With Wrath of the Lich King out, everyone's forgotten Age of Conan ever existed. But Funcom's level design gave its own title a head start to the trash can.
Writer Nelson Williams over at Vox ex Machina gives a detailed takedown of how an MMO goes from 700,000 subscribers to nearly zilch in six months. The short answer, after level 20, everything becomes visually dead and unfun, catering only to those who enjoy antisocial MMO behavior and all of the genre's most tedious tasks. [Edit: I changed the headline, perhaps a bit late, because it suggested this MMO was dead and no longer being played. It is, they're just not having much fun.]
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.
Funcom's made an effort to shore up these problems and spiffy the experience. But the article points out the game's producer and director, Gaute Godager, left his 16-year career with the company over how the game was handled after its release. That absence further hurt efforts to save the franchise.
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.
Age of Conan: How an MMORPG Dies [Vox ex Machina]