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 Age Of Empires Online  Goes Free-To-Play, Features Persistent Civilizations
Age Of Empires Online Goes Free-To-Play, Features Persistent Civilizations
January 25, 2011 | By Tom Curtis

January 25, 2011 | By Tom Curtis
More: Console/PC

Robot Entertainment and Microsoft Game Studios have announced that the upcoming Age of Empires Online will adopt a slew of social features and persistent systems, as well as a free-to-play business model.

The game shares many real-time strategy elements seen in previous Age of Empires titles, and borrows elements from MMORPGs, allowing players to earn experience and gear via quests or crafting systems.

Unlike previous Age of Empires titles, the game encourages players to focus on developing their civilization over time, with cities that persist and earn resources even while the game is not actively being played.

Players interested in unlocking every aspect of their civilization will be able to use real money to purchase a Premium Civilization upgrade, which will unlock all of a civilization's abilities at once, including special abilities on its tech tree known as "star techs."

Users that purchase a Premium Civilization will also have access to exclusive "rare" and "epic" loot tiers—non-paying users will only have access to the less powerful common and uncommon items.

The game will also offer a la carte microtransaction packs, called "boosters," that offer new quests or gameplay types, as well as packs of vanity items that allow players to customize the appearance of their civilization. Prices for the game's microtransactions, as well as its premium upgrade, have yet to be announced.

"We don't want to nickel and dime you; we're trying to build a community," said Microsoft Games Studios' Ian Vogel in regards to the game's business model. "We're not just trying to sell you a product. We want to have something that's living and growing moving forward."

The game supports player-versus-player combat, as well as cooperative play on roughly 90 percent of its quests. Some of these quests include an "elite" mode, which increases both the difficulty and the quality of gear rewards.

The title will launch with two playable civilizations, the Greeks and the Egyptians, each of which possess unique units and tech trees.

Age of Empires Online is set to launch digitally for PC on Games for Windows Live later this year.

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David Ravel
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Nothing warms my heart like one of my favorite franchises selling its soul to the not-so-free-to-play mmo scene. This press release pretty much dashes my hopes of the game retaining its rts core as anything more than a slave in the service of the mmo shell.

Jose Resines
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What a travesty this game is.

If this is what Microsoft is going to do in their newfound love for the PC (yeah, sure), I prefer that they leave us alone, forever. No more GFWL shit, no more bastardization of beloved franchises. We want a true AoE4, or even an AoE remake, not a Farmville clone, thank you very much.

Zachary Hoefler
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Unfortunately, Ensemble Studios was disbanded in 2009.

Stilyan Mirchev
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The rts was and still is great. But an MMO ... guys please reconsider. Blizzard spent tons of money on its Ghost project and shut it down in a matter of days, which was one of the most radical and successful decision I'd seen in a long time. Make an AoE4 and you will hit the jackpot, convert to a MMO and you will destroy a franchise.

Andrew Grapsas
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I can't express how much reading this article hurt. Killing my childhood.

Ian Vogel
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Hi guys. Don't worry, the core of Age gameplay is still there, alive and well! We're fans of the franchise too! We're carefully looking at balance issues, and will be through the life of this product, and some of that will include how matchmaking works, etc. I don't know why Farmville keeps coming up, but we are an Age game, we are a complete, full Age experience for free. I'd ask you guys to check it out, (after all it is free to play) but ask you to be open minded. We have made a great game. It's not Age 4. But that's not what we wanted to do.

We're already seeing a lot of positive feedback from many hardcore Age players in our closed beta, so I think if you can reformat your expectations, and look at the gameplay that IS there, and what we've added to it (questing, levelling up, etc) you'll see that it has all the charm and fun from the Age franchises, and the evolution of the Capital City, etc, gives players tons of customizations and choices. It's bigger than any other Age game out there! I hope you can check it out.


Ian Vogel
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Also, this article is a short update, so if there are any clarifications I can help with, let me know.

So, for the business model, We don't have a microtransaction model, we are basically ala' carte. You can play any civilization for free. You can use Gear, and PvP, etc., for free. Premium content is ONE purchase and it unlocks additional aspects of Gear and PvP, etc. You click on it once, and you unlock all the features for the Civilization. But free players get ALL the quests, a lot of gear, and crafting, and stores, etc, and can reach the same level as Premium players, etc.

I actually think it's really cool, and will add a great deal of value when you see what is there. All I ask is check it out when we release (sometime in 2011).

I'll check back throughout the day if you guys have any additional questions.

Zachary Hoefler
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I'd just like to say (belated) thanks for actively talking with the community and providing clarification. The gesture means a lot.

Bart Stewart
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With my gamer hat on, I'm with those who don't like the microtransactions model (and I think it's fair to consider the "boosters" to be a form of microtransaction). It guarantees a non-level playing field.

But I'd like my fellow dissenters to switch their gamer hats to game designer hats for a minute. Consider: there are a lot more people playing the "casual" browser/social games than MMOs. It would be crazy for a major game developer to ignore that still-growing market space... and Microsoft have never been crazy.

Furthermore, it's not crazy to enter the social game space with an adaptation of a known popular game. Not only can you sell that game from its predecessors, you can use the new game to help greenlight a new version of the original game.

So the real problem is not that the franchise in question is AoE; nor is the question whether making a social game is a good idea. The problem is purely one of game design: how could a social version of AoE be designed so that it retains the appealing elements of the original game while making money in the social space that doesn't use the one-retail-sale model?

A Premium edition and microtransactions are conventional answers to that design challenge. Well -- if we don't like that approach, what are some workable alternatives?

Jeff Beaudoin
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I keep seeing this game mentioned as an MMO, but from watching preview videos and descriptions of the gameplay, I don't really get the comparison. It sounds more like a campaign focused RTS with connectivity/co-op features and a persistent advancement mechanic.

Having WoW-style loot categories (common, uncommon, epic) or a leveling system doesn't really make this an MMO. Games like Diablo and Torchlight (2) also meet those requirements, but I doubt anyone would put them in that category.

So, it is free to play with an optional buy in, what is the problem? Not every free to play game is farmville -- see League of Legends or Bloodline Champions for examples of how a large scale game can leverage this business model without resorting to making utter garbage.

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I literally just had a few tears roll down onto my keyboard. And it's not laughter.

Man, I feel old.

Mark Buzby
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I don't understand why gamers feel that microtransactions create an unfair playing field. My opinion is that not being able to spend money to avoid a time investment creates an unfair playing field for people that have more time than money. Shouldn't I as a gamer be able to make up the difference with more money than time?

So if you want an even playing field, shouldn't you limit all players to the same number of hours per week that they can invest? Personally I think that would make for a bad business decision, just like not allowing your players to give you more money.