Has the divide between immersion and competitive become irreconcilable?

This is probably a ■■■■ post that nobody will read, but whatever.
You know, I’ve been a huge age fan since I was a kid.

I still remember the first time I played it - I was in charge of building a civilization from 3 villagers using rocks to a somewhat powerful empire. It was awesome, I’ve never experienced anything like it. I was too poor to buy the actual game, so I played that trial map over and over and over again, for months and months. I did weird things like spending hours just cutting down the trees between the bridge of the northern and southern continent.

Then AOK/AOC came out and I spent endless hours playing it on MSN Gaming zone.

I loved playing competitive.
When I look back though, the memory that always sticks with me is not the competitive play, but the sense of awe, mystery, and exploration when I first played.

I had always hoped that the franchise would expand on that, make me feel more immersed, add more resources, bigger maps, more realistic graphics and mechanics. To me, it’s not just the scaling of the units.

A more complicated game. I know a lot of you will disagree with this point, and that’s okay.

I don’t really play age games anymore, so my opinions are pretty moot. I don’t play because I find them boring after 20 years. I find the game play shallow and unfulfilling.

That’s okay. I understand that esports, and competitive play is a huge aspect of games nowadays, and I’m not really that interested in it. I’m a casual.

but - and I’m probably pointing out the obvious here - it seems like the age community is split along these same lines too.

Neither side is right or wrong.

I’m wondering how many of you feel the same way, is the divide between immersion and competitive play too great now, and will trying to find a balancing act between the two lead to a game that’s poor on both fronts?

I would rather the game be successful at one thing even if it’s the thing I do not like.

I bring this up for a preposterous idea. Maybe in the future the franchise will split into two parallel games? Idk, age of emperors, and age of empires or something?

I know, this is ridiculous and I’m going to get ■■■■ for suggesting it. Maybe, Age of Empires IV Online vs Age of Empires IV?

I realize resources are limited for game development, which is why I hope it’s successful regardless if they find a balancing act or not.

Anyway, send me your hate


You can have both, it’s simple really.

AoE4 is not designed for E-Sports.
The developers have said that their view on E-Sports is that if they make a good game that people enjoy playing E-Sports will come automatically.
Something that is fun to play is usually also fun to watch.

Casual and E-Sports is not a split, everyone starts as a casual. Especially in a genre that had no AAA release since 2010, a lot of people will start as casuals.
Some people stay casual, not everyone has the time or the will to compete with others, while others start playing the game competitively.

Age of Empires was always less complex than other games of it’s time. It want’s to be easy to access while still being meaningful and complex on a high skill level.
If you want more city building, there are games dedicated to that (and they are a lot of fun) and if you want more and bigger battles there are games dedicated to that too.
A game that wants to be everything can’t be good at everything.

AoE4 has done a lot to improve the immersion compared to AoE2. You won’t run into Mayan crossbows, Asian knights or Japanese looking Chinese buildings anymore.
Buildings are not just cut down or cartoony versions of the real thing like in AoE2, they look like real buildings that actually existed (Landmarks like the Tower of London) or could have existed.


Yeah I’m aware of most of what you mentioned, it doesn’t affect my opinion though.

And it kind of is a split between what aoe was (and is) and what I (and presumably others) hoped it would become.

That was kind of the point I was trying (and apparently failing) to make. For example:

Age of Empires was always less complex than other games of it’s time.

While this is true to an extent, even ensemble studios have said publicly that it wasn’t by choice. They wanted (and had a lot of ideas) for other things they wanted to add but didn’t have the time for. It’s also the reason aoc is more complex than aoe.

As the franchise progressed, I (along with others, including ensemble) expected the complexity to increase as well.

So while there are valid arguments for wanting to keep it simple (as you’ve mentioned), history isn’t a good argument. Neither side is “right”. They’re both valid opinions.

That’s the split that I think is irreconcilable

Thanks for your insight though, much appreciated

No hate for you, dude. It’s a very good post and It shows the reason due i love AOE: immersion. Competitive scene Is only stress for me, not really interested for It.


Aoe4 has the possibility to blow up big, sc2 has unofficially died with blizz not supporting future patches, and the next large competitive “stratagy” is league of legends TFT. Which is like drinking sparkling water when you want some cola. This brings be to my point, its 2021 now and the gaming industry understands a lot more than it did way-back-when. Specifically “player retention”.

-A game with player retention has natural FREE marketing via community driven (twitch,youtube,guides)

-Also the longer the player stays they might buy in-game cosmetics. I know we all “hate” micro transactions but it works. The more money made, the more money you can put back into the buisness, why do you think league of legends gets a patch every 2 weeks and has 100,000,000 ads all over the internet.

