About this Blog

The purpose of this blog is for my personal use. It serves as my personal diary as I investigate Chinese internet/gaming companies for investment purpose. If you have any comments or disagreement, please give me feedbacks.

Friday, June 5, 2009

SNDA's AION review – part 5. How will the game do?

One can find part 4 of my review on AION here:


First, I will list the weakness of the game below.

The graphics in this game is top notch. There is really no complaining of this game graphically. But this game was advertised in China as the most technically advanced game in the world. But this game is definitely not the state of the art in terms of graphics. From the following picture, one can see that this game is based on the modified CryEngine 1 game engine. But games using the newer generation CryEngine 2 are out already.

A game using CryEngine 2 will probably be beyond the capability for most of Chinese player’s computers. But on the other hand, I wonder what would happen when Chinese players find out that this game is not the most technically advanced game.

The second thing that might hold this game back is its competition. WOW’s new expansion pact is going to be out pretty soon. I will assume that NTES will start operating WOW in June/June this year. It will probably get its new expansion pact out a couple of months after that. That could be a very dangerous time for AION. I am certain a lot of players will go back to WOW.

In addition, this game is not expected to be very popular in the west. WOW is still expected to be the overwhelmingly dominating game in the west. For average Chinese players, do they want to play a “western” theme game made by a western company and is number 1 in the west, or do they want to stick with a “western” theme game made by a Korean company and is a bit player in the west?

One reason WOW is so popular in China is because it can be a bragging right for average Chinese playing the best game in the world. To most Chinese, the best game means the number 1 game in the west.

There was a “cool” factor in playing WOW. Now, it is cool to play AION. But after the new expansion pact is released and as it becomes clear that AION won’t be popular in the West, the cool game will be back to WOW.

The third thing that might limit the popularity of this game is that this game is not as relationship based as some other popular Chinese games. For example, the craft system is extremely simple. There is really not that much fun to do crafting. That makes this game a combat dominated game.

The castle siege can happen many times. It means it would be impossible to hold a castle for any long period of time. If an opponent really wants to take your castle, he would just attack you at the most inappropriate time (2AM). Since nobody can hold castle, clans won’t try to grow by taking over more and more territory.

Therefore, there are little emotional attachment to any territory, it is easy for clan to go some places else (like another game).

In addition, because clans are not going to be able to hold a castle for long, they are not going to spend money and resources to improve its defense. Therefore, Castle warfare is purely depends on which side has more troupes. There is no strategy involved.

That leaves free-roaming PvP. Well, what's there to say? You run around, you kill people, people run to guards, people bring friends, you run, come back, kill more people. Not much more to say honestly. No complaints but nothing that immediately stands out as amazing. Just more abyss points and sometimes some pretty epic skirmishes.

Therefore, what we have is a game that is not strong on relationships, but is designed to be strong on combat, except the combat is not as fun as it could be.

Do I feel this is a big problem? It might not be. I think NCSoft will keep on introducing more combat options. Even though combat can be lacking right now, but I think it is something that will probably be fixed in the not too distant future.

The biggest reason that will limit the popularity of this game is NCSoft’s inability to control bot players. NCSoft had a history of having trouble with bots. After one month of operation of Aion, it is clear that they will have problem with bots in this game as well.

No matter what they do with GameGuard, bot makers would break the code and provide work around in no time. Most of the bots won’t be controlled by regular players. Most of the bots will be controlled by gold farming companies. For those companies, it is how they make their living. They are not going away.

But does this mean AION is doomed in China? No not at all. I honestly believe that Chinese players are a lot more tolerant of bots than their western counterpart. They don’t like it, but they will tolerate it.

Another important thing to remember is that these bots makers have to pay money to SNDA and NCSoft just regular players. As long as SNDA can keep bots under levels tolerable by the regular players, it is making money from both the regular player and from bots.

In the final analysis, if one defines a mega hit as a game that can achieve a PCU of 500k, I think AION is good enough game to become a mega hit. It is just a wonderful game to play.

On the other hand, because of the weaknesses I addressed above, it will definitely not achieve the level of success WOW will achieve. In summary, I think AION will be a mega hit. But it will encounter strong limit and it will be hard for it to become 1 million (PCU) player game.

SNDA make it virtually impossible to track server statistics. Unlike NTES or SOHU, where they allow players to know exactly how busy all the servers are, SNDA is on another extreme. SNDA won’t even let you know how busy the server you are on is. I don’t understand why SNDA is doing this. SNDA makes it virtually impossible for people to know the health of any of its games. I have absolutely no idea how many people is currently playing this game. I can’t even provide an estimate.

Finally, AION is the first successful game in the last 2 to 3 years that uses the paying game model. It is also the most expansive paying game in China right now. The fact that it is so successful indicates that paying game (or time based) model is still workable as long as the game is good.


A test for now