Speaking at GDC Europe 2013 “F2P The Wrong Way,” Microsoft Studios executive producer Kevin Parry, said that a lack of content was Age of Empires Online’s biggest issue. Perry said the team’s output could not keep up with the revenue model the game needed to thrive. According to Polygon‘s summary of Perry’s presentation, the game had a broken free-to-play model at launch that capped spending at $75 which prevented the “whales,” players that spend the highest amounts of money, from supporting the game with their purchases. Once the cap was removed with the addition of consumables and cosmetics in June 2012, purchasing jumped, but the team was unable to keep up with the demand for deeper content while remaining profitable.
Part of the reason people expected so much more was the Age of Empires name. The brand is associated with expansive real-time strategy experiences, which the production team could not keep churning out at the rate needed to retain players. Perry also said the game’s poor initial reputation hindered new player acquisition.
“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,” he added.
Although Age of Empires Online is still playable, content development ended in January of this year. Tom didn’t like the launch version of the game at all, but he did like it a little more after the summer update.