Production model doomed Age of Empires Online, says dev

Microsoft Studios' Kevin Perry cites lack of content, poor monetization for free-to-play game's failure

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.

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Latest comments (2)

Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator 4 years ago
In all honesty I tried this a while back and I just didn't like the social aspect and all that. I much preferred the old ones. So with or without the monetization model, the game just wasn't fun enough for me.
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AOE online content was overpriced to begin with, greed != profit , simply raising prices doesnt mean you get more money, as often as not you get less, to many free to play games trying to push the boundaries of f2p prices, whales dont make good games, the trick is to make a game good enough to be truly f2p, and good enough to attract ordinary subscription gamers with reasonable prices for reasonable upgrades which dont make it p2w, whilst still providing some way for whales to buy everything in sight and funnel money into your backpocket, many companies fall flat with the contents and structure of their monetization of their f2p games, greed gets the better of them instead of making profit they end up with a lousy game, with lousy options that no one likes because its to expense to justify, even whales don't like the feeling they're deliberately being ripped of, they just want to throw money at something they like, in order to like it, it has to be likeable, to everyone, as well as reasonably priced.

Additionally aye, AOE Online, just isn't AOE, the home city is to limited, the way you upgrade your home city pretty irritating, to many attempts to force you to bring your friends into the game as well, it leaves people who cant convince there friends to join and lone wolf gamers having a very unsatisfying experience, you cant force social aspects of a game nor should you, theres no profit in it and it turns off a major potential source of revanue a pretty large section of the potential playerbase add this to the prices, the confusing levelling options attempting to monetize to much, also the cartoony graphics, don't really suit aoe, they want people to pay ridiculous amounts of money for the game, but dress it up like a kids version of aoe, most kids wont be playing it, Cartoonify != instant win, so stop doing it to everything in sight.

Most fans of the aoe series were already deeply deeply suspicious of the game's quality the second we found out the game was cartoony, release did nothing to improve the already bad impressions among what should have been the core audience, without this core audience its hardly surprising it struggled to find players, it was not just one thing but a litany of failures, the result of this is the failure is one of management, poor management, poor direction, and a fundamental lack of understanding over what makes a good f2p game, it was whoever oversaw the game that caused the issues, the entire direction was wrong from start to finish, damn shame the once mighty AOE series went out with such a final title.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alexander McConnell on 20th August 2013 9:12pm

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