It’s been 25 years since a small Dallas studio recast the ancient world through the prism of a real-time strategy game. age of empires echoed Monk Wololos about our homes since: Parents believed their children learned history; the children thought they were playing surreptitiously. And veteran players know both were right.
Still age of empires didn’t always get the love it gets today. The rise of Xbox has seen PC gaming take a back seat to Microsoft: communities like Area of effect‘s were left to fend for themselves. In a very real way, it was the passion of these obsessives that led to renewed attention from Microsoft and the release of the franchise’s latest entry, 2021’s Age of Empires IV.
All games continue to receive updates or DLCs. age of empires games are for Xbox and mobile devices, with cross-play so console gamers can get their hands on the classic RTS and play with their fellow PC enthusiasts. Also, The age of mythology finally gets a definitive edition. Age IV is also gaining momentum, with an Anniversary Edition capping off a year of updates designed to appeal to gamers who found it a bit stripped down at launch. Area of effect is now a real-time strategy pride point and a shining gem in Microsoft’s roster.
On October 25, after watching the anniversary event and enjoying a surprisingly skilled group of lute-carrying bards performing the series’ iconic music, I spoke with Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer and Michael Mann, director of the World’s Edge studio, the past and future of the franchise.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
WIRED: So it’s the 25th anniversary of age of empires, and I know, Phil, that you’ve been with Microsoft for over 30 years. You have seen this evolution of the franchise. But I think there was definitely a gap, both for real-time strategy and age of empires, where things weren’t going well. Was there ever a time when Microsoft was like, Age and the real-time strategy genre is over? And then the second part of that is, when and what was the game changer? When you were like, wow, is it worth paying attention to again?
Phil Spencer: So it’s a good thread to pull on this one. I mean, the thing that we saw with Age was less about the genre, to be honest, and more about how the community kept playing. The games were still available for purchase and we just saw a vibrant community of people playing. And we weren’t actively engaged with the community as Xbox. When Xbox started, I would say, reluctantly, we turned away from the PC to focus more on the console, which meant franchises like Flight simulator and Age[…]the communities were somewhat left to their own devices. And as we evolved our game strategy, watching players play on any screen, we started looking at franchises in our portfolio where the communities were active, big enough, and really engaged in the game and engaged with each other. And Age was there as one of those franchises.
So we had the opportunity to find a good partner. And come back to Age with relic [Entertainment]a partner who knew the genre, we saw it as a great opportunity for us to really meet the community where they were, with their love of Age. And I would say the same about announcements about Agecome to console just trying to show the community that we acknowledge their love of age of empireswhat this means to so many people, and I’m proud that now we can kind of step up and do our part as intellectual property owners and stewards of the franchise.
Michael Man: I also want to congratulate Ensemble Studios, they created the franchise 25 years ago. I know World’s Edge is enjoying the party too. But I also want to reach out and say that Tony Goodman, Bruce Shelley, all of those people did an amazing job 25 years ago to create this franchise that we’re ambassadors for in the future.
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