So Aion will be going free-to-play in February. But only if you’re in Europe, which is a major sticking point for North American gamers. The bigger issue that people are wondering about, however, is “Who still cares about Aion?” Well, more people than you’d think.
I haven’t played Aion since giving it a brief look around when it released in September 2009. A lot of other people seemed to share my frustration and as the launch hype cooled, most people were ready to consign it to the list of failed MMOs. But a closer look at the numbers — or at least the numbers we have access to — tell different story.
We’ve used the numbers at compete.com (a better version of the better-known Alexa) for some time at the magazine to get a rough idea of a game’s popularity by tracking the hits on its website. A look at Aion‘s chart (for its North American site) shows a strangely jagged trend the last few months, which I’d probably attribute more to Compete’s wonkiness than the actual ups and downs exhibited by the game. With those as a part of the equation we use to figure a site’s popularity, Aion ranks 16th on our list, which makes it far from a “failing” game. But take it as it was prior to June, with about 50,000 monthly uniques, and it’s 28th, smack-dab between Star Trek Online and EverQuest II, which both have or soon will go F2P.
But there’s another component to our rankings, and that’s social media traffic. Here’s where Aion really picks up steam. Of all the games we track, Aion is 6th in Facebook followers and 15th in Twitter followers. That Facebook rank makes it more popular than Rift, EVE, and Guild Wars 2, and the Twitter number ain’t so shabby either. I’ll go into more detail as to what numbers we use and why we use them, but in a sense, I consider the FB/Twitter numbers a truer representation of a game’s potential player base, since they represent actual, unquestionable numbers of people who are interested in a game, whereas web hits, as reported by Compete, are both of dubious veracity and can include people who have little to no interest in playing the game (like me).
In our combined rankings, which utilize elements from all three of these metrics, Aion would rank 9th overall this month. It’s probably doing decent money for NCSoft, at least in North America, and the decision to go F2P in Europe is probably a good one and not the U.S. is a good one, if out the ugly Compete graph for Aion Europe is even remotely accurate. Finally, keep in mind that, unlike many other big-name games, NCSoft doesn’t pay a licensing fee; the Aion universe is the company’s own creation.
Even when I wasn’t that into MMOs, I was hearing people talk in glowing terms about Aion pre-launch and how it would be a revolutionary new game. I think some of the disappointment that it wasn’t perfect, that it was “too Asian” (TERA, ArcheAge, are you paying attention?), has led some people to think that it was a colossal flop. It probably isn’t as big a success as NCSoft would like it to be, but it’s probably successful enough in the U.S. not to be F2P-ed just yet.