PC gaming "has been in a bit of a hole"

Age of Empires Online can "fill" it, says MS.

PC gaming isn't dead Blizzard and Steam prove that and Microsoft Game Studios' Danan Davis agrees it's in rude health.

But, despite dismissing the scare mongering as "cyclical", he admits that PC gaming has been "in a bit of a hole".

His answer? Free-to-play PC exclusive RTS Age of Empires Online.

Age of Empires Online, published by Microsoft Game Studios and created by Robot Entertainment before Supreme Commander maker Gas Powered Games took over development duties, is a "freemium" RTS.

Those who want to can expand their game by buying content packs, priced between $5 and $15.

"When you put content out there on a platform like this, people will come back and go, 'Oh wow, PC gaming was never dead," he told Eurogamer.

"Look! It's always been alive.' It's so funny. When I started my career RPGs were dead. That was the whole shtick back in the nineties. 'RPGs were dead! They're never going anywhere!'

"And then BioWare came out with Baldur's Gate, and it was like, 'Whoa! RPGs are totally alive!' It's all cyclical.

"We've been in a bit of a hole in the PC gaming space and in RTS. What we've put together is ripe to fill a need there right now."

MGS today released the PC version of RPG Fable III half a year after the launch of the Xbox 360 version.

Davis hopes that Age of Empires Online encourages millions of gamers to come back to the PC, tempted by its quality and depth.

But he stopped short of confirming that its release marks the beginning of an increased effort on Microsoft Game Studios' part to provide PC enthusiasts with exclusive games.

"Microsoft Game Studios, we're about making great product," he said. "We make great product for whichever platform makes the most sense.

"When you look at Age of Empires, it's an RTS game. PC is the right platform, especially when you consider the free-to-play model we're doing. We're pushing the envelope on the business model. We're pushing the envelope on what Age of Empires has done in the past. We're stepping into this MMO arena. All those things come together to say, 'PC is the right platform for this product.'

"Can I make a great a game on that platform? That's what I care the most about, and make sure that thing is fantastic and great.

"It's fortunate we are on the PC platform. I love the PC platform. A lot of the games I've done in the past are on PC. I'm excited to be able to bring that focus back to PC for MGS, because we haven't done a lot of stuff there.

"Does that speak to the future of, are we going to have a lot more great stuff on the PC? I hope so. I can't speak to that.

"I can speak to Age of Empires Online. That's going to be a great PC product. I hope we bring millions and millions of people into it who experience a fantastic game on PC.

"Will that be new enough and drive a new bump in the industry? Remains to be seen. We'll see. I'd love it to. I'm very bullish in what we're doing. We're doing something very unique in the industry right now, hasn't been done yet."

Age of Empires Online, currently in open beta, releases as a digital download and a boxed retail starter kit at the same time in the autumn.

Players can buy three types of content: civilisations, boosters and empire extras. Civilisations include a free component and a premium upgrade, which allows access to restricted content.

Christian Donlan went hands-on for Eurogamer's Age of Empires Online preview.

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