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Microsoft halts development on free-to-play Age of Empires Online

Robot Entertainment’s Age of Empires strategy games have maintained a strong following of devoted PC players for over fifteen years now. When Age of Empires Online, a free-to-play version of the game developed by Gas Powered Games, came out in 2011, it seemed like an obvious evolution for the series. It’s hard to make a buck with strategy games and Microsoft needed to bulk up its selection of free-to-play games on Windows. Nearly a year and a half after the game officially opened for business, though, Microsoft is halting development on the game.

It’s not closing the game, only stopping the development and release of new content. A post on the game’s official homepage posted on Thursday laid out the future of Age of Empires Online.

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Age of Empires Online has finished its development phase, and now moves on into the support phase,” reads the statement, “It means that there will be no new content created for Age of Empires Online. There is a small amount of content still in the pipeline that will be released in the next few weeks, but that is all. No new features will be added. Most significantly, no new civilizations will be released. However, nothing else changes for players, nothing that currently exists will be removed.”

Microsoft’s decision to stop funding the game’s active development isn’t surprising. Despite receiving generally positive reviews, the game struggled to build the sort of active, strong community needed to keep online games like Age of Empires Online alive and evolving. Anecdotal evidence from within the player community suggested that the game’s population was dwindling by May 2012.

What players remain in the community won’t have much to look forward to if they continue playing Age of Empires Online. The lack of new content is less problematic than the fact that Gas Powered Games will no longer be doing much basic maintenance on the game either.

“Fixing and remaining bugs and addressing balance issues will be slower and, frankly, more difficult for the team. Some may, in fact, be unfixable. We will be watching carefully in case any critical bugs appear.”

Just because an online game, whether it’s a shooter, a strategy game, or an MMO, sees an end to its official support, that doesn’t mean it will stay dead forever. Games like Hellgate London were resurrected by other publishers years after they were closed. The MMO Asheron’s Call 2 was recently re-opened seven years after it closed. The Age of Empires series isn’t shutting down either. It may be that Microsoft is ready to develop a new free-to-play version of its series.

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