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Customers’ mixed feelings towards Aion have the guys at NCSoft between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they could charge for the upcoming Aion: Assault on Balaurea and risk giving the impression that they are nickel-and-diming the playerbase. On the other hand, they could release the expansion for free and forego any revenue in favor of customer goodwill.
Kris Graft at Gamasutra.com has recently explored the topic with Aion’s lead producer Chris Hager. Hager explains, “I think what it came down to was that we felt it offered good player value, to give it to players for free, and we just wanted to make sure that if in the future we ever do charge for anything, we make sure it’s a good amount of content. We don’t want to nickel and dime players.”
From the looks of it, the team at NCSoft is on their way to coming to a decision that will be more beneficial in the long-run. Assault on Balaurea will raise the current level cap to 55, and add new instances, zones, weapons, items, skills, pets, and much more. Though this is a hefty load of content, NCSoft plans to put a price tag on larger expansions, and mark updates of this magnitude as complementary so that the entire playerbase may experience them together. This “free expansion” reflects the fact that the game industry, at it’s core, provides a service to their customers, the players. The more tangible that service is, and the more generous a company can be, the more players will continue subscribing.
NCSoft has warmed up the concept of microtransactions in it’s past games, and plans to do so with Aion. Having dabbled with minor offerings on Valentine’s Day and other holidays, the team is familiar with the cash shop, but does not plan to over-inflate it’s selection as other games do. Further, this expansion may appear to some as a last resort to patch a leaking playerbase, but the guys at NCSoft will be the first to tell you that this is not the case. “We’d love to share our numbers, because we think everyone out there would be extremely, pleasantly surprised with our current userbase,” Hager said.
So, it looks like Aion: Assault on Balaurea is NCSoft’s first “free expansion”, with more to come in the future. If you’re a little behind on the major Aion updates, here is a link to the 1.9 feature guide.