Ironclad On Why RTS Is Dying, MOBA Needs To Evolve

By Nathan Grayson on February 1st, 2013 at 11:00 am.

In the grand scheme of MOBAs, Ironclad’s Sins of a Dark Age is quite the bold thing. AI directors, random rule-rewriting quests, and other RPG-influenced, flow-shattering shenanigans? This certainly isn’t DOTA 2.5 or Assortment of Apologues, and it’s not trying to be. But at one point, it was doing its damndest to be so much more. Unfortunately, the RTS-style base-building and commanding didn’t pan out, and Ironclad scratched them almost entirely. But according to studio director and co-owner Blair Fraser, his MOBA’s retching rejection of all things RTS is indicative of much larger problems for both genres. One, he argues, is on its death bed, and the other could be following suit if it doesn’t start blazing new trails.

Once upon a time, Ironclad’s Sins of a Dark Age was going to be the match made in heaven that many players assumed was simply a foregone conclusion. A MOBA snuggling up in bed alongside an RTS? Well, duh. They grew up next door neighbors, were nearly sweethearts in high school, and spent their uni years making goo-goo eyes from across an increasingly packed campus. So when SODA was announced, everyone’s first reaction was “Huh, it’s about time.” But still, a Commander to rally troops and conduct elaborate, NPC-and-Hero-driven symphonies of slaughter? RTS-style units both aiding heroes and making them feel all the more important by comparison? What’s not to like?

Well, quite a lot, as it turns out. Fast forward a couple years, and Sins of a Dark Age is more or less abandoning its RTS side – just as the gaming industry appears to be abandoning the large-scale RTS. But it wasn’t supposed to end like this! Not for spicy genre mash-up stews, and not for RTSes as a whole. What happened? Where did it all go wrong? For better or worse, Ironclad director and co-owner Blair Fraser has firsthand experience on both counts.

“We spent probably over a million dollars developing that idea for Sins of a Dark Age,” he admitted to RPS, a note of resignation in his voice. “On paper, it sounds brilliant. Oh my god, the meshing of heroes and giant armies! And a commander controlling it all. I was excited by it, and I know we got a lot of response from people, who are now quite upset. But there were fundamental design flaws in the approach.”

“Heroes and Commanders kind of have to be on the same playing field, because an army has to feel effective and a Hero has to feel effective. So, you basically have a lot of power encapsulated in a single avatar, and a Commander has that same power distributed among a number of units. Because the Commander’s able to distribute that power to a number of locations, he can gain objectives with a more optimal distribution of power. He only sends what he must to deal with the situation. So the Commander only has to send one or two units to perform a key role. But if a Hero wants to counter that, he has to take 100 percent of his power and walk over there, and spend time cleaning up. It feels really shitty as the Hero to have to make that kind of commitment.”

“The equivalent [of a Commander] in our game would’ve been a Hero that’s still an avatar, but also has these global abilities. So basically, a Hero that’s better than the other Heroes.”

He went on to explain, however, that it works both ways. Heroes, he said, basically render Commanders’ tactical options moot because they serve as highly specialized counters to nearly every extreme strategy. “In StarCraft, it’s typically an early rush or all-ground or all-air strategy in hopes that the enemy’s making another gambit. There’s holes to be exploited. In a MOBA, chances are, a number of those holes are already filled [by Heroes]. So it forces the Commander to play a boring middle-of-the-road strategy. The optimum is to always be able to cover a little bit of everything. It’s an emergent property we couldn’t have seen coming.”

Granted, it’s not all bad, as SODA’s come away with an AI director and sudden, earth-shaking realm events that occasionally creep into RTS territory. For instance, that purple grump of a dragon that just spawned? A blessing in disguise, as you can now claim a few fully commandable RTS-style units to aid your cause. Come to think of it, maybe you don’t want to explain the concept of uncles to the beast, teach it proper English, and then take a brief tour into colloquialisms so it can eventually bellow “uncle” in proper context upon defeat, er, at all. If it stays alive, you get to keep your bonus units and employ them however you please. So SODA found its happy middle ground. It just took multiple revamps, one million dollars, and a series of sobering realizations (including this one) to get there.

