Microsoft's support for Age of Empires II shows how to do right by a long-time dedicated fanbase, and other publishers should take note

Age of Empires II castle
(Image credit: Microsoft)

What you need to know

  • This week, competitive players from around the world gathered in Berlin for an Age of Empires II tournament known as Nili's Apartment Cup V. 
  • The tournament prize pool is more than $60,000 and tens of thousands of people have tuned in to watch it live on Twitch.
  • In an interview conducted by Ryan K. Rigney of Push to Talk, Age of Empires series Director of Business, Will McCahill explained why the game is still being supported 25 years later. 
  • Age of Empires II came out in 1999, but has received updates regularly from Microsoft over the last five years that have kept the game relevant to long-time communities of players and have also made this week's eSports tournament possible.

This week, competitive Age of Empires II (AoE2) players from more than 10 countries gathered at an apartment in Berlin to participate in Nili's Apartment Cup V (NAC5), an AoE2 tournament with a prize pool of more than $60,000 (thanks Push to Talk). The competition was also streamed on Twitch where more than 30,000 viewers watched the tournament live. But this eSport experience likely wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for Microsoft's relatively recently renewed support of AoE2.

Now, it's obviously quite a feat for a 25-year-old game to still maintain such a strong fanbase, but then AoE2 is no mere game. It is not only the defining Real Time Strategy (RTS) title but also one of the best crafted strategy games of all time. Even though Age of Empires III and Age of Empires IV have come out, the second iteration has continues to hold the most revered status in the franchise. 

As one of the most notable AoE2 NAC5 competitors, Hera, stated, “Microsoft has been amazing. Microsoft is essential for the game, without them we would be without major funding for events, and we wouldn’t have all the amazing changes and updates that are coming our way.” 

To be clear, there were multiple years when AoE2 was no longer supported by Microsoft, and players had to resort to playing the game against the computer or meeting up in person to play with others. Many players even banded into communities and continued to play on unofficial services. 

I've worked on a lot of games... this was easily the most committed fanbase I've ever seen.

Will McCahill

In an interview conducted by Push to Talk's Ryan K. Rigney, Age of Empires series Business Director, Will McCahill (who has been a fan of AoE2 since 1999), said it was thanks to these fan communities that the AoE2 eSports scene is where it is now. "Most of us retreated to LAN parties and single-player, but a few went off and built replacement services which are responsible for a lot of the success," he said, "especially the eSports success, that we have today."

McCahill also explained that it was roughly eight years ago that Microsoft started looking into the rebuilding of the Age of Empires franchise. Eventually Microsoft started releasing updates that incorporated ideas from various AoE2 communities in order to create the right quality-of-life improvements. "Build the best version of Age of Empires II, unite the community, and get the word out."McCahill said, "But there were thousands of quality-of-life updates that different AoE2 communities had built for themselves. Just to be at feature parity for launch took multiple dev teams a few years and we ended up hiring a lot of the community developers because they were so good. One team that is now our dev partner, CaptureAge, built their own game renderer just to have a better spectator mode for eSports.”

Now, AoE2 is a very special game with a strong community of players, but there are other classic franchises whose fanbases have also continued to stay impressively strong over the years. It would be good for other publishers to take note of what Microsoft has done for its AoE2 fanbase — continuing to support an older title even after newer sequels have come out. 

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition — See at Steam

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition — See at Steam

The original version of Age of Empires II is no longer available on Steam, however, the new Definitive Edition with improved mechanics and visuals can be purchased there. Play against the computer or with friends as you work to prove your skill with civilization building and combat.  

Rebecca Spear
Gaming Editor

Self-professed gaming geek, Rebecca Spear, is one of Windows Central's gaming editors with a focus on gaming handhelds, PC gaming, and laptops. When she isn't checking out the latest games on Xbox Game Pass, PC, ROG Ally, or Steam Deck; she can be found digital drawing with a Wacom tablet. She's written thousands of game guides, previews, features, and hardware reviews over the last few years. If you need information about anything gaming-related, her articles can help you out. She also loves testing game accessories and any new tech on the market. You can follow her @rrspear on X (formerly Twitter).