-Esports, self explanatory at this point. But it’s used as a tool for player retention.

These are all products of a competitive game.

A non-completive game would need a different business model entirely, typically a AAA price tag. A business model that would pay back investors relatively quickly but ultimately leave the game with less players, less payer retention and less money in the long run.

My opinion is they should make it FTP for completive play, and pay to play for most-campaigns. It would be a risk. I’m curios what they decide, ill buy it regardless but im hoping for FTP to finally see rts as a mainstream genre, make real money, and use this well known trade mark to its potential.

I know this isn’t what you were asking but its what it boils down to, and is the problem rts companies have been struggling with for the last decade.


I know this isn’t what you were asking

Nah this is a very well thought out answer and exactly the type of discussion I was hoping for. Thanks!

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I’m also under this impression. I’m more into the immersion/history side and tbh I’m a bit shocked to read some gameplay/competition fanatics at times, it’s like they want to butcher everything for gameplay’s sake.

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I don’t think they’re wrong anymore than I think we’re wrong.
I just feel like we’re at a crossroads and one side isn’t compatible with the other. It doesn’t mean one side is evil or anything.

It’s just that one part of the market wants A, the other B… and I’m worried that if they try to please both groups, both A and B will be poor and the game won’t be successful… because A and B are pretty far apart…

That’s why I was suggesting, you know, go all in with one or the other, and leave open the possibly to create a spin off game or something in the future… or have an aoe iv online and an aoe iv game with some… not so small differences…


I very much agree with you on this, though I want to challenge your framing in terms of this being about ‘competitive vs non-competitive’, I don’t think that’s the right way to look at the issue. With some notable exceptions the gaming industry has generally been getting worse at catering to the sense of discovery, and beyond even that sequels tend to be worse at this than originals. DOOM Eternal is a great improvement over DOOM 2016 in almost every aspect, except that, despite impressive heavy metal landscapes, the sense of discovery is almost completely gone and everything feels very mechanical. In the world of RTS and Relic we see the same going from CoH to CoH2 and Homeworld to Homeworld2; the sequels simply lack that respect for the journey.

It’s not about simplicity either. Maybe simplicity is a deal breaker for you personally but I posit this is not the underlying issue at hand. DOOM Eternal is a much more complex game than 2016, yet it is 2016 who is superior to catering to that sense of discovery and exploration. The same, arguably, can be said of Homeworld in relation to Homeworld 2. Then we have the old C&C games which use a much more simplistic RTS formula compared to something like AoE; yet they are very good at catering to that casual explorative mindset. Even AoE2, despite you personally falling out with it over the years, is largely being played in single player and random-map, SotL did some estimations on this and even today the mp numbers aren’t even close, so to say that AoE2’s mp success has pushed away it’s casual value is simply wrong.

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Yeah I guess I did indirectly say that, and I shouldn’t have. You’re right.

I guess what I should have said is that for this next game it seems like there are two circles in the community wanting vastly different things. Maybe I’m just reading the community wrong and these are just my own biases.

In age 2, just like back in the day, things were more aligned. I think?

I think you’re reading the community correctly, that sort of divide definitely exist. I just don’t think the issue at hand, from a design perspective, exist 1:1 with that communal divide. There are also other community divisions that complicate matters; for example people that want a new traditional rts vs. people who want a medieval strategy game with more simulation elements ala Stronghold or the upcoming Manor Lords.

I’m a bit too young to have experienced the community properly back in the day of AoE2’s release, but I do know that divide existed at least internally at Ensemble. Many features that we got in later ‘Age of’ games were actually originally a part of AoE2 but was removed due to complaints that it would be unfair; for example Relics that gave different bonuses and effects depending on type you found.

Wait isn’t Age2 ability of pleasing both casual and competitives its biggest strength?

Of course this has come with the cost of few sacrifices both on casual side, such as the fact that every civ play with the same units hurting historical accuracy, but allows the game to be played MP competitively with 37 civs, which would not be possible with 37 completely different civs both from a balancing and from a learning standpoint. On the other hand from an MP competitive perspective, 37 civs feel sometime too much to handle, but the way the game is structured (every civ have the same units) allows to at least approach them fairly easily with slight adaptation on general BOs and maybe to add new ones in the future without harming competitive experience.

In the end, if you want to make a success game, you need to attract a big audience with different demands, so you need to make compromises to please everyone as much as possible. No one will ever be 100% happy, but good compromises will be rewarded. The good side in this is that you can start as a casual, enjoy and start tryhardind MP, or you can switch from competitive MP to SP or more relaxed MP if you lose motivation or don’t have time to keep up and still enjoy it.

