Age of Conan Unchained: After The Switch
By Vincent Haoson, OnRPG Journalist
Age of Conan is one the latest titles to shift from the purely subscription based MMO titles to a “hybrid” business model where the game is playable for free while giving bonuses for subscribed players. The hybrid system also introduced the in-game cash shop system to AoC where players both free and premium can buy items in exchange for cash.
In theory, the business model seems to be a solid change since the trends these days is that a lot of premium based titles are now shifting to the F2P system with the inclusion of an in-game shop. But did it work for AoC? The answer, based on my observations, is yes, yes it did.
One of my gripes in AoC prior to Unchained is that the game lacked players. This was especially true on the low level cities and areas. Even with the 14 day free trial, the game’s early content can barely attract anyone new even with all the “innovations” they implemented into the genre.
However, now that I have returned to AoC with a new character – I see a lot of people lounging around cities or running around trying to finish a quest or two. From my previous trial of this game I only saw one or two players running errands. These players are now leading entire teams around the world as large questing parties have become the norm. The higher level areas are now more populated too.
Of course having more players is not without its downsides. The more pronounced downside is that there seems to be an influx of rude and uncouth players running around. While it’s not as much as I normally see in F2P games it is still shocking to get told off by some low-leveled newb.
In retrospect, this may be a good thing as well since it does provide a more “barbarian” feel since the world of Conan isn’t as nice and proper as the other worlds out there.
Of course one of the biggest issues games must consider when altering their model is the “fairness” between those who are playing for free and for those who are willing to shell out for their characters.
Personally, I really don’t see why this should even be an issue, since people who actually pay to play Unchained expect bonuses for their patronage since they are investing on the game itself via-paying for the subscription. So free players can just suck their thumbs and cry for mommy because those who paid get “better” service.
Also, I believe that the F2P system is more of a gauge at least for those who are coming in late to AoC to see if it’s worth their time. As I mentioned, the 14-day free trial before wasn’t enough to truly experience AoC and my engagement with Unchained hasn’t changed my initial impressions. You need to spend more than a month to truly enjoy playing AoC.
As a refresher to the difference between the free and premium subscribers, here’s the chart from Funcom chronicling the difference:
Most of the locked-out features are for players who are really planning on investing more time and actual money on the game. Free players are definitely shortchanged with their “AoC experience” as the game follows Turbine’s approach and keeps the best dungeons and end-game content available only to paying players. Previous subscribers can rejoice in this since they still have bubbles of premium world to call their own.
The Hybrid business model introduced the in-game currency system for all players where players both free and premium can spend more money to buy weapons, mounts, boosts and vanity items for their characters.
There is not much difference between most F2P game’s premium shop and AoC’s since it offers all the same conveniences you would expect.
In essence AoC hasn’t really changed in terms of gameplay and looks. The fact that the game is now more accessible to people is all in itself good. Comparing the pre Unchained days to what I see now, I can say AoC feels more alive than ever. On the other hand, the in-game store is a win-lose situation. For veterans it’s definitely a minus since weapon buying from the in-game store is like an insult to the many hours they spent farming gear on their subscription game. However, new players looking to spend can enrich the end-game PvP environment by gaining an advantage in gear to catch up to veteran players.
The Hybrid system so far is a good enough system that makes the games a little less daunting for new players. There is one thing that I noticed. Even if the hybrid system “dumbed” the game down a bit, the learning curve is still steep. That should be enough comfort for veterans that at least the hours they spent playing AoC wasn’t in vain. I imagine the old veterans will be stomping new players into the ground in PvP into the foreseeable future.