But there’s a bridge between SODA’s nasty divorce from RTS and the genre’s agonizing final hours, and unfortunately for all involved, it’s very much tied to money. Fraser outlined the issue, using Microsoft’s recently halted Age of Empires Online as an example.

“I can tell you why Age of Empires Online went out of business. They had to hit a certain price point that F2P players find valuable. The Team Fortress 2 high-five animation was the same price as an entire faction in Age of Empires Online. The return on investment there just doesn’t make any sense. And that’s why Age of Empires Online isn’t generating anymore content, and that’s why we’re not charging for army-type units [in SODA].”

So we’ve entered a whole new era for the gaming industry, and RTS is having trouble figuring out how to haul its hulking, easily unbalanced form into greener pastures. But, in all likelihood, that’s fixable. Frankly, anything can be monetized – even if it means getting chewed up and spat out by a machine whose iron jaws slaver only for the bottom line. No, transitioning into F2P’s only part of the problem. The real elephant in the room, according to Fraser? Stagnation.

“I’m not seeing a lot of what I used to in RTS,” he confessed. “I mean, Company of Heroes is now safe with the buyout by Sega. But what have we got here? Company of Heroes 2, StarCraft II, and Age of Empires Online – which is basically shutting down. I don’t know how the free-to-play Command & Conquer will turn out. End of Nations is having a bunch of problems.”

“RTSes, to my mind, are very niche now. And that’s unfortunate, because that’s what I love, and that’s what I grew up playing, and that’s what I make. Or made, anyway. I just think the demographics have changed. Company of Heroes may be profitable, and StarCraft II is an anomaly. But most of them aren’t gonna get big numbers.”

“It’s a dying market.”

But then, where does that leave Ironclad’s own Sins of a Solar Empire? It is, after all, technically a strategic experience that occurs primarily in real-time. And, while Dark Age went through a dark age of its own, Sins of a Solar Empire kept Ironclad afloat. So what makes the spaced-out star destroyer so special? Well, according to Fraser, it’s all part of an unfortunate trend: the further you get from true RTS, the more successful you become.

“Sins of a Solar Empire is still thriving, and it’s basically our take on RTS,” he noted. “But it’s kind of diverged from classic RTS, so it still has a place. It still has a very specific community that wants more. There are games like Total War as well, but they broke away from classic base-building, because that’s done. It’s sad for me to say, but that’s done.”

That in mind, the message is clear: evolve or die. And don’t think for a second that Fraser doesn’t know his company’s plotted a course for another genre that’s seemingly in no hurry to break truly new ground. But Dark Age is a “Sins” title for a reason. Chip away the Heroes, dragons, and, um, air, and you’ll find the exact same strategic spirit.

“We’re strategy gamers in the most abstract sense,” he said. “We’re not beholden to any past [MOBA franchise], so we can just look for what’s going to add the most strategy. Sins of a Solar Empire came from the same mindset: how does this change the strategy? And I think there’s always a market for that. People want to say, ‘Can I be creative to solve this problem?’”

“We are not going for the super high-level play. StarCraft II does that on the RTS side. LoL and DOTA 2 are fighting over that on the MOBA end. So that’s not who we’re going for. I know there are people like me who want to play in a different way.”

Will a MOBA/RPG/slivers of RPS hybrid actually work, though? Can gobs of AI-directed quests and occasional unit commanding slot nicely into the current MOBA mold? Fraser sure hopes so. And he’s willing to keep cracking the whip until Ironclad gets it just right. But then, that’s not an entirely surprising stance to take when you consider the alternative.

“If genres don’t keep evolving, they die,” he stated flatly. “And I was seeing not a lot of evolving in the RTS, base-building genre. By extension, I think the MOBA genre has to continue evolving if it’s gonna make it past two generations.”

Let’s see, first there was DOTA, and now LoL/DOTA 2/HoN. So that’s one… two… Oh jeez. Looks like it’s time to get to work.

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175 Comments »

  1. Zanchito says:

    MOBA is dying! RTS is dying! Turn based strategy is dying! RPG is dying! The PC is dying! Man, I feel like Bruce Willis, I see so many dead people walking around!

    • Bhazor says:

      Don’t forget adventure games. They’ve been dying every year since I was born.

