I think people are getting confused between the MMO part and the skirmishes. They are two seperate parts of the game
Skirmish: Random match agaisnt a specified number of people everyone starts with relativly nothing and you are forced to use strategy and co-operation in order to win.
MMO: You pick a spot in the world and are given a basic starting town, you then build up your town defending it from your neighbors and AI whilst also going on the offensive and trying to expand your empire. This mode is dynamic I believe so things can happen while your away.