Unlike medieval events which has been told a thousand and twenty three times (some already twice in this series itself), early modern settings in RTS is still a vacuum. The only game I know with such campaigns is the Cossacks, but it’s a smaller game (like it does not even have voice lines) with limited audience (still good though). I think there is a huge potential market for early modern campaigns.
There is also a vacuum in AOE3. Due to known reasons, most older campaigns were centered on fictional storylines only briefly mentioning some real historical events, and most of them are in North America. There is no European campaign or historical battle at all. South American, Asian and African ones are lacking. Some of those events as well as historical figures are very important and had major attractions. But they are missing. Cannot imagine the campaigns of Bolivar is only one abstract scenario told from the perspective of an unrelated fictional character, or the French Revolution not mentioned at all. It’s like a medieval game without the Crusades or Hundred Years War.
One special advantage of early modern settings is that many modern people are more attached to those events than something happened 1000 years ago. This could be a big selling point.
Apart from the overrepresented “medieval” in both historical and fantasy games, 16-17 century seems to have many fans in Eastern Europe (some important events that shaped all the peoples happened in that period, see Sienkiewicz novels), and 19th century in Latin America (obvious reasons). Again, there are a lot of potential audience.
The game has tried a lot of different things like new modes (not successful). It has never tried selling sp contents. And it is a very straightforward thing to do.
Have to admit this game is hard to balance. So every time a new civ with new mechanics is added, some people are unhappy. While I don’t think anyone would be unhappy about adding campaigns.
Also, I assume they are easier to make than full civs no?
For sure AOE3 has the greatest number of historical references in the cards and techs, but “playing a skirmish with a symmetric map using those cards and techs” is still different from campaigns/historical battles with a storyline, a special map and directed gameplay.
Some games with grand strategy elements like Paradox games and Total Wars also cover this period, but again that’s a different attraction from old-school RTS campaigns. And those series have medieval settings too and nobody consider them as replacements for AOE2/4. In those games it’s hard to immerse into specific battles and characters, or experience the real development of the historical events. There’s a lot of freedom and mostly high-level decisions, so that the moment you start the game there’s not much to do with the progression of real history anymore. The same applies to early modern settings.
I’d prefer AOE2’ style of narration. Focus on a narrower scope like a series of related events or the life of an important figure. The main character could still be a fictional one that don’t have major impacts on history themselves, but as a witness to the big events and figures (difference is that AOE2 narrators typically do not appear in the game, but AOE3 ones would be hero units). AOE3’s Japanese campaign resembles this style the most, if only it could be more historically accurate.
EDIT: The Napoleon movie it’s very hyped. It is going to be the only high-production, serious history movie in many years. It is probably too late for AOE3 to seize the opportunity at this time point, but I’d like to see whether the movie proves there is a potential audience for this setting.
When I come to think about it, the early modern period should have major attractions in many parts of the world, on par with or even surpassing the middle ages. There were events and figures that shaped the world we live in now. I wonder why modern entertainment especially historical games/fantasies and even high fantasies only focus on the middle ages.
China: Ming Dynasty is the last and closet dynasty ruled by Han people, and one that did not fall behind the technological advances of the world (though that part is somewhat exaggerated in popular media)
Japan: Sengoku Jidai is the most popular historical setting in Japan. Period.
Western Europe: the great discovery, the religious wars, the revolutions, the formation of most modern national identities, etc etc etc.
Eastern Europe: the series of conflicts between Russians, Poles, Cossacks, as well as HRE and Swedes are an important part of the nations’ identities, popularized by Sienkiewicz’s novels, movie adaptations and games.
The list goes on. I’m just writing about what I know.
So I still believe the decision to make an early modern AOE centered on the fictional story of a family history in the North America (and nothing else) is a huge missed opportunity.
If you look at other historical series, EU4 has comparable number of players to CK3 despite the latter being newer. And among the current mess with historical Total Wars, the most anticipated new entries are Medieval and Empire.
Some sudden additional thoughts:
Making AOE3 a big esports game has failed time after time. It is sandwiched between two “simpler” games that naturally have better esports (and heavily promoted). No need to consider that in the short term.
The game has suffered from an ambiguous direction back in 2005, and several change-of-courses during the development. For example, since DE we’ve got a lot more new contents for fun and historical reference, and I thought they were making some real sp contents with that direction on mind. But up till now almost everything goes to skirmish, and as I’ve said multiple times it’s not an accessible mode for most new players. They will be intimidated by the richness especially if you don’t have good sp to guide them.
