Or in this case "when a spontaneous purchase warrants further action."
Age of Empires Online made more buzz upon its release because of its strange experimental pricing model rather than the game itself. It would be nice to think that opinions on the matter were evenly split between 'cautiously optimistic' and 'burn it, BURN IT ALL!' but the internet is never really so kind. It is a shame really, since the pricing model does have at least some benefits as an alternative to the standard format that rests somewhere between the traditional boxed and free2play/microtransaction formats.
Free to Pay?
Age of Empires Online is a kind of throwback to the classic style of real-time-strategy of its predecessors that mixes in a healthy amount of MMORPG trappings like as leveling, quests, colour-coded loot, talent-like tech trees, crafting, and more. It is a free2play game from level 1 to its cap of 40, but some content is locked out if you do not purchase a particular race (or Civilization) as a premium package. While it's certainly possible to level both Civs to max level as a free member, the premium content is far too appetizing to ignore, making the free portion of the game (although a substantial amount of content for nothing) feel like a massive demo that is constantly prompting you to throw down some money for the juicy parts. The money you are throwing down, of course, is more substantial than your typical microtransaction: US$20 for a single Civ. This is where the opinions of the pricing model diverge.
Some people are uncomfortable with the thought of paying that much money to 'unlock content' in a free game, given that unlocking both of the Civs costs US$40, which is just a little less than the average American pays for a new release PC game. At some point a third Civ will be released, bumping the cost of this 'free2play' game to US$60, and so on and so forth as more content is released over time. For people used to having content graded as 'it's free and you pay for bonuses and vanity items' or 'you pay $50-60 and get what the game gives you' this model can feel radical and incredulous, as if you are being forced to pay an astounding amount of money for a game that advertises itself as 'free'.
Personally, I see it as a step between a standard free model and boxed model, in that you can pick and choose the content you want to play when you want to play it (whether it is priced 'correctly' is another matter entirely). If you stop playing during or after you level a $20 Civ, you may count yourself lucky you didn't have to pay full box price for all that content that you didn't play, but still feel you got your moneys worth for what you did pay for.
I think $20 is the most that a majority of people who play this game will pay when you consider exactly how much time and effort it takes to level a Civ to 40, let alone to continue afterward and get the best collections of items and such for ranked PVP matches, and then do the same over again with a second Civ. With the attention span of modern and casual gamers, leveling two Civs may well be beyond most, and there are two more Civs in the burner for release before the first 6 month 'season' of content is over. Which brings me to the point of this blog.
The Antithesis of Frugal
At release, there were two package deals in the Age of Empires Online store. One was for US$40 and provided you with both premium Civs currently available (Greece and Egypt) and they threw in the first 'booster' DLC pack, Defense of Crete (a wave-based survival mode), for free. The second was a Season Pass for US$100. This included all current paid content for the game, and all the content that was going to be released in the first 6 months of the games cycle, which includes two additional Civs and 'more' as-of-yet unannounced content.
I played Age of Empires Online for around 7 levels before I decided I was going to throw down some money for it. I was really enjoying what was on offer (old-style base-building RTS are a guilty pleasure of mine). I saw that the Celts were one of the next Civs going to be released. I figured I'd be throwing down a little more money at the game at some point. I made a spontaneous purchase:
I got the Season Pass.
Living in Australia, the season pass cost me roughly AU$127 (with some remaining points on XBL account). To put it in perspective, the average Australian pays anywhere from AU$70-100 on a new release if they don't import. Not that that's a justification for my purchase or anything. It was totally spontaneous. Was it worth it? I'm still not sure whether I regret it or not yet...
But I will in 6 months
Rather than just telling people a simple 'lamentation' or 'joy' on the subject in 6 months time, I thought I'd start a regular blog on Age of Empires Online and how my experience has been as a Season Pass owner, as well as a video diary and possible livestream of sorts for those that don't enjoy walls of text as soon as I get that stuff set up. Hopefully it will be enlightening on what you actually get for your money and my personal impressions of the content as soon as things get added to the game.
Expect more soon!