    • Anthile says:

      And I’m not feeling too well either!

    • HilariousCow says:

      …the sylvia plath of videogames, right here.

    • Eddy9000 says:

      What is a MOBA anyway?

      • RoAE says:

        I felt like telling you, but I think you should search yourself. Maybe you’ll learn how to use google.

      • InternetBatman says:

        Games like Dota and LoL.

        • RoAE says:

          DAMN YOU BATMAN!
          Always impeding on education…

        • Wreckdum says:

          Type “nerd rage games” in Google and they’ll all pop up. Don’t worry you’re not missing anything. Just a bunch of angry humans playing games. (Never understand how people can get mad playing…. games.)

          • Triplanetary says:

            I know, I thought the whole point of games was to relax and have fun. I guess for some people it’s more about overcoming their inferiority complexes.

          • Tellus says:

            Dota harness your emotional control and contrentration. Or it turns you into a bile-spewing prejudiced hypocritical cave troll.

            It’s like a spiritual journey to hell. An extreme sport:

            It’s beautiful – and terrible.

          • TCM says:

            Invest a solid hour and a half with 4 people you may or may not know only for one of them to completely blow all your effort by faffing about being useless the entire time, and you’ll start to understand.

          • smb says:

            @TCM: It’s easy to understand how little patience and respect the average human being has for one another, especially when engaged in a competitive video game over the Internet. But the fact of the matter is that people would rather piss on an absolute stranger than accept that shit happens, humans make mistakes, that they too could perform better, or quite simply that their opponents were much better. MOBAs make it easy as fuck to pass the buck, and the moment you treat your “teammates” like dirt, you’re equally responsible for throwing the game.

      • Urthman says:

        It’s an older term for Lords Management games.

      • Jahkaivah says:

        It stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, so it’s about online multiplayer games that are played in a battle arena, like Quake III Arena or Unreal Tournament.

      • Skhalt says:

        A DotA-like, but Riot doesn’t like to be reminded they aren’t original.

        • Gnoupi says:

          Or simply an attempt to have a neutral naming of the genre. Just like we don’t call every Call of Duty a “doom-like” anymore.

      • lurkalisk says:

        The worst genre acronym ever. I prefer ARTS.

        • darkChozo says:

          Hey, more games than MOBAs are art, and not all arts are MOBAs. Some are paintings.

          • lurkalisk says:

            Touché (I only just realised how dramatic my post sounds in that context).

        • Reefpirate says:

          I prefer MARPG for Multiplayer Action RPG. Or maybe OTD PvP RPG, for Online Tower Defense PvP RPG.

          EDIT: I prefer it this way because there’s really not much RTS in these MOBA games. You control one unit 99% of the time.

    • quidnunc says:

      Nathan Grayson has written two articles in a row in which he is putting forth this idea that RTS is dying. Outside the bubble of this site I haven’t seen anyone claim that. Making good RTS games is hard, making good multiplayer RTS games is even harder and costs a lot of money therefore there aren’t a lot of them – the end.

      • mondomau says:

        To be fair, it was the Ironclad chap that said “it’s a dying market”. Although our Mr Grayson does have an unwholesome penchant for sensationalist articles / titles, I’m not sure the blame can really be laid on him this time.

      • Grey Ganado says:

        Isn’t that exactly what dying means in this industry?

    • Lanfranc says:

      And with strange aeons, even death may die!

  2. HexagonalBolts says:

    I think one future strand of the RTS is one that is increasingly powered by the complex technology behind sorting out multiplayer matches and internet connectivity between players. Incredibly complicated ways of gathering statistics allow developers to apply an amazing level of balance to their games and playing a game against someone of a near identical level to yourself means that every single match can hang in the balance and be a frantic tooth and nail fight for victory. I think Starcraft 2 did this amazingly well although it good still do with a little improvement, DOTA 2 does it moderately well but could do with a lot of improvement.

    • Sassenach says:

      A good matching system is of value to most multiplayer games. While particularly so for smaller team sizes (where skill ‘spikes’ and ‘valleys’ are more noticeable) it doesn’t really indicate towards a particular genre.

  3. Mr.Bats says:

    As evil as it may seem, I do hope MOBAs go straight to hell.

