Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
August 30, 2014
arrowPress Releases
August 30, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


Removing spending cap saved  Age of Empires Online
Removing spending cap saved Age of Empires Online
August 19, 2013 | By Mike Rose

August 19, 2013 | By Mike Rose
Comments
    11 comments
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Design, Production, GDC Europe



Removing a cap on the amount of money that players could spend on free-to-play MMORPG Ages of Empires Online essentially saved the game, Microsoft executive producer Kevin Perry said today.

In a talk at GDC Europe titled "F2P The Wrong Way," Perry explained that the online game originally had a $75 spending cap when it launched in August 2011.

However, the company found that player numbers dropped off quickly thanks in part to a lack of content, to the point where there were only 15,000 daily active users by December 2011, down from 100,000 at launch. Since players could only potentially spend $75, the game wasn't making much money at all.

As part of a massive overhaul to the games economic system in June 2012, lots of new content was added, and the spending cap was removed. An unlimited number of consumables could be purchased by players in the game, and as a result, revenues jumped sharply as the new players rolled in to check out the new content.

It also helped that, as part of this update, Microsoft introduced a virtual currency called "Empire Points," which caused players to spend more as well.

The problem with branding

The spending cap wasn't Age of Empires Online's only problem, however -- in fact, it was the popularity of the name itself that caused many of its problems.

Since the Age of Empires name is already well-known and well respected by plenty of gamers, it meant that when the game launched with limited content, large number of players were comparing the game to the rest of the series, and coming away disappointed.

Many free-to-play games launch with limited content, reasoned Perry, but "you don't get a soft launch for a branded game."

"We built the core of a game, but didn't finish it before launch," he added -- and coupled with the fact that so many people had high hopes for a new Age of Empires game, this left the company is a bad situation.

When new content doesn't help anymore

The Age of Empires Online team came across another problem around the same time -- "New content didn't move the needle anymore."

While the original issue had been a lack of content, the team suddenly found itself in a position where it was churning out expensive content, and it was making little impact on player numbers and sales.

For example, if the game had eight civilizations to play through, and two new civilizations were added, there really wasn't that much difference to the average player's eyes between eight and ten.

Adding new content was costing so much, but it wasn't bringing in new players, and the existing players mainly wanted deeper, more expansive features, rather than just new civilizations and the like. Yet this sort of feature-based content only satisfied a small number of players.

As such, the company decided to look at its production costs, and focus on smaller updates that would balance the cost versus revenue outcome. "Dense, single-use expensive content was what was actually broken in Age of Empires Online," Perry said.


Related Jobs

Backflip Studios
Backflip Studios — Boulder, Colorado, United States
[08.30.14]

Game Producer
Infinity Ward / Activision
Infinity Ward / Activision — Woodland Hills, California, United States
[08.30.14]

Producer - Infinity Ward
Infinity Ward / Activision
Infinity Ward / Activision — Woodland Hills, California, United States
[08.30.14]

Senior Tools Engineer - Infinity Ward
Nexon America, Inc.
Nexon America, Inc. — El Segundo , California, United States
[08.29.14]

Production Coordinator










Comments


Johnathon Swift
profile image
At what point would anyone in a business, ever, EVER think "Yes, people paying us money is good, but what if we tried to stop them from doing that?"

Daniel Backteman
profile image
Someone thinking about ethics and moral, what's beyond the monetary numbers.

Tom Baird
profile image
@Jonathan Swift
Ever seen someone get told they are too drunk to purchase alcohol at a bar or liquor store?

Damion Schubert
profile image
There are good reasons to put in limits.

1) Credit card fraud. Online games are awash with people trying to pay with stolen credit cards. Dealing with chargebacks from Visa is very expensive and time-consuming, and furthermore, if too much of your business results in a chargeback, Visa may stop working with you. Limiting spending until you can verify it's a 'good' customer isn't stupid.
2) Kids. How many stories have we read about kids who, with no concept of money, charged $2000 bucks to play a game on daddy's iPad? This acts as a control against that.

That being said, these limitations require the players to be able to turn off these restraints on their account. Most play-for-free games only monetize less than 10% of their population (World of Tanks is considered very high, and it only monetizes 25% - many facebook games only monetize 2%), so allowing your high spenders to turn off these constraints is pretty vital or you won't have a game anymore.

Jeff Lydell
profile image
These weren't limits like a tracked spending cap. They were limited by the amount of content that was available for purchase. It was like operating a book store that only had 10 different books for sale.

To finish the analogy, the fix was taking the 10 title book store, adding ten more titles and adding a coffee shop. Also it didn't save it, they stopped supporting the title since the costs of making new content were too high considering the returns.

Successful free to play models depend on either a very large amount of content to sell (League of Legends) and/or a model that encourages regularly purchasing consumable items.

Mark Venturelli
profile image
"(...) the company found that player numbers dropped off quickly thanks in part to a lack of content, to the point where there were only 15,000 daily active users by December 2011, down from 100,000 at launch."

"As part of a massive overhaul to the games economic system in June 2012, lots of new content was added, and the spending cap was removed".

The headline made me think that they just removed the cap and the problem solved itself. Sounds like the content was the hero here.

Mike Jenkins
profile image
Why make a casual free to play game out of an existing franchise that has primarily a hardcore following? You're set up to fail AND alienate your existing fans.

Which makes more sense?
-The numbers immediately decreased 85% because of a lack of content
-The numbers immediately decreased by 85% because the built in audience for the brand we decided to use was disgusted the first time they logged in and found a free to play pat on the back simulator

Ramin Shokrizade
profile image
I have to agree with Mike here. If you are going to go Dark Side with your monetization and just try to sell to whales, there is no point in holding back. You've already lost your core consumer group so just milk what is left for all it is worth.

G Irish
profile image
Agreed, but I think the problem is even bigger than the numbers they've posted. AOE III sold 300,000+ units in its launch year over 2 million units total. That to me suggests that a large portion of hardcore AOE fans didn't even bother playing at all.

So really what Microsoft succeeded in doing was reducing their audience by 99% from the previous full version. And all of the audience (excluding piracy) of AOE III paid for it.

TC Weidner
profile image
An unlimited number of consumables could be purchased by players in the game, and as a result, revenues jumped sharply as the new players rolled in to check out the new content.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
pretty sure it just became a pay to win game at that point. He who spends the most cash..wins... ugh

Lee Shawn
profile image
"(...) the company found that player numbers dropped off quickly thanks in part to a lack of content, to the point where there were only 15,000 daily active users by December 2011, down from 100,000 at launch."

"As part of a massive overhaul to the games economic system in June 2012, lots of new content was added, and the spending cap was removed".

The headline made me think that they just removed the cap and the problem solved itself. Sounds like the content was the hero here.
I Agree!


none
 
Comment: