Blog

The #1 Thing You Need to Know About Age of Empires Online
2/11/2011
Ian Vogel

Hi, everybody. Welcome to our new blog for Age of Empires Online ... long time coming, I know. I am Ian Vogel, the design lead at Microsoft Game Studios, and I am happy to write this first of many blogs for Age of Empires Online.

We’ve been holding off telling you a lot until we released the info about our business model, and we’ve released it! We recently had a great press event in San Francisco, and now the floodgates are open. We revealed to the world that Age of Empires Online is a free-to-play game, and we are giving you a full Age of Empires experience for free.

So what’s the #1 thing? I want to go over our business model so it’s really clear for you all. Trust me, it’s cool, and I think you all will be happy with it.

We’re trying some new things with Age of Empires Online, things never before done with an RTS or an MMO, so understandably there’s been a little confusion regarding what you get for free versus what you get when you pay. Thus, the team and I have decided to break this down into some easy-to-digest chunks, as well as create this blog post for reference. It’s fairly simple: We give you tons of content for free, and unlock additional features with Premium Civilization Packs. But all free players can reach the same level as paid players.

We really don’t want to nickel and dime you. We want you all to have a great time, buy what you like, and not worry about microtransactions or subscriptions. So, here we go!

Free:

Every civilization will have a free component:

  • The free part will have hours and hours of gameplay.
  • You will be able to play PvP.
  • You'll be able to play co-op with your friends and with people that you connect with on the chat channel.
  • You will be able to craft gear, consumables, and a lot more. Consumables are kind of like god powers from Age of Mythology.
  • Hundreds of quests will be available to you.
  • You will be able to spec out and tinker with your entire Tech Tree minus the premium Star Techs.
  • You will be able to create and use Workshops.
  • You will be able to use common and uncommon gear. (You’ll be able to pick up rare and epic gear, but you're unable to equip it—you will be able to sell or trade it, though.)
  • You’ll be able to use consumables.
  • You’ll be able to play every civilization for free. Let me say it again—at launch, you can play the Greeks and Egyptians both, for free, with the ability to get to the same level as a paid player. Play all future civilizations for free too!

Though you'll be able to play co-op and PvP as a free player, you won’t be able to set all the parameters of the PvP match. You’ll jump into a queue and be matched with someone of a similar level. You will be able to start a PvP match, though, and you'll be able to use the Merc Hall, which is basically random PvP matches.

Premium:

Every civ will have a premium portion. This premium, or paid, portion will give the player the ability to:

  • Use and equip rare and epic gear. This is the coolest gear in the game to equip on your units, villagers, and buildings.
  • Use Advisors, which will unlock unique units and civ powers.
  • Unlock the Star Techs in the Tech Tree. A few cool examples of Star Techs are:
    • Generating resources from your Market.
    • Having troops heal themselves.
    • Making your people immune to conversion in battle.
  • Set PvP parameters. As a premium player, you gain access to the Arena and War Councils:
    • The Arena gives you the ability to play PvP with a friend, in addition to the random PvP you’ll find in the Merc Hall.
    • The War Council gives you the ability to select specific game types, map types, number of players, and so on, with other players, and you’ll be matched via our matchmaking system.
  • More inventory slots. You’ll more than double your inventory slots when you upgrade to a Premium Civilization Pack.
  • More Workshops. Your city's productivity will improve with more Workshops to create all of the materials you need for crafting.
  • More Craft Halls. As a premium player, you’ll have access to more Craft Halls than you will as a free player. Craft Halls enhance your units based on your crafting choices.
  • Empire points. You have the ability to spend empire points on the best loot in the game.
  • Kick-backs from in-game stores. Add to your gold pile by getting kick-backs from people buying at your stores, in your cities.

The key thing here is that people who buy our Premium Civilization Pack don’t get a free get-out-of-jail card. All players still have to level up, earn the gear, and so on. You don’t just automatically buy your way to the top. In fact, I am seeing better players, who are playing with only free stuff, kick my rear, even though I am loaded with gear. So, it’s pretty balanced and we’ll continue to refine that balance up to launch.

That’s the biggest piece of the business model. But wait, there’s more! We’re big fans of buying what we want. So we’ve taken that same approach with the Booster Packs and Vanity Packs we'll be offering for purchase.

Our Booster Packs will take a more à la carte approach with add-ons. These packs can run the gamut from new game modes to story-based quest packs. Imagine packs that include a new co-op mode, or an Alexander the Great story pack. The best part is that you’ll be able to pick and choose what you buy. You don’t want those extra quest lines, but you like the new multiplayer mode? Go ahead and buy just that. There are no prerequisites for boosters either. You won’t have to own a full civilization or other boosters. Buy what you want.

Vanity Packs are just that, cool decorative and optional features you can trick out your city with. Think shrubs, fountains, pyramids, statues, and so on. We plan on having a lot of these, to let you customize your city if you like. Again, there are no prerequisites. You only want shrubs and not statues? Buy the shrubbery pack. You don’t want any Vanity Packs? No problem—they are completely optional. But I have to say, we’re seeing our beta testers do some amazing things with these!

Hopefully, this clears up any ongoing confusion regarding our business model.

Remember, the core Age of Empires gameplay is there, but we’ve added a ton of really cool things. I can’t wait for you all to check it out!