    • Parthon says:

      Why?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

      You could just ignore them and let them people who enjoy them just enjoy them.

      Or is that too hard?

      • Tyrone Slothrop. says:

        It’s kind of like Puritanism to H.L. Mencken; the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

      • lurkalisk says:

        This is always a weird sort of post to encounter.
        *ahem*

        Mr.Bats IS just letting them enjoy themselves. Expressing an opinion isn’t exactly interfering with that.

  4. Bhazor says:

    Hmmmmm, nope. But I’m sure Planetary Annihalation, RUSE, Wargames:EE, Battlefront and Creative Assembly would have something to say about that.

    They’re just jumping on the latest bandwagon. Instead of being the change they want to see they’re just going after the money.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Money which they’re not going to be very successful at going after I suspect. Which they’ll then blame on the death of the genre.

      The article reads like Dota 2, LoL & HoN are the only other competitors in the genre. I guess Bloodline Champions, Super Monday Night Combat, Rise of Immortals (all free to play), Awesomenauts and the forthcoming SMITE don’t exist in their little bubble.

      Not saying I won’t give it a look when it gets released though.

      • strangeloup says:

        To be fair, Bloodline Champions and SMNC are pretty much dead. And Rise of Immortals is rubbish.

        I’ve not played more than the trial of Awesomenauts, and although I’ve got access to the SMITE beta I’ve not tried it yet. But I think the assertion that the only real competitors in the MOBA genre at present are Dota 2 — which has been the most-played game on Steam for ages, despite still technically being in beta — LoL and HoN is not that far from the truth.

        I still keep a vague eye on the genre despite having lost interest in it, not due to any property of the games themselves, but because the players tend to be the most obnoxious, offensive group I’ve ever encountered. Which sort of puts you off, really.

      • Skull says:

        It breaks my heart that Super Monday Night Combat has no player base. Although not as good as the first, it is by far the most interesting and funny MOBA I have played, and I’ve played them all. I blame it on a terrible misguided micro-transaction store and poor marketing.

        I hate seeing only 200 people over the entire world online at peak times and most people would rather play the co-op than PvP. I might re-install the original and see if that has any more people playing it as it was a nice alternative to TF2 every now and then.

        • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

          I never felt like the game was really all that well balanced, and the people I had the displeasure to meet in SMNC were some of the worst I’ve found outside the comments section of YouTube. The atrocious interface that didn’t let you join with friends properly wasn’t really a selling point, and Uberent did themselves no favors with the rest of the design either. In the middle of a frustrating match against a significantly better team one of the between-death screens told me “l2p noob” which prompted an immediate and permanent rage quit. It’s bad enough to lose a frustrating match to people who had paid for characters I could only dream of, but when the game itself is mocking me for doing badly, Uber has the player count they deserve.

        • Jenks says:

          I really enjoyed MNC. The F2P aspects of SMNC were a massive turnoff.

      • Baines says:

        That’s part of the problem with genres, you can easily exclude anything that you don’t want to acknowledge.

        RTS are dying!
        But what about Wargame: European Escalation?
        That’s not an RTS, it is a war game!

        MOBA are dying!
        But what about new games like Awesomenauts?
        That’s not a MOBA, it is a side scrolling action game!

        Evolve or die? That’s how things always worked. But if you don’t “evolve” in a certain accepted direction, you fall out of the genre category anyway.

    • Bhazor says:

      “Sins of a Solar Empire is still thriving, and it’s basically our take on RTS,” he noted. “But it’s kind of diverged from classic RTS, so it still has a place.”

      Apart from the scale and the star system movement it’s one of the most traditionalist RTS games out there.

      • Gap Gen says:

        It’s an interesting game. It doesn’t feel like a 4X game – there’s diplomacy and different systems and so on, but there’s no sense of running an empire, just conquering planets and building up fleets. Possibly doesn’t help that I have no investment in the backstory, of which I’m only dimly aware (that said, I do like the idea of researching Extreme Xenophobia). It’s still a nice game, but like you say it still feels very like a slow-burning RTS.

      • LintMan says:

        This article is like a Monty Python skit:

        “RTS is a dying genre.”

