It seems like some sort of progression system will be a thing in AOE4

It saddens me to say that my confidence in the AOE4 team and their vision for the game is slowly drifting away as I’m starting to see the direction this is heading to.

Following that Relic job ad which specified ‘working on progression system’ for Age of Empires 4 (AOE4 Game Designer opening), we now have further proof of the path they are committed to take with AOE4.
It’s quite disappointing for me especially since Carolina (whom I’m about to quote, a developer within the AOE4 team and whom I had the pleasure of meeting on that Homeworld 18th aniv. stream) was talking in October about the return to the basics of AOE and the RTS genre back when it thrived in the 90’s (link here), but is now stepping on her own words:

Carolina, AOE4 Relic developer
Q: Oh, how’s that? [on what she tries to achieve at work]

A: We’re thinking a lot about progression in RTS games and how those systems could focus on helping players develop their skills. It would be great to build progression systems that actually help players get better at the game, not just arbitrarily leveling up or unlocking power. We believe this will create better value for a player’s time investment and be more meaningful, while respecting the competitive nature of our games.
link for the quote here

The quote is self-explanatory, RPG stats/elements obtainable over time which stick with the player/profile indefinitely and which “help players get better at the game”, thus having an artificial influence on gameplay. It then goes on to mention “competitive” in the same sentence…

While I do understand the urge for many devs to introduce such systems at first thought, since even old-school shooter titles like Doom have added them nowadays (when they really shouldn’t), it disappoints me how they simply don’t have the courage to be different from the current superficial market and just stick to the basics and it strikes me how after all the flops in the RTS genre they just fail to understand the simple fact that we don’t need to be stimulated by any kind of artificial gimmicks influencing gameplay when it comes to RTS games (be it an achievable feat, a more powerful or efficient feat, a better weapon or unit, cards/decks, home-city etc); the mere playing of the very game and getting immersed in its beauty or in its competitive and non-repetitive gameplay where everyone has access to everything equally at the start of each game is what makes us come back to titles like Age of Empires 2 or Starcraft or Company of Heroes 1 and stick to them, it’s what made RTS so popular, it’s what defines them. If I want to play a game with progression, I will go and play an RPG or MMO, where the whole point is the advance in this system.
The very fact they keep brainstorming about this without quick natural results should make them realize it is an unnatural forced feat to a title such as AOE.

Not to mention that such a mechanism is itself NOT competitive by nature; of course you have problems “respecting the competitive nature of our games” since you try juggling with the very basic idea that makes them competitive in the first place => equality. The only way a progression system altering the gameplay could work in multiplayer while still keeping it competitive would be to have different leagues for each kind of gameplay alteration feat, as in World of Tanks (a Free To Play game which relies on micro-transactions, thus a progression system you are willing to pay for if you haven’t the time to grind) where every category of tanks are placed into a matchmaking with only that same category. But you can’t have such a system in AOE4. And what’s the purpose of having a better feat “helping you get better” if you are matched with the same limited opponents anyway; better just have everybody have access to every feat since AOE is not an MMO and is not a free to play game.

Also, needless to say my concern is even greater since progression systems are easily tied to micro-transactions, which I will never support for AAA titles.

So, I can’t understand why are you, Relic, so stubborn to follow the current market trend? Do you want a progression system so badly you just can’t help it? Here is an idea how to do it in a constructive manner:

    1. First off, ditch absolutely everything that affects gameplay directly.
    1. Now build player profiles which everybody in the game can access (ability to access other players’ profiles too) and which have details of their total wins/losses for multiplayer and vs A.I. since they started playing, their total units killed, total structures destroyed, average time they reached imperial (or whatever) age, average time they researched a particular technology, the percentage of games they played with a certain civilization, the ability to see statistics vs a certain opponent (e.g. 5 wins against John and 3 losses, +14 ELO points gained against John), see past games details, at least the last 10 recorded games, and much much more details and statistics.
      ^ note that AOE2 already has all of that and much more on Voobly! TheViper’s profile examples below (you need to be a registered member to see them):
      Ratings and Overall Stats
      Match history with their recorded games available for download
      Particular single match stats
      Ratings trends of the 2 players before that particular match
    1. Only now, after already having a competitive system outside the game, can the player be artificially stimulated in a number of ways outside the fair and equal gameplay itself, or, as Carolina said, “create better value for a player’s time investment and be more meaningful, while respecting the competitive nature of our games”
    1. Achievements: Have a player win a medal if that player has 10 wins in a row, another if the player achieves 100 wins with a specific civilization, another if the player helps at least 50 allies with at least a set number of resources. All these should be easily visible on their profile on a tab called achievements. Also have a time chart on their career where they would be able to see when they achieved these medals. So far, nothing special, close to the Steam achievements thingy, but more visible, better presentation and easier to share. The clear difference however is they will also be rewarded with some goodies which they can use without affecting gameplay at all. More at point 7) on that.
    1. Give them the option to take part in regular cups or mini-tourneys in their current skill-league. Let’s say a player is in bronze division. Each 2 weeks for that division there’s the Bronze League Cup, where anyone there can enter. It will be a single game elimination format. It starts with Round of 16, the player will click on “find opponent” and the system will match him an opponent from the same competition. If the player wins, he/she goes to Quarter-Finals where the system will find another human player from the Bronze League Cup. Contrary to logical thought, the opponent shouldn’t be one who at that time is advanced to the same round. Why? Lets say our player reaches the Final, there’s the obvious risk of hardly finding any opponent since fewer other players are at the Final stage as well at that time. Therefore, if the player reaches the final, the matchmaking system can place that player vs. a player who is actually playing that same match for Quarter-finals, else the Cup system would fail due to inactivity since people don’t want to wait too much. Depending on which stage the player got to, they should always see the brackets like in a real football competition. You may wonder how this would work if the player reached the Final, but the opponents from the Quarter-Finals and Final, were actually playing those games for the Round of 16 in their own bracket. Simple, just place fictitious past results in the path’s of other opponents. It’s a necessary sacrifice, however, winning it even in this manner is not easy at all, since you need 4 consecutive wins against equally skilled opponents who also try to give their best since they are in a tourney. This system is used in the FIFA games to absolute success!
    1. Lets say our player has finally won the Bronze League Cup, have this trophy placed in a trophy room on their profile where they can see all their silverware or memorable Cup moments, or more simple and efficient, on the first page of their profile, where everybody can easily see, since it’s a major achievement.
    1. As a further reward for such feat, they can now unlock an emblem from the 2st tier of a cosmetic/goodies tree (the 1st tier are more basic ones, but still very appealing, which they receive from Achievements explained at 4), emblem which they can use in chat or place on their profile, or let’s say place on their Town Center flag or on the back of their troops, or have the ability to use special taunts or upload their own hymn which would be heard at the end of a 1v1 if victorious! There are many tiers and they would be able to afford and pick more and more over time.

