Age of Ocean Uses Facebook for Complex Strategy Gaming

Salty sea spray, high seas, pirates, epic naval battles. What’s not to like about adventure in the 15th century? It certainly was an interesting time for mariners, back when “monsters” lurked the oceans, and it makes for a fantastic premise for a game — as Chinese developer HiThere has discovered with its launch of a complex Civilization-like app, Age of Ocean, on Facebook.

To be fair, the game is merely connected to the social network through a simple splash screen type of portal that sends you to the game’s stand alone site, using your Facebook credintials to seamlessly log you into the world. The game is a text-based massively multiplayer and strategy  title that tasks users with the creation of the ultimate fleet of traders, merchants, battleships, and so on. In this game, users select an avatar and specialty that improves your character’s abilities as far as trade, command, or seamanship go. From here, you are granted a free dock by your king, emperor, or whomever is in charge of the land you choose as your starting point.

These lands range from the tranquil shores of Nippon, to the cold beaches of Sweden. Each is represented by beautiful digital paintings of the region. In fact, all the artwork is fantastic, but it is a shame that it is all merely static. Aesthetics aside, players don’t have time to swoon too long, as they are immediately prompted by their first quest.

Quests are the primary means of progressing in the game; at least early on. Step by step Age of Oceans attempts to teach you how to play the game. Step, by step, by step, by step…. Yeah, there is a tremendous amount of complexity to this title.

There are four major sections of the game: The port, dock, base, and map. The latter two deal with social elements such as guilds and groups and traveling from port to port respectively. The former two, however, is where the bulk of game play takes place. Within each of these, there are nine more menus.

At the docks, you can upgrade “structures” (the menu buttons, essentially) to have more options such as building more ships at the shipyard, storing goods at the warehouse, recruiting navigators at the bar. This is just to name a few. Moreover, you can only upgrade one area at a time, which, as time goes on, will take upwards of a couple hours. Don’t worry, though, as even though this prevents other buildings from being constructed, there’s still plenty more to do.

If players go to the port, then there are nine more menus such as the tavern, market, bank, and city hall. Within each of these there are even more services and menus… starting to see the picture?

Essentially, the game is trying to recreate as realistic a naval experience as possible. Players have to distribute gold to hire sailors at the tavern, allot amounts naval construction at the waterfront, eventually manage multiple fleets, buy and sell goods within different ports‘ markets, and so on. It is unbelievably cumbersome, and no one but the most hardcore, of hardcore MMO players is going to last very long.

To be fair, however, once someone does learn everything, Age of Oceans does make for a fantastic business type of strategy game. It is rather fun to venture out to sea, attempting to find the greatest treasures and goods you can to make a profit. At the same time, with the threat of competition, pirates, and the like, there is a sense of risk too once you get going. It gets more interesting as you uncover actual equipment to improve your character’s skills and abilities, such as trading (which is very complicated when you start getting multiple “navigators” to run multiple fleets, who can also be equipped).

Unfortunately, the game just throws everything at the player at once. Granted, the quest system is much better than other titles of this ilk, as it really does go step by step. However, there is just so much that it just gets far too overwhelming, even with other players chatting and trying to help. That, coupled with the fact that there is no real hook early on (other than some attractively drawn sailor women on the Facebook page) and most users will stray away and give up before they really get into anything that is fun to them.

Complexity is fine. It just needs to be fed to a player slowly. Make them use features more than once before dumping more on them. Let them have fun with them first.

As if the game weren’t complicated enough, it does, also, have a few direct social elements as well. Most of it involves grouping with other players within the world to form alliances (guilds) or various purposes, be they for trade, protection, or conquest. Beyond this, there are plenty other classic social elements as well including leaderboard rankings based on multitude of criteria such as wealth, fleet size, places you’ve explored, and so on. Furthermore, the game even comes with mail systems and, while not exclusive to social games, a nice in-game store full of virtual goods costing the buyable virtual currency, White Gold. Anything beyond this that makes more direct use of Facebook Connect or any other social capabilities of the network is going to require a few more days of painful sifting through this app’s 9,000 features and game mechanics.

In the end, Age of Ocean is a pretty cool game if you get the hang of everything. Its just that most people will not, or will not want to give it that much of a chance. It is simply far to complicated for even the average “gamer,” let alone the average Facebook user – who, for the record, often does not consider themselves a “gamer” at all. There is one very important rule to game design: “Easy to learn. Difficult to master.” Unfortunately, Age of Ocean is simply just difficult to learn.

Currently, Age of Ocean garners around 75,000 monthly active users.

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