        “Well, OK, except for Company of Heroes. RTS’s are dead except for Company of Heroes.”

        “…And Starcraft II. But those are special cases. Other than Company of Heroes and Starcraft II, RTS’s are dead.”

        “…Except, well, SOASE has kept us afloat for years. But, that’s a slightly different kind of RTS. So we’ll say RTS’s are dead, except for Company of Heroes, Starcraft II, and SOASE.”

        “…Oh yeah, and all those Total War games. They’re real popular. But, well, they’re a slightly different kind of RTS too. So let’s say RTS’s are dead, except for Company of Heroes, Starcraft II, SOASE, and all those Total War games.”

        Now bring out the Comfy Chair!

        • Bhazor says:

          But apart from that, what has Relic ever done for us?

          • Vercinger says:

            What does Relic have to do with anything?

            But to give you an unexpected answer – they gave us Impossible Creatures!

      • wengart says:

        If you play it multiplayer it suddenly becomes a lot less traditional RTS and a lot more 4x. 11 hour games with 8 people have more in common with Diplomacy than Starcraft.

    • Warskull says:

      Ruse failed because Ubisoft made the incredibly stupid decision to split the playerbase by Steam server and killed it at release (a pity, because it was a deep game). Planetary Annihilation isn’t out (although I do admit it has promise.) I have never heard of Wargames:EE. The total war series is really a different genre than the RTS they are talking about.

      There is a demand for good RTS games out there, but every developer other than Blizzard has failed in some catastrophic way. Relic has been leaving game destroying bugs in their game, Ubisoft hamstrung a potentially great game by splintering the playerbase into oblivion. Blizzard is the only one who even tries to balance and polish their RTS. With an RTS, especially one with competitive design, balance is incredibly important.

      So yes, it does look like the RTS genre is dying, but it only looks that way due to the failures of RTS devs. The second someone releases a solid RTS, puts forward the effort to balance it, and doesn’t have it launch with game killing bugs people will jump on it. RTS fans are hungry for something outside of the blizzard formula.

    • Agent00Funk says:

      Well, to Blair Fraser’s credit, he did say that the only RTSs which have continued to survive are those that have tweaked the RTS formula, like with base building (calling SC2 the “anomaly”). Creative Assembly games are a blend of TBS and RTS, Wargame: EE has no base building. Planetary Annhilitioan is the closest thing to classic RTS, but I highly doubt it will reach the level of success as CoH2 (also a mutation of classic RTS formula) will. Among PC strategy gamers I’m sure it will do well, but among the broader gaming market it’ll probably be little more than a drop in the bucket.

      I think Fraser has a point. Remember the late 90′s and early 00′s? RTSs everywhere! Now you can count ‘em on one hand, maybe two depending on your definition of RTS. And they have become stale. There hasn’t been much innovation in the genre aside from the very games you mentioned, and DOTA, which of course gave rise to a new genre altogether. For the most part, the only successfully RTS franchises of the time are those that have innovated through today. When Red Alert released, you had your clones, you had Strarcraft and Warcraft clones too, but today how many RTSs would you say are clones of other RTSs? Less, because the RTSs genre is more fragmented and each fragment appeals to a separate niche, and I think Fraser touches on the point that, because of the split path RTSs have taken, its difficult and unprofitable to try and go for the original recipe and/or trying to straddle all paths at once.

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      Wargame:EE is incredible in that it added to the stale rts formula and emerged as something new. Ironclad on the other hand are sniffing around to see what the cool kids are up to and good for them. It works for zynga, after all.

  5. Perrin says:

    I do think he makes a lot of sensible arguments for what designs are working best for them and what approach to take for their company. However the argument about what is or isn’t dead seem like they’re extrapolating from short term trends.

    Right now a LOT of companies seem to be jumping on board the MOBA bandwagon. inspired by the successes of LoL in that field. However I wonder if they noticed what happened to all the people who jumped head first into MMORPGS after looking at WoW. Thankfully the investment in a MOBA game is not as scary as an MMO, however I think there is going to be a LOT of failed MOBAs over the coming years.

