Age of Conan: How an MMORPG Dies

Posted by | November 29, 2008

The MMORPG Age of Conan was released by Funcom right around the middle of May in 2008, probably to avoid getting steam-rollered and plowed under by the Wrath of the Lich King expansion for everyone’s favourite fantasy juggernaut. In less than a month of blistering sales fueled by desperate gamers trying to escape the pull of Warcraft, Age of Conan had gathered up over 700,000 subscribers in its muscled and well-oiled arms.

Six months later Funcom was quietly merging servers and banning anyone who talked about subscription numbers on their forums. Age of Conan is now, for all practical purposes, a walking and half-naked corpse shambling toward a dark horizon. So what happened? How did Age of Conan die?

The quick answer? It was never alive.

When you first login to Age of Conan, you’ll wake up on the shores of a lush island, overflowing with quests, voice actors, plotlines, and wonderful vistas. Even bitter veterans who wouldn’t piss out Funcom if the entire company were on fire admit that this starting zone, Tortage, is a great experience. Tortage lasts for about twenty levels out of eighty. Then, you step away from the jungle harbours and into the wide world, and that’s when Funcom shouts “Sucker!” in your face before running off laughing into the night with your money. They give you the finger the whole time.

You see, a few things were lacking after Tortage. Those wonderful vistas transform into dirt and rocks, mostly because the DirectX 10 support listed on the box isn’t actually in the game. Instead, Funcom took the graphics overhead DirectX 10 would have used, and plugged it all into the famed Realism Brownifier. That’s right, in the harsh world of Conan, real graphics are brown and dirty.

You might also discover the barren lands are short on things to do, since all those Tortage quests which brought you up to level 20 are gone. From here on out, most of your questing will involve going to the proper Place of Great Respawn and grinding mobs like you were filling up a resume to take some Chinese gold farmer’s job. The dust and dirt must be really hard on the lungs, too, since the vast majority of quest givers are mute. Voice acting, it seems, was too much a courtesy for Funcom to extend after the trial period.

But hey, at least your character isn’t wearing a clown suit like those technicolour lollipop bastards over in Azeroth. That’s true enough, but you better like that brown, realistic outfit, because you’ll be wearing something just like it for the rest of your career. Not that it matters what bonuses it gives you. Character stats didn’t work at all when the game released, and bonuses on gear were so low you’d need to twink out a full suit over a single bonus to even see a 1% increase in your abilities.

Fortunately, you’ll be able to move around those desolate zones easily enough, what with how dying and rezzing is actually a faster way to travel than going there through the game.

And you will die, make no mistake. The combat system relies on position and combos to deal your best damage, but the great part about this is that while you’re pressing the four buttons and swinging around the five attacks for your combo, the other guy just walked away from you, got into position behind you, and sank his sword into your spleen. Oh, and two classes can close in on you under stealth. Doesn’t everyone love getting ganked by Warcraft Rogues? In Age of Conan, there are two different flavours of teabagging rogues to sample and savour.

To their credit, Funcom has tried to fix the problems of their newest flagship game, but it seems whoever actually built Age of Conan has gone on to other pastures, or perhaps their next life. The remaining crew’s attempts at repairing the game can be likened to dozens of monkeys eager to help out with an especially critical moment of brain surgery. It was messy, things got broken, there was alot of hooting, and something nasty was left dripping off the walls.

Gaute Godager, the Producer and Game Director even resigned, leaving Funcom after sixteen years with the company over how the game was handled post-release. Without Godager’s influence as a unifying force, the game sunk further in the pits of hooting monkeydom.

Suckered in by the newbie zone, 700,000 souls subscribed. Faced with the rest of the game after level 20, they unsubscribed. It all lasted a bit over two months.

In the end, all that is left are guilds of gankers, hiding in grinding caves and waiting for someone to unstealth. What began among the jeweled towers of Aquilonia ends then, here in caves and dirt. And brown. Lots and lots of brown.


110 Comments so far
  1. Ex-Player
    June 30, 2011 4:39 am

    I’m not quite sure why I’m posting to a 3 year old thread but I’m guessing at least some people will still read it.