If WE wants to find a good niche for AOE3 and get some addition profits from it, I think a good sp and multiplayer pve game (e.g. co-op) is where it could land. Right now it offers too little in those aspects. Some even-more-pvp games (like AOE2 and Blizzard games) have more quality sp contents than AOE3. Soon it will fall below AOE4 (two years old) in the sheer number of campaigns. But with AOE3’s diversity in mechanisms and assets, and the very dramatic time setting, it’s not difficult to make a lot of them.
Good sp maybe will not give you 10k online ladder players immediately but are great gateways for most potential new players, something AOE3 have been lacking since 2005.
In the meantime, don’t make drastic impacts to the multiplayer 1v1 scene frequently. Whatever you add will make them unhappy. Use sp and co-op scenarios as the testing ground for fun designs and mechanics. Let the competitive scene evolve by itself for some time and see where it goes. Maybe it could grow larger over time.
But if there is no plan at all, then ignore this entire post.
The devs are in a tough spot here, IMO. They need to generate new interest to keep revenues coming in and that means new content, but they have a relatively small audience that’s interested in that content, and not all of it makes sense to add to the project they have. The fact is that the game has been through active development, twice now, once for the original game and expansions, and a second time for the DE version. The game’s pretty much complete.
If you go the route of trying to sustain with replayability, you need MP content. You need an active MP community. To that end, I’d strongly suggest the team redo the MP UI. It’s terrible. There are many many posts about it and how it needs to be modernized. That has to be a priority.
However, the other issue is players like me. I don’t play MP. I’ve had more than my fill of competitive RTS. I don’t want to deal with the toxicity. Ever again. So I play single player content. And that gets exhausted quickly. I love the campaigns and I’d pay good money to have new ones to play, but you only play them a few times. Same with the historical battles. Great idea. Limited replay value.
Our solution is better AI. Yup, we’re back to beating on that drum. We need the AI to fully utilize all of the tools that the redesigned civs now have. We need them to do unexpected things sometimes. They need to use their revolt mechanics. They need to be programmed to actually use them functionally. All of those new cards that got added with the Euro reworks? The AI needs to learn some strategies for when they’d want to opt-in to some of those. And the AI needs to learn how to be a teammate.
I’ll reserve my ultra-long list of other things the AI needs to do (or not do). But those are the key priorities, IMO, to ensuring some long-term replayability to the game. Cosmetics DLCs are only going to go so far. And new civs are an absolute nightmare to try and develop. Would people pay for improved AI and new campaigns? An improved scenario editor to help modders out? A better MP UI? Sadly, I think most gamers see that as part of the purchase price.
I used to support adding more fun and historical contents to the skirmish civs (I still do if they don’t change the direction of the game).
But that’s mainly because we haven’t got much good sp content at all and ANYTHING you get can only go to skirmish.
Many designs could work fantastically if they are given to single player scenarios, co-op modes, etc., like the special units, techs and mechanics in historical maps. Like AOE2/4 have been doing in the campaigns.
So if they only work on skirmish in a longer term, the best scenario for me is they keep adding new stuff to skirmish.
BUT there is a more ideal model that we haven’t got even once:
Skirmish civs keep being more standard and regular. This should have applied to the new civs. They don’t need 10x new mechanisms if those can be evenly distributed to others. Otherwise the ladder-climbers would be unhappy.
Innovative stuff goes to the casual modes like campaigns, co-ops, unknown maps, etc. You can be as innovative as you want and nobody will complain.
In that case you can make both player groups happy. The reason why we always have a casual vs competitive grudge here is because they are mixed together and don’t have other choices. And we end up lacking in both. It seems the devs never had enough manpower to manage more than one mode.
EDIT: for example, quite a few people want a Prussia/Austria split. The devs have confirmed that is not possible, and it will complicate the skirmish civ design.
But we end up stuffing elements from every single German state into one German civ.
What about making a Prussian and an Austrian civ with their unique units and cards for a campaign? (and you don’t need to designing a lot of unique cards for a campaign civ, just a dozen)
Or you make better use of the Thirty Years War map (would be better if it is a campaign) so that you can play as the different German states with their own unique units and cards?
Or the Revolutionary French. It is a perfect campaign civ.
I could not care less if all multiplayer did get was balance changes. I take 1 new broken/weird civs playable in SP only over 1 MP civ that took months of playtesting and balancing to release, only to be complained about by 25% of playerbase.
Heck I would pay for an AoE2-style campaign with existing civs.
Competitive players will be thrilled to have a more stable meta for a while while seeing an influx of new players, SP hardcore fans will enjoy, and weird builds enjoyers already have a lot to work with.