  6. ChromeBallz says:

    Between Brood War, Starcraft II and Supreme Commander/Forged Alliance, the classic RTS has already been perfected imho. There’s nothing you can really “innovate” without creating a new subgenre.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      The classic RTS was perfected with Total Annihilation I think you’ll find.

      • trout says:

        If TA had the ‘strategic zoom’ thingi from supcom then i would agree with you, but if you try playing it today it feels very boxed in and cramped. My vote is for supcom: forged alliance as (so far) the most well realised example of the genre

    • solidsquid says:

      I don’t know, meshing classic RTS like Command & Conquer for ground wars and Sins of a Solar Empire or Galactic Civilizations for 4X empire building would be a pretty nice enhancement to the genres

      • SocraticIrony says:

        Imperium Galactica 2 attempted this with, in my opinion, moderate success.

      • Panda Powered says:

        Star Wars: Empire at War did a mix of strategic layer where you build your bases and forces, and pretty standard RTS combat in space and on land. The land part sucked though but is auto-resolveable. Its made by Petroglyph, the old C&C guys.

    • Rao Dao Zao says:

      Why has nobody mentioned Age of Empires II? Nobody’s topped that in my eyes.

  7. Malibu Stacey says:

    http://steamgraph.net/index.php?action=graph&jstime=1&appid=570q205790&from=1320105600000&to=End+Time

    Dying indeed.

    Let’s see, first there was DOTA, and now LoL/DOTA 2/HoN.

    No first there was Aeon of Strife. Then there was DotA. Then there was Demigod, LoL & HoN. Then Bloodline Champions, Rise of the Immortals & Super Monday Night Combat. Then Dota 2.

    How about we all agree not to use the retarded term “MOBA” from now on? That’s the only thing which needs to die.

    • zeroskill says:

      “MOBA Needs To Evolve”

      A bold statement is it, considering how many people seem to disagree:

      http://store.steampowered.com/stats/

      And Dota 2 is basically anything but an evolution. Maybe old game design is indeed very legit, even in 2013. Just a guess. So how about a new Quake Arena game, iD? Ok, guess not. If I might go on a unrelated little rant here, how about you, iD, just sell off the Quake franchise to Valve and let them do what needs to be done, since you iD are clearly incapable of doing so. /endrant

      • Stupoider says:

        oh god yes

      • RoAE says:

        Its more the case that new MOBAs need to evolve in order to get people into their MOBA. Dota, LoL and even HoN will remain successful with the old system, but there is only so much market space; just look at all the other MOBAs that failed….

      • Malibu Stacey says:

        And Dota 2 is basically anything but an evolution.

        You could not be more wrong.
        DotA is still evolving. See http://www.playdota.com/changelogs for how often it’s being tweaked, modified & added to.
        When I started playing Dota 2 almost a year ago the current release of DotA was 6.74, 6.77 was released before Christmas.
        Also with Dota 2 there’s a lot of stuff which they couldn’t do in Warcraft 3 that they can now. Some heroes have already been tweaked because the new engine means you don’t have to put up with certain behaviours in the old engine.

        • Brise Bonbons says:

          My understanding of the point is that DOTA and DOTA 2 both share a very “old school” philosophy in their design, which modern development wisdom believes is inaccessible to the modern market or some such nonsense.

          Things like creep/tower denial, losing gold on death, dying to chain stuns with no ability to act, (pseudo) random crits and rune spawns… Hell, just the overall complexity of the thing.

          DOTA 2′s popularity sort of undermines the entire argument, of course. There are still plenty of people in the world who want a challenge, it’s just a smaller percentage of people who play games relative to what it was in the olden days (I’d argue largely because so many more people play games now).

        • zeroskill says:

          Thank you Brise for saving me the effort to point out, what I believe was pretty obvious to most people other then good old Malibu here.

          My understanding of the point is that DOTA and DOTA 2 both share a very “old school” philosophy in their design

          Also I’d like to add that not only do they share a game design philosophy, they are the same game. Dota 2 is the natural continuation of the original Dota, and as soon as Dota 2 will officially release to the public, to my latest information, continuation of development on WC3 Dota will cease and Icefrog will continue development on Dota 2 exclusively.

          Oh and thank you Malibu for point me to a page that I have been reading for over 4 years. Or more to the point, reading Dota changelogs.

