promises—it even pushes us into other bad decisions at times. We need to get better at that.

1. We were promised transfers back in February. Also that it would be handled professionally. What we got was 4 months late, and a free for all with tickets for major cases.

Agree. See above.

2. We were told of 1.9 with a 1st quarter release. July doesn’t meet that.

I honestly don’t recall that, but if so, then yeah, that was a mistake to announce it. We get in between a rock and a hard place on a daily basis. This question would have been “why won’t you give us release dates” if we’d have held off until we were positive. We do actually try and be transparent, but we’re obviously going to have to be more careful when and what we release to improve our track record of keeping our promises.

B. Can we expect more communication from NC West on these things? It feels like Tamat is left in the dark a lot.

As above, we work in a dynamic environment. We don’t just code to solve a math equation, we create a subjective product that has to meet the definition of “fun”. Sometimes that takes a few passes to get right. And sometimes you have to chuck it and start over. And sometimes you announce a date and your lead designer comes down with the flu and is out for a week and you end up breaking a promise on a date. We run the risk of missing dates if we share to early.

I’ll tell you this much, we wouldn’t have a community team of what, like 10 people working on this game if it you as a community in general weren’t important to us. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and cast stones. I’ll be the first to admit we’re not perfect, but we suit up every day and wade out into the fight to do our best to bring you a good product and the best product we can. This team cares about the product and we care about our players. We don’t often get easy problems, but the first thing we ask is “what’s best for the players?”

So, that’s it in a nutshell. I recognize we have more information we need to provide, so the production team is working on an open letter that’s got the next steps we’re working on.

Sincerest regards,

Lance Stites
Executive Vice President, Game Operations and Production
NCsoft West


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