In this world of World of Warcraft, to be labeled a Korean MMORPG is to be branded with a scarlet letter of inferiority. It calls to mind the old days, when talk of narrative and context was silenced by the endless slaughter of woodland creatures and nefarious demons, all in the name of experience. It conjures images of countless internet advertisements for free, online roleplaying titles, each with their own anime-inspired take on war. The current crop of Korean-developed MMORPG titles like Dream of Mirror Online, FlyFF and Rappelz are living relics of a time long forgotten. This is the climate facing Aion:The Tower of Eternity, the latest from the original Korean MMOG creators at NCsoft. Not only are they looking to wash away the sins of Korean MMOG hell with this new game, but their own distorted image as well.
In the past decade, NCsoft has published two Korean-developed MMOGs: Lineage and its sequel, Lineage II. Since the release of the former, they've expanded on a global level, opening up offices in Austin, Texas and Brighton, England. Their biggest hits have in turn become major players in the MMOG scene with Guild Wars and its expansions racking up millions of sales globally on its free-to-play promise and the City of Heroes franchise expanding to include Villains. Add the likes of Tabula Rasa and Dungeon Runners into the mix, and it becomes clear that the Western front of NCsoft's operations have been quite busy over the past decade. Yet, to most people, NCsoft still remains a foreign force in gaming.
"One of our challenges from this point on is branding," explains Aion Producer Juwon Lee. "Whenever people see NCsoft they say, 'Oh, that's the Korean company. We'd rather they say, 'NCsoft? That's a great MMO company.'"
Aion: The Tower of Eternity represents their first step to become a truly global company and, ironically enough, the first Korean developed MMOG they'll have released since Lineage II. The difference between now and then is the 500 pound gorilla in the room, World of Warcraft. Much like how Bungie changed the landscape of the first-person shooter with the release of Halo: Combat Evolved, Blizzard's MMOG giant has not only completely changed the way these games are created, but it's also become the most dominant of its kind, checking in at over 10 million users. Immediately upon its release, the genre was split between titles that existed before WoW and those that were released after, the influence readily apparent in games such as The Lord of the Rings Online and Age of Conan.