  8. mrwout says:

    I think they’ve got their verbs mixed up….RTS is evolving, MOBA needs to die…

    • Magnusm1 says:

      And you need to shut up.

    • TCM says:

      Starcraft 2 was designed to appeal to the exact same people, for the exact same reasons, as Starcraft 1, a 10+ year old RTS game. That is the most recent high profile successful RTS I can think of.

      Let me know where the evolution is, because I am obviously missing it.

  9. misterT0AST says:

    RTS is not dead. YOUR FACE is dead!
    (sick burn).

  10. MrMud says:

    The reason AoE online died was because it was a grindy and bad game. The reason people are willing to fork out such high sums of money on purely cosmetic items in games like TF2 and Dota2 is that the game is so good that players actually want to find ways to give the developers money.

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      I would love to see actual research to see how much this is true, but I figure Valve must have some good metrics that show a generous F2P model and lots of hats = more money than a shady F2P model that tries to nudge players into buying “convenience” unlocks from the store.

      Anyway, I think the point about AoE online is a good one. Every review of it I’ve seen skewered the cash shop and grind, and simply didn’t have much good to say about the core RTS experience. Blaming its failure (or other high profile misses like SupCom2) on the death of the genre while ignoring obvious design problems is just silly.

  11. Correa says:

    RTS is dead? I’m sure these are only mentioned to get hits on whoever says it’s websites and the following places quoting them.

    PA has pretty much shown RTS aren’t dead if they went way over their many goals for their Kickstarter. The Total war series and Sins of Solar Empire are doing very well as is Company of Heroes.

    The demand for RTS hasn’t died it is the lack of interest of the money men and cross platform limits that has stopped them being made.

    • fish99 says:

      I think you hit the nail on the head there. It’s about cross platform and the sure knowledge that RTS doesn’t work on consoles, and that’s where the money is.

      • Brise Bonbons says:

        Agreed entirely. Which raises the possibility of tablet and smartphone (and obviously Linux/PC/Mac) RTS games as those devices become more powerful. Screw consoles, the real money is in mobile, right?

        I mean, there’s nothing stopping anyone from making more sophisticated strategy games on those platforms. You can always put a row of buttons along the bottom to act as unit hotkeys, so the lack of keyboard shouldn’t be a showstopper. You’re not going to have SC2 level unit control, but no one is competing in international tournaments while riding the bus, anyway.

        Granted, a lot of extremely casual players wouldn’t be that interested in Total Annihilation on their iPad, but I think there would be plenty of demand for a game where you get to watch hundreds of little mans blow each other up in the palm of your hand.

        • Therax says:

          Let’s see: hundreds of little men blowing each other up, check. Minimal fine control dexterity required, hence compatible with inaccurate touchscreen input device, and tolerant of “oops, the bus hit a bump and I tapped the wrong thing,” check. Bite size gameplay experience, easy to pick up and put down from a mobile device.

          Yep, sounds like one of the dozens of auto-march — “castle defense” and the like — mobile games. Take away auto-march from one side in favor of fixed-position units, and you have (possibly inverse) tower defense.

          That said, I would be interested in a simplified RTS on a mobile device that chose different elements of the full RTS experience to simplify.

    • wengart says:

      He also doesn’t say that those games are dead. He is saying that the classical RTS, the RTS style that brought us Starcraft, Command and Conquer, and Age of Empires, isn’t as profitable as it once was. Instead you see games lIke Company of Heroes, PA, and Sins of a Solar Empire. They are all RTS games to a certain point, but that are not the AOEs and C&Cs of the 90s. They have taken that classical formula and moved away from it.

  12. gebbet says:

    Arguments need to evolve or they will di… oh wait.

  13. pakoito says:

    “We are late for the party but we have the fixes for that that wasn’t broken” as if they were the first ones trying to apply game design principles to the genre. And fail.

    If the MOBA genre dies (this is, DOTA population declines), it’ll be dead but we will keep the games and fun times. It’s not like AoE2 is still not more played than most modern ace-designed RTSs.

  14. Squishpoke says:

    I’m not fond of this MOBA genre. The whole character-leveling system introduces some kind of hideous skill abstraction into a competitive multiplayer game. How did this ever get popular?