    It’s interesting to read this on a random web search having just this month stopped playing after 3 years of “hardcore” playing. Hate to burst the fanboy’s bubble but much of the intent behind what the original poster said is still true. For sure theres been a huge amount of changes (stats now mean something, expansion, new areas etc.) but so much of the intent behind his post is still very much true.

    Funcom are a DIRE producer. There is nothing redeeming about their approach or attitude at all. After 8 years (I was Anarchy Online hardcore for 5 years before that) of their complete and utter contempt of their paying public I’ve now finally thrown in the towel and given up hoping. The sad thing here is that the games, at their core are exceptional. Truly head and shoulders above anyone else. Their ability to realise this potential is, however, nil. So many wasted chances and so much wasted potential.

    I could go on, at length about the problems and issues that the game still has but to be honest theres no point. The game consolidating down to 2 English servers in Europe (no RP servers any more just one PVP and one PVE) and going “Free to Play” pretty much tells you all you need to know. One enterprising player tracked playing figures in game. It wasn’t scientific for sure but on the primary PvE server Crom (the ONLY pure PVE server, the other being PvE RP), on a week night during peak playing hours the number of level 80 characters logged in never went over 400. Thats just sad.

    I did have a chuckle though at one of the first posts in this thread, written in December 2008 defending the game.

    “The future is looking bright….
    -DX10 is just around the corner.
    -AoC is going to be the worlds first CUDA enabled game.
    -Expansion pack is already being made
    This game is no where near dead

    Our server (Doomsayer) has had tons of new guilds form within the last 2 weeks.”

    DX10 didn’t make it in until 2010 and even then unless you had a beast of a rig had performance issues, lag issues and graphical glitches all over the place. Many chose to go back to DX9 just to get a more stable game.
    As far as I’m aware, CUDA physics never made it into the engine at all. Theres plenty of talk about it back in 2008 but theres no mention of it since around that time. It may be in there but I’m pretty certain it never made it out of beta.
    The expansion, at least, did get released. Unfortunately after the initial excitement and positive reviews the actual expansion was, well, pretty poor. It effectively introduced grinding to the game in a spectacular fashion. You had to grind for EVERYTHING. There were at least 4 completely separate and unrelated grinds – none of which you could do a single task to get. The worst was a grind for tokens that basically involved faction sided quests only not all factions were equal. With one faction (of 8) you could make about 100 tokens with an easy set of quests all in the same area in about 1.5h. For some other factions, the “optimum” route and quests only gave you about 25 in the same time. But certain classes were locked to certain factions (faction = armour type so Plate could only be bought from 2 factions) so if you were one of the unlucky classes you were expected to take 4* the amount of time or more. (or you could jsut train up a faction you had no use for JUST to get the tokens). Ridiculous.

    Though I’m not much of a PVP player it’s the PVPers I feel most sorry for. Stuck with a combination of broken sieges (unplayable for about 2 years due to crashes), exploits useable by a very small number of classes (known in game as combo-skipping) which to this day haven’t been fixed (and have been in game for 18 months or more), terrible game design (Shrines of Bori PVP addon which never worked as intended and was horribly exploited), massive imbalance between new PVPer and old due to gear/battlekeep/pvp level bonuses (some imbalance is fine, but the imbalance is so extreme between PVP0 and PVP10 that new players on PVP0 simply cannot compete even if they’re the best in the world and there is no mechanism or balancing system to let them get to PVP10). The list goes on.

    PVE’s don’t have it all that much better (though certainly better than the PVPers)
    Tier 2 raiding was blocked for completion for 6 months with a locked door to the final wing of Tier 2. When Tier 3 finally made an appearance after 18 months of waiting the last 2 bosses were broken and were very close to impossible to complete. After another 6 months they were finally fixed so 2 years in and you could now complete the content that was touted at the games launch. When the new “Rise of the Godslayer” expansion was originally advertised and discussed Funcom promised another tier, tier 4 would be part of the expansion. When it arrived T4 didn’t happen. In the past 12 months only 3 guilds have managed to complete what of T4 there is and what they found was that only two of the raid bosses were there along with a solid brick wall to stop further progress. In the last 12 months, T4 has been rendered impossible to complete on no less than 4 occasions. As far as I know, it is currently right on the edge of impossibility.

