Chain Reactions: Unforeseen Consequences
Sep 23, 2009
~3 minute read

Traditional computer games don’t tend to change much when they’re released in countries beyond their original target. They typically get the dialogue and interface translated, perhaps a few name tweaks, and occassionally certain specific elements get modified to meet certain countries’ laws (such as restrictions on pandas or skeletons in China). But even those changes tend to be only cosmetic in nature.

Every so often (and much more likely in the case of MMOs), a game has significant changes made to its actual mechanics. These mechanics need not be limited to the game play, either - sometimes the most significant changes take place outside of the game world yet the impact is felt within it. A good example of this would be the recent release of Aion in the West. One of the biggest changes, though neither those playing in the West nor the East might realize it, centers around the billing model for the game.

In Korea and China (the markets in which Aion originally launched) players pay according to the amount of time they spend in-game, buying time credits which are consumed while playing. In light of this, the game itself is set up in such a way as to allow (and encourage) players to stay online for long periods of time, as this earns the game provider more money proportional to the additional time. Players are never kicked off the server due to inactivity because that would be counterproductive profit-wise.

For the release in the West, however, the billing model was changed to match other Western MMOs, using a fixed monthly subscription fee. As a result, certain design choices made to cater to the Eastern billing model have now come back to bite: when faced with the problem of queues to login to popular servers, many players are taking advantage of the lack of auto-disconnects when a private store is active and are simply leaving their characters logged into the game. Not only does this somewhat negate the point of queues in the first place, but it also makes those queues worse for unfortunate players who didn’t get onto the server early since the AFK players count against the population cap.

Getting a bit out of hand...

Getting a bit out of hand...

Luckily, in this particular case the Aion developers identified these unforeseen issues quickly and found a viable solution: just limit the time for which a private store can be open without being re-created. This is just one example, however, of how changes to one element of a game (both including and beyond game play) can affect what would nominally be completely unrelated aspects.

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