    • Keymonk says:

      It’s even worse for some of them and they have meta-game progression as well. LoL has runes that improve your character as well as talent trees that you set up before matches. It’s very silly, veterans have the upper hand over new players by default.

      • misterT0AST says:

        The thing that people fail to realize is that the population of LoL is so high that they can afford to match low level players with other low level players without waiting more than 20 seconds, the advantages given by runes and masteries are relatively little, and the last level (level 30) is reached pretty fast if you’re an active player.
        So it’s really not an issue.

      • Brise Bonbons says:

        Yeah, as much as I hate the persistent progression aspect of LoL, it’s not actually that much of a problem in terms of giving veterans an advantage. Although it does present an inconvenience for friends of different skill levels who want to play together.

        Frankly I think the biggest issue with runes and masteries in LoL is that they’re just unnecessary busywork. They don’t offer any value to the player; they’re a time sink, a conditioning reward with the added effect that you can intuitively see your time investment in the game add up (and, by the way, keeping you playing: You wouldn’t want to waste all that time would you).

        They don’t really offer choice or customization, because as designed there are clear “best” builds for whatever specific role you’re playing. At least that’s how it was when I played back in season 2.

      • Yosharian says:

        “LoL”

        hahahha

    • Gap Gen says:

      My guess is that people are more likely to play longer if they feel invested in a game. If everything resets between games, people are more likely to feel like they’ve got all they can out of it and quit playing. It’s partly people’s tendency to throw good money after bad – the feeling that if they stop playing, they’ve wasted their current time investment.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I’ve steered clear of MOBA games simply because the ones that are really about “DOTA-like” (lanes, creeps, feeding, whatever) seem to become some form of festering boil in terms of community. Dota2, LoL etc have pushed things to make their community “more respectful”, which feels more like tackling the symptom rather than the cause.

      Even the worst FPS communities don’t seem to have had to take such steps (though XBox did apparently start issuing bans for sexism or something).

      Other games, which just go with the idea of team-based RPG-lite arenas seem to develop “less bad” communities, but ultimately die because they’re not “dota enough”.

      • DiamondDog says:

        If you’ve steered clear of MOBA games then how do you know what the community is like? The bad side (and it can be very bad) is all that you hear about. But people invested in the scene know the good side, and it’s not even hidden. You’ll see lots of it at tournaments and on places like reddit. Is it really any surprise that such large online communities swing from one extreme to the other?

        As to the idea that MOBA communities are somehow worse, well, that’s just lazy nonsense. I’ve seen much more repugnant bullshit written in RPS comment sections than I’ve ever seen in a LoL match. The idea that MOBA games are festering pits is by now a lazy stereotype.

        Sorry to go off at you Hoaxfish, because you always seem like a reasonable person, but I’m getting a bit tired of this growing perception from people that freely admit they never touch the games.

        • Hoaxfish says:

          I suppose to put it in perspective, I’m much more of a single-player/co-op player (think Deus Ex or Realm of the Mad God). I’m happy to do some throw-away multiplayer (at least if it’s free), but I’m not “competitive” enough to want to be in a position where a team-win depends on me not dying like an idiot, or running the wrong way. … and at least some of my choices are limited by my old hardware.

          People raging because I picked the wrong character before the game even started, or ran down the wrong path, or being banned by moderators for not following the “meta” (I think that was from LoL), or died obviously, seems to put as many choices as possible as choices to get “wrong” rather than the game being softer in terms of correcting errors after the event.

          As I said, I know at least 2 of the main 3 are implementing extraordinary systems to simple encourage people to “play nice”. If they feel this is really required, and they’re the ones in charge of the actual game it strikes me that a “negative” experience seems far more prevalent than other multiplayer genre communities.

          I was actually interested in Bloodline Champions, but the actual character design felt a bit dull to me.

          • DiamondDog says:

            But I’d argue that Riot implementing things to encourage people to play nice is something positive, rather than the negative spin you put on it. I’ve played a lot of multiplayer games over the years and a lot of them could have used some involvement from the developers to encourage better behaviour. Riot aren’t doing it because LoL is so much more hostile than anything else, they’re doing