    Every single patch introduces hidden, knock on effects. The 4 times T4’s been made impossible it’s because of, as far as anyone knows, unexpected or invisible changes that never appear on patch notes. There is next to no communication between dev’s and the community and there is nothing to even acknowledge if there is a problem with anything at all. VERY occasionally the game director will mention they’re looking into something if it’s a massive problem. Other than that, you hear nothing.

    I could go on and on about the dire stare of the game, the dire state of Funcoms “support”, the lack of input, lack of feedback, poor communication and downright ignorance of the company but I’d be here all day. I’ve taken my 17 level 80’s (2 of them full Tier 3, another 10 full Tier 2) and parked them for good. Funcom will NEVER get another penny from me, I don’t care if the Secret World includes free sex for everyone. Never, ever again.

  2. Kingerz
    July 10, 2011 7:08 am

    The poster should absolutely not have reviewd a game he hadn’t played, although I have to say, it generated a great thread. It’s been interesting for me to see how smooth Rift has been for a new game release, just 3 years after all this furore. I’ve only been DECed once from that and it’s got less bugs than your typical WoW patch. I guess, it’s like the change from Vista to Win7…things really have improved in a little while.

  3. william
    January 6, 2012 4:33 pm

    From Wikipedia:

    On August 21, 2008, Funcom laid off half of its Customer Service department located in Durham, North Carolina. On November 22, 2008, third parties reported that Funcom fired additional 70% of the staff in their US workforce, possibly endangering future releases.[3]

    On September 17, 2008, Gaute Godager left Funcom, stating he was dissatisfied with certain elements of Age of Conan, which he directed.[4] Craig Morrison took over the direction of AoC.

    On February 23, 2009, Funcom reported financial losses of approximately $23 million in the fourth quarter of 2008. The unsuccessful launch of Age of Conan was cited as the reason for such steep decline. The chief analyst of DnB NOR, Fredrik Thoresen, estimated that 100,000 subscribers played the game at the time of the report, far below the publisher’s expectations, though these numbers were not confirmed by Funcom itself.[5]

    —-

    Ouch. One MMORPG makes shitload of money and the gold rush begins. Now most of them are F2P. I wonder how that helps anyone.

  4. Quiting player
    February 17, 2012 7:13 am

    “If you haven’t actually played the game, your opinions doesn’t count”.

    Of course genius. So take a cup of POISON. No? Why? If you never drunk poison, how can you say it’s bad? Stupid falacy.

    But fresh news: I’m playing AoC since the last week and YES, game dies after Tortage.
    What annoys me in this game is that it has so much potential, but a dumb developers team threw it away for no apparent reason.
    Like all others MMOs, this one have a broken economics, so nothing new on it, only a missed big chance to be better than others. Within time, the inflation will make the game unappealing for starters, and people will go for eBay or anywhere to buy gold, and the complaints about it will weaken the player base, like happened with ALL MMOs so far, mostly because of Chinese (un)government turning prisioneers into gold farmers, which fill the servers with unpleasant opponents.

    The PvP is also broken. You know, they even called it “Age of Casters” and had a joke; “Conan, the Barbarian lost his throne to Simon the Sorcerer”. ‘Tis true. Like the article said, you press your combo and the oponent just avoid it with a double tap. So the 1min cooldown takes place and you can’t do nothing with normal hits, even from a supposed “DPS class”. They do nothing even on clothed enemies. But casters…they only need to press a key, no need for aim, and if their spell gets canceled there’s no cooldown so they only press it again and wait. If they have DoT like Necros it’s even easier. They just DoT you and run around till you die. If you give chase, your stamina runs out and you can’t fight anymore. But caster’s stamina is exclusive to run. They use mana to cast and this is not affected by the run. So giving chase turns you into a sitting duck.
    Besides, them necros have an entire army of zombies which don’t die, do a lot of dmg and most important: makes you unable to reach the necro by stucking you around them.
    The only “brutal” aspect of the combat FailCom promissed is how brutally unbalanced the pvp is.
    And finally, the hiding skill. Spend some few points on it and become invisible. Strike first an unweary opponent and you have 60% of the fight won. Perception skill? No, it only helps if you use search ability, which has a medriocre range and cooldown. If you, by chance, uncover the enemy he can just run and hide again within 10s, but you need to wait 30s to use “search” again.
    Also, its really gear dependent, so if you have a life and can’t grind for weeks you’ll have virtually no chance against any nolifers.