This is just a short brainstorming for a non-intrusive progressive system, surely you can come up with more along these lines. You could for example have the players win a virtual currency each time they win an achievement or a major trophy like the Cup one, or a modder wins some each time someone downloads their mods which would stimulate them make even more mods, or a casual player wins games vs the AI or plays scenarios etc. They could then spend this virtual currency on that tree of cosmetics, with many many branches and tiers, cosmetics which wouldn’t influence gameplay in any way.

Unfortunately, like any progression system, all this is dangerously close to using it through a micro-transaction system as well, which, well… I think it’s exhaustive to talk about its potential malignancy here as well, since we have the shame left by the industry in 2017 to speak for itself. Needless to say, in a AAA title such as AOE4, which should also have the quality of being educational to chldren, such practices are totally unacceptable.

I would like to end that I do respect the people from Relic, have met some of them either on streams or in games and they are great people, and I know Carolina will be reading this, but I just can’t support another experimentation, gameplay-wise, in the struggling RTS genre for the sake of entering a specific superficial market which doesn’t even have an interest in RTS games anyway. Instead, there’s a wide potential market/audience for the true RTS still, and this should be the target. Again, this speaks a lot about the path they are willing to take and it is worrisome. And I have grounds to believe my opinion is based on less alleged but more obvious claims now.

Or that quote could mean they’re making a series of campaigns that take a more active approach in teaching players how to play, partially by withholding certain options for some time, partially by teaching players certain tactics or encouraging them to try them out.

My point is not that that’s what they’re doing or that’s what they’re saying, my point is that it’s kind of a short quote, and some of the things you conclude from it, like “they’re going to ruin the competitive experience by giving people who played longer an extra advantage” seem to actually go against things said in the quote, like “while respecting the competitive nature of our games”.

It’s the multiplayer, not some campaigns, it’s about competitivity and the self-evident challenge to do so within any new sort of progression system. It’s pretty obvious what it is about, let’s not be naive.
They somehow keep thinking progression is what makes players spend time in a competitive multiplayer, they think players need some kind of inherent value - incentive for their time, not competitivity-balance and good gameplay alone. They are wasting time and effort on something that shouldn’t be in an RTS game in the first place.

I think making your own progression system by fighting better and better AI, people with similar rankings, and campaigns in which you can choose the difficulty, with reasonable achievements as a reward is the best way to get better at a game. A forced progression system, which often can be frustrating, especially for quick learners, probably drives people further from games especially RTS.

Yes, unfortunately they aren’t referring to that, but the latter.

With so many paragraphs analyzing so few words, you’d think this were a graduate level poetry seminar.

I’d just chill until we know more. If they screw this up, we will be all over them. And so I agree with the spirit of the thread. But without knowing more, I cannot agree with the substance. I’m sure Relic and MS are aware of the stakes. We owe them the benefit of the doubt.

@“Andy P” said:
With so many paragraphs analyzing so few words, you’d think this were a graduate level poetry seminar.

I’d just chill until we know more. If they screw this up, we will be all over them. And so I agree with the spirit of the thread. But without knowing more, I cannot agree with the substance. I’m sure Relic and MS are aware of the stakes. We owe them the benefit of the doubt.

I agree with Andy. Until we have more news, it is difficult to understand well what the intentions of the developers are. Our fears, our beliefs about how AoE4 should be done move us away from / approach the expectations we have from AoE4 every time there is an interview, when in reality we are in total darkness about the development of this long awaited RTS.