Their decisions speak louder than what their words in my opinion.
They may claim otherwise but they have actually paved the way to esports with their design decisions and cutting down and configuring so many things in the name of the same arguments again and again:

readability, clarity, accessibility, playability, inclusivity, marketability or whatever other word they decide to use to avoid saying ''we want the next big esport RTS thing to happen here so keep things as simple as possible and we weight more all of those things in the expense of immersion, realism, casual and/or innovative gameplay but we don’t say it to avoid pissing people off".
That’s what I see. And all of the features below were brought up many times by various people in the forum exactly because they seem butchered under those arguments. And I probably forget more of them.

  • more realistic/immersive and detailed graphics
  • animations and physics
  • proportions
  • unit responsiveness (see the topics on cavalry and elephant movements)
  • historical accuracy and details on units
  • personalized and beautiful UIs
  • pop cap
  • blood
  • map sizes (only heard promises thus far, the trailer maps presented looked quite small)
  • siege engine crews
  • saturation
    According to the art director they tweaked the saturation it in such a way so that the player will want to look at ‘important’ things. Like seriously? You will tell me what to look at? I personally like taking my time to admire the buildings and environments and do a lot of zoom ins and outs. They basically say here that they tweaked the colors and their intensity in a way that serves competitive play
  • And now we learnt that even the building’s rooftops got changed and designed under the same arguments to reflect their function. Honestly never before did I hear anyone saying that they couldn’t recognize military from civilian buildings and needed a targeted color for each of them which probably is another blow to immersive gameplay.

It is ladder games that make RTS brands last.

I will not spend any money on campaigns. Campaigns are just a waste of time in my opinion. If I would want to play single player I rather play games better suited for that like GTA or Red Dead Redemption.

For successful RTS games competitive play needs to be great. I did not play 10.000+ games of AOC on the Zone or 30.000+ games of SC2 because of the campaigns, I played because multiplayer was excellent.

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Nice post!

Plz press the button for traduction thx.

El primer juego del que me enamoré fue Age of Empires 2, era un niño pequeño, tendría 7 años y estaba en casa de una amiga jugando al ordenador, probé el editor de mapas y vi que podía poner todo tipo de guerreros y recrear las batallas fantásticas que me imaginaba y me enamoré.

Llegué a jugar antes a AoE 2 en la Playstation 2 y fue una experiencia horrible, y no habia editor de mapas jaja… pero aun no tenía un pc.

Cuando por fin tuve ordenador, jugué muchisimo a AoM, que se convirtió en mi juego favorito, la mitologia, sus diseños, asimetría y diversidad me encantaban. Empezé a jugar en competitivo, y a partir de ahí me cambió la forma de disfrutar de los videojuegos.
Ahora juego a AoE 3, y espero con ansias AoE4.

A día de hoy solo me gusta jugar en competitivo.

Pero creo que de niño veía el juego de otra manera, con sorpresa y emoción, y me da pena pensar que he perdido esa magia.

De todos modos el estilo de juego de compaginar recolección de recursos y combate militar es mi favorito, y me gustará el nuevo juego seguro elija el enfoque que elija.

Plz press the button for traslation thx.


I personally found it odd many people here are considering these as mutually exclusive.
Of course you cannot make a super-realistic game being very competitive at the same time. But of course you can balance them.
Right now people are arguing for any design in AOE4 that looks outdated or overly simplistic because “you need to sacrifice some accuracy/immersion for competitiveness/gameplay”.
Surely it is the case, but game industry has evolved for another 20 years, and the old way (which actually was THE result of reconciliation between immersion and gameplay due to technical limitations) is not the sole solution. As you have more advanced developmental tools, the design should advance as well towards the next balance point of that reconciliation.

I’m not the design expert myself so that’s why I pay for the product designed by others.

+1 Great post but there is 1 things I have to disagree.

In the case of RTS genre, esports, and competitive play is not a thing.

RTS is just a very different genre, due to complexity.
If it’s too simple its boring. But if its complex better player is annihilating the weaker player.

In Shooter, you can give both players different weapons they will have fun, no matter how bad or good they are at the game. Even the most casual can make a lucky shot vs pro gamer, but in RTS the masses of assembled units will always crush with their weight the casual.

There are “reasons” why StarCraft is the only true competitive RTS.
And it will remain as a product of its time.

You are absolutely right. I also can’t say where it started, but there is a big difference if we compare what games people like to frequently buy, and what games are made for E-Sports.

E-sport games feel by modern standards so lame and old.

Yo tampoco quiero que se pierda esa magia, espero que nos sorprendan después de todo.

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