Spending cap, branding and expense of updates spelled doom for title, says Kevin Perry

Production model killed Age of Empires Online

A $75 spending cap and a poor production model killed Age of Empires Online, says Microsoft executive producer Kevin Perry.

The game launched in 2011 to an underwhelming reception, and by December had fallen from 100,000 daily active users to just 15,000.

By January of this year, developer Gas Powered Games had decided to cancel support for the title.

In a GDC Europe talk titled “F2P The Wrong Way” reported by Gamasutraand Polygon, Perry explained how branding issues and a flawed business model combined to nearly kill the free-to-play MMO.

The popularity of Age of Empires meant that many players who joined the new game at launch were disappointed by the relative lack of content as compared with earlier installments of the franchise.

While Age of Empires Online wasn’t anything unusual for the F2P market, as a RTS game many consumers expected more of the title.

"You don’t get a soft launch for a branded title," said Perry.

"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.’”

This might have suggested that adding new content would be enough to solve the game’s problems, but Perry pointed out that expensive updates just weren’t enough.

“New content didn’t move the needle anymore,” he explained.

The high cost of new content and low revenues as a result of the spending cap meant it just wasn’t financially feasible to keep churning out updates in the hope of creating growth.

"I came, unfortunately, to the real realization that I was treating the wrong wound,” said Perry.

“The business model, that needed to be fixed, wasn’t the big problem; the production model was the big problem."

In June 2012 Microsoft removed the spending cap, introduced a virtual currency, and overhauled the game’s economic system in one major update that lead to a sharp spike in revenues.

In spite of such strides forward, Perry thinks the evidence suggests that updates don’t attract new users, they simply keep old users engaged.

As long as the game depended on expensive updates to keep players interested, it just wasn’t going to be financially feasible to maintain.

"We did do a lot of things right, but they weren’t enough to actually save the game," said Perry.

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