Albion Online Turns One
Launch Day: July 17, 2017
In the weeks leading up to the launch, anticipation in the Albion Online community reached a fever pitch. People took days or weeks off work to dive into the game, created extensive spreadsheets to document their burgeoning guilds and alliances, and spent late nights on the forums plotting their first steps in the world of Albion.
At 13:00 UTC on July 17th, the game was officially live, and people began streaming into the Royal Continent. It was a time of firsts: first kills in the red zone, first to enter a black zone, the first Hellgates, the first attacks launched and GvGs and most importantly for some, claiming the Home Territories.
Guilds began to take shape, and Alliances became clearer. "I was playing in the guild 8 Team during this time," says Emma-Jade, aka Evoque, Community Lead for Albion Online. "I remember how hyped players were and how extensively they prepared, planning days off work... it was a lot of fun as everyone in the map was at an early state and it was a relatively even playing field. On day one, 8 Team rushed to the city, got a guild island, and pushed T4 buildings out. Once the plots were open, the guild grouped up as fast as possible and we claimed as many as we could. I was not able to be involved in everything, as I was hosting the official stream on AlbionTV at the time, but I was fortunate enough to witness their progress and support where I could - it was important for me to really experience these unique moments alongside the players."
Streaming live on launch week
While thrilling, the launch was also challenging: the community had grown beyond all expectations, and was fully prepared to log in the moment the game was live. The numbers alone would have been challenging to handle from a support/moderation perspective, but coupled with malicious DDOS attacks (which caused blackscreen issues and other technical challenges), it became an exhausting week for the developers and the community alike.
"I remember how hyped players were and how extensively they prepared, planning days off work..."
Over the following weeks, the technical issues receded, and players were able to fully immerse themselves in the game. The Albion Online character builder officially launched on July 25, allowing players to share trusted builds and explore new ones, and players started reaching the higher tiers soon after that.
The Joseph Update: Prepare to Fight
The first few months after launch saw the formation of a more hardcore, PvP-oriented contingent in the Albion community. Guilds grew in size and power, and many players began to center their gameplay in Caerleon due to its access to the lawless Outlands.
"The community is now consolidated, and consists much more of players who enjoy Albion for what it is: a player-driven world with a heavy emphasis on hardcore PvP and aggressive economics."
Game Director Robin Henkys sees this phase as a sorting or consolidation of the playerbase: "Initially, we had a huge range of players who hoped Albion would deliver their particular desires. The community is now consolidated, and consists much more of players who enjoy Albion for what it is: a player-driven world with a heavy emphasis on hardcore PvP and aggressive economics."
With this competitive faction of the Albion community growing, the first post-launch update, Joseph, brought new PvP opportunities in the form of the Arena, which offered 5v5 battles in each of the game's cities, and PvE opportunities in the form of open-world treasure hunts and two new higher-tier Expeditions, which were dungeon-like adventures that could be accessed from the game's major cities.
The Albion Arena Masters Tournament took place in Fall 2017, and saw dozens of teams vying for the title.
From the betas through the release and into late 2017, players gained a much better understanding of Albion as a hardcore sandbox game, which in turn led to a better understanding of what to expect from it. "Feedback on the forum increased in quality by a lot," says Michael Prietzel, Game Designer for Albion Online. "This was really helpful, especially for time-intensive features: because we have a rather high-level view on those, it's always great to get some feedback on how they actually play out in the game."
The Kay Update: Forging Alliances
Then, in December, less than five months after the game's launch, the Kay update introduced GvG Seasons, territory raids, and a political world map to the game. On December 7, one day after Kay launched, the guilds Exertion and Money Guild fought a pitched battle for control of Caerleon Down.
The battle for Caerleon Down was one of the largest in Albion's history
With the stakes for winning growing higher, some formerly powerful guilds found it harder to stay competitive, and disbanded. "It's been interesting to watch the rise and fall of certain guilds since launch," says Game Designer Dominik Mueller. "I do miss Envy, Red Army and Black Mamba - some of the biggest guilds that used to rule a lot of Albion. It was always amusing to witness the slightly salty banter in the Local Chat."
As with any power vacuum, though, others were waiting in the wings. Eventually, one guild began to rise through the ranks and dominate the political map: Money Guild, de facto leaders of the OOPS Alliance. Their Roman Empire-style approach to territory conquest (offering membership, protection, and gathering rights to other guilds in exchange for Silver tributes) allowed them to defend their holdings while extending their reach into new territories, and ultimately allowed them to emerge as the season's winners.
"I do miss Envy, Red Army and Black Mamba - some of the biggest guilds that used to rule a lot of Albion."
With the third GvG Season now underway, the hardcore PvP aspect of the community continues to grow and evolve. "Players have become more competitive and organized in PvP," says Combat Designer Michael Schwahn. "It's amazing to see how players handle our PvP now in such a highly competitive fashion." And while Money Guild was able to win the first two GvG Seasons by a comfortable margin, a new coalition of rival guilds threatens to unseat them in Season 3.
July 17, 2018: Year Two and Beyond
With the first year of Albion complete - and the Merlyn update coming on July 31 - the team feels upbeat about the future of the game. "I think with more focus on open world activities we can make it possible to further close the gap between different types of players, and bring them together to play in the same sandbox," says Prietzel. "I hope Faction Warfare feature will be a big step in that direction."
Faction Warfare, the major new feature of the Merlyn update, aims to strengthen the Royal Continent with trade, outpost claiming, and open-world warfare.
The game’s population has steadily grown with each recent update, a trend that will hopefully continue with the team planning on consistently delivering 3-4 major updates per year. "I fully expect us to expand on the strong foundation that we have laid," says Christoph Hombergs, Sandbox's Head of Operations. "If you read comments these days when people ask 'is it worth coming back,' the overwhelming majority of the responses are 'the game has come a long way, is so much better.' I expect this to be the case for the second anniversary as well."
"Now that the community has somewhat consolidated and we have a clear idea of which players are sticking with Albion and why, it becomes easier to develop directly for these players."
Robin Henkys, in his role as Game Director, sees ample opportunity for the world of Albion to grow and develop in the coming years: "Now that the community has somewhat consolidated and we have a clear idea of which players are sticking with Albion and why, it becomes easier to develop directly for these players. You'll definitely see a push towards more and better open world play next - we‘re currently planning a massive overhaul of open-world PvE, for example. Apart from that we‘re planning to steadily improve the game on all fronts: better accessibility for new players, improvements to existing features as well as new features for existing players."
Ultimately, as a player-driven world, Albion's fate rests with its players - and if the past year is any indication, the coming years will hold their fair share of surprises.