    In the end, ’tis the same shit as other MMOs. Nothing new, nothing more. Maybe except that gankers don’t need to bother using the walls or the enviroment to hide, they can just press a button, which makes their ganking easier.

  5. GuildWars2BABY
    June 17, 2012 10:27 pm

    Truly a prophetic and beautiful article. Age of Conan was shit from the day it was born and continues to be shit now. Funcom is pathetic and should be avoided at all costs. I leave you a quote from the AoC forums posted 6-16-12.

    –There is a lot to experience there, and I figured with dual specs there would be a revival. It is a sad state to see no one queued up. I guess we really need server mergers and cross server tech badly, but in the meantime why don’t some of you queue up for PVP? Who knows, you might even have a good time!–

    4 servers left, and the sad people still “playing” AoC want another server merger.

    Age of Conan = Stillborn fetus.

  6. Daris
    February 19, 2013 4:17 pm

    Well…I give this game a chance to see what is. So many years in SWG, 1 year already in SWTOR and in my break I begin to play it.Just what i see: Only hardcore Conan-story lovers playing this game.The pve servers have some basic population (very little) and the pvp server…well ..very dead!New players dont come anymore,I was in areas to lvl my toon and i see max 4-5 ppl per area! Already the economy inside the game has collapse.Very sad ,Conan look promising when you start it but after 20 lvl you feel is something ‘missing’.To much ‘walk’ for newbies ,low-reward after the quests,The conail area (If i remember correct the name) IS STILL BUGGED! Surpised no one can finish or start quests there.At least for now.
    What make so many players quit the game now I understand it.Just i test it and soon will be remove from my hard disk ( It take 20+GB ,isnt worth it even to stay there).At least -hopefully- they coming far better games (Skyrim:online ,Neverwinter Nights, World of Darkness, etc) from far more ‘experienced’ companies (Cryptic,Bethesda etc).If this game was on other company ,maybe would be better.But not anymore.Was a good try from Funcom but without some ‘gameplay’ results.
    Well at least i try it……

  7. trojan zbot
    May 2, 2013 10:12 pm

    Fine way of describing, and pleasant post to get facts regarding
    my presentation topic, which i am going
    to present in institution of higher education.

  8. Zerref
    July 26, 2013 2:51 pm

    Just so You Know.If u were a graphist like me?!,and you’d know actual shit about the game?! you would know that ”Shit Brown” Is because you dont use the right Shader FX.
    Introducing Sweet FX 3.Use it – Love it – LIVE IT.
    works for everygame,its free,changes the whole game graphics colours them
    colours them so good that Snow winch is soppoused to be eye blinding in reality actualy becomes eye blinding.Ice becomes Cold.Deserts become warm.Forests Become natural”green”.Darkness Becomes so dark you might need to take a tourch inside the game for the future updates.the game becomes what its soppoused to be and isnt.
    i only said this cuz i know everyone who commented on this page ”well , not everyone”but some people :D would love to try it and i recomend it to be added to the game itself since its free so that no longer people who haven’t played the game say its Brown”shit brown”.cuz right now?! its ”Colourfull” ”Beautifull”

  9. FrankerD
    January 6, 2015 8:22 pm

    I think the game got ruined by all the hackerbots, the toxic players and the lack of mayor upgrades and updates. I mean if they had updated the game graphics for example it might have gone quite differently.

  10. MMO Weekly 9/12 | IncGamers
    February 12, 2015 10:01 pm

    […] about. Our good friends over at Vox ex Machina pose a very interesting question: is Age of Conan a dying game? We're not sure, exactly, what the answer is, since the guys at Vox are smarter than we are and use […]

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