Age of Empires Online is still up and running after two years, but it's clearly not the success Microsoft had hoped it would be. As reported by Polygon, Microsoft Studios executive producer Kevin Perry assessed the game in a GDC Europe talk today titled "F2P the Wrong Way: Age of Empires Online."
Perry said just after the game's August 2011 launch, Age of Empires Online had 100,000 players. However, because of problems with its business model, the number of active users "fell right off a cliff," to the point where it had only 15,000 players that December.
One big problem was that the game didn't launch with enough content--just two playable civilizations and one booster pack--and the business model didn't include any consumables. As a result, the most any player could spend on the game at launch was about $75, so even attracting whales wouldn't have done much to offset the small player base and number of people who declined to buy content. Ultimately, the lack of content and the business model undercut Age of Empires Online's chances to succeed.
"You don't get a soft launch for a branded title," Perry said. "Players come there for your brand. You only get word-of-mouth once. Whenever we got new players, they always came in with the overhead, 'but I heard this game sucks.' ...That hill was extremely difficult to climb."
Perry said even the attempts to save Age of Empires Online were misguided. In December of 2011, Microsoft cut the price of some premium content in half.
"When you discount things permanently in this way, you demonstrate to your player base that [the game] wasn't worth it to begin with," he said. "You send the message that the content isn't worth very much."
One of the things that did seem to work at first was introducing new civilizations, but Perry found that the bumps in revenue they provided were temporary and unsustainable, soon leaving the developers facing the same problems they had before.
"I came, unfortunately, to the real realization that I was treating the wrong wound," Perry said. "The business model, that needed to be fixed, wasn't the big problem; the production model was the big problem."
Perry believes that the new content was good for keeping existing players around, but did little to attract new users.
"We did do a lot of things right, but they weren't enough to actually save the game," Perry said.