Age of Empires Online was released in 2011 as a MMORTS (Massive Multiplayer Online Real Time Strategy.) It was originally developed by Robot Entertainment, a group consisting of the remnants of Ensemble Studios, the original creators of the Age of Empires RTS series. Development later shifted to Gas Powered Games. The game, like its predecessors, was published by Microsoft. I talk now about its development, because as an MMO, it should always be in constant development. However, on January 4, 2013, it was announced that it was “finished its development phase, and now moves on into its support phase.” What does that mean?
It means that there will not be any more content updates for the game. The current 6 civilizations (Babylonian, Celtic, Egyptian, Greek, Norse, and Persian) will be the only ones. Also bug fixes will be rare, and some things may never even be fixed. They will however continue to support the game, and the servers will continue to stay up. The reasoning for this was given by a developer named Trajan on the official blog of the game. He says that no new content will be released “because creating top-tier content, as we have been for the last year and a half, is very expensive—too expensive to maintain for long, as it turns out. We can no longer afford to keep creating it. AOEO already has a very large amount of high-quality, hand-crafted entertainment, and adding more is no longer cost-effective.” The game, while not dead, is going to be hurting. The game will stagnate, and in time its servers will join those of City of Heroes. The question is why though. Why did this game come to this point? The answer, to me at least, is the fact that the game could not draw enough of a crowd that it was making enough money to continue the development. The reason for this, again in my opinion, is the fact that the game was at its core, a RTS.
RTS games are really a niche market. While some like Starcraft, Command and Conquer, Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War have their audience, others struggle to find their place. Dragonshard was a RTS that had the Dungeons and Dragons brand attached to it, but few have ever heard of it. Some even graduate away from the RTS genre all together. World of Warcraft was the sequel the the RTS series Warcraft.
MMOs of other styles beside fantasy RPG can work. Look at games like World of Tanks, and Team Fortress 2. Both of those games are different from the standard fantasy RPG. However when it comes to a MMORTS, I don’t think that they stand to much of a chance. We’ll see what the future holds.