Well put together. I’ve written most of these things a few times already. It’s not really a mystery when you think about it.
It reminds me a little bit situation in other genre- FPS. AoE IV in its design feels like something stuck between one of the modern military shooters like CoDs and BFs from 2010-2020, and Quake III Arena.
On one hand it presents a pretty conservative approach when you glance at the back of the (imaginary) box- checks out single-player, checks out multiplayer, there are some modes to choose from, (now) some tools but the focus of the games is very transparent and obvious considering situation in the genre and trajectory of the series. There are some people that are buying these games just for the campaign, but let’s be honest- a few hours of extremely bland, flashy, scripted gameplay with borderline zero replayability is not the driving force and the greatest strength of the game.
But the situation with MMFPS games can’t be compared to classic RTS, especially in the Lord’s year 2021-22.
PC market is huge and I do believe this game can sell millions, but it’s not 2003 and it’s hard to find a convincing, reasonable explanation for why they’ve chosen this path and format.
Strategy games can and do sell millions and gather dedicated passionate communities, but you need to provide a product not only that is presenting good value, but is attractive and interesting and on par with modern standards.
And just like mentioned Quake III (I love arena shooters, not picking on them or QIII or anything, just an example) this is something that just isn’t a thing anymore because both companies that made them and player bases moved on, and without vibrant and healthy communities genres fall into obscurity or more often- are just taken over by their offspring and competitors.
Classic ranked competitive multiplayer is fantastic, should be included and supported but betting all your money on it (game didn’t release with even a f*** map editor or cheat codes lol) is a huge gamble and odds are against it.
Again- it’s not a problem with the mode, but with the environment.
For years, hell decades- this thing has been dead outside of a few games in well-established ecosystems like AoE or xyzCraft with already existing player bases that kept it alive. But the rest of the industry and genre just moved on to various other strategy game- tactical squad RTS games, 4X games, turn-based strategies, economic strategy games, and various mixes with survival or builder elements.
And that created a void in player base. New people coming to gaming and PC gaming especially- were drawn by other genres or subgenres. And if you’re not super familiar with the classic RTS format- what are the chances you’ll jump into old school high-pressure PvP endless grindfest? And that doesn’t contradict the values of the game or the concept of fun itself. It’s just not attractive for a lot of people.
Not a fault of the mode, not a fault of the brand or the platform. AoE2 pro community is an outlier in the grand scheme of things and if you want the game to sell millions- shouldn’t be the main focus group.
I’m absolutely not advocating for changing the game genre, abandoning competitive modes or anything like that. Core design of AoE IV is just a lot of wishful thinking and chances for this game to explode were slim to begin with.
It’s one thing to do a fan service in a form of a DE release of a game. It’s another to do a new mainline game in the series after 17 years and do a streamlined copy of a king from a bygone era, without going above and beyond in any particular aspect of the game- single-player content offering, technology, visual fidelity, multiplayer modes…
Quake Live is awesome, but Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare came three years before it and demolished everything, and that game was always facing an uphill battle.
You have a generation, maybe even a two almost, of new young gamers that kinda grew in in a world where this type of gameplay wasn’t a mainstream thing anymore, and prying them from their hero shooters, survival builders and other things would require, besides luck, a lot more than IV initially offered.
Game is improving all the time, but you only release once and this is an extremely competitive market, where you can buy a few other strategy games in bundles and such, rich in content, for the price of AoE IV.
Personally: I play too many games to really dedicate to a multiplayer in one game, and looking back I’ve been coming to these games for things that are not really the main focus of IV:
-AoE1 for nostalgia and historical setting
-AoE2 for casual MP, but mostly mods, new maps, my custom maps, campaigns and skirmish
-AoE3 as above- occasional pvp, often coop and/or team games, but mostly just for a quick fix in skirmish or to play mods with new civs, maps, technologies and features.
-AoE Online-Celeste for mostly quick fixes, and also mostly in solo/coop modes. That game still rocks and in a better timeline would be re-released with major support for offline play.
Above all- it’s still important to remember, especially in these times, that in few last years we got 4 games and they all are at worst- good, and at best- absolutely delightful
I don’t think there is another RTS fanbase as lucky as AoE players. Maybe Total War fans? But that’s a rocky relationship. Arguably I’d say ANNO, even though 2205 was very meh compared to 1404, 2070 or 1800.
But in the classic RTS genre? CnC, Empire Earth or WarCraft fans would kill for one good DE-like game.
IV probably should’ve been delayed a bit to have better balance, refined UI, and mod tools in the package. And price arguably should’ve been dropped by 10-20$.