Aion, the graphically striking fantasy MMOG from Korean developer NCsoft powered by Crytek's CryEngine, will "raise the bar" for free-to-play gaming when it switches to the increasingly popular model in Europe in February.
NCsoft has partnered with Gameforge, a German developer and publisher of browser and client-based online games, which will handle Aion's free-to-play launch and all future updates.
In an interview, executive product director Volker Boenigk told us: "NCsoft and Gameforge started talks in early 2011 to discuss opportunities to collaborate in the free-to-play market. This is a great step to take for both companies and we certainly hope that it is only the first project in a long and successful relationship."
Boenigk assures us that, following the switch to free-to-play, Aion's core gameplay will remain intact, though tweaks have been made to its interface. "Most of the changes that had to happen were on the technical side," he said. "Switching a game to the free-to-play model is a significant effort, as is transitioning an already live game to a new publisher.
"Aion will raise the bar of what players can expect from a free-to-play title, not only in terms of game content and quality, but in terms of graphical fidelity and visual beauty," he continued. "The developers at NCsoft have put a great amount of effort into maintaining the engine and updating it with improved visuals while also maintaining moderate hardware requirements."
In a press release, NCsoft's chief strategy officer Songyee Yoon said: "By introducing the free-to-play model, we hope more gamers in Europe will be able to experience the epic story of Aion.
"NCsoft welcomes the partnership with Gameforge, with its long MMOG experience in the free-to-play sector and its excellent knowledge of the free-to-play market."
Aion is merely the latest in a long line of online games to switch to free-to-play. Sony Online Entertainment's DC Universe Online reaped immediate rewards from the switch, with revenue rising 700 per cent.
Star Trek Online, Age Of Conan, Heroes Of Newerth and Team Fortress 2 have also made the move, but success is by no means guaranteed. NetDevil is to close down Lego Universe on January 31 due to a lack of subscribers, despite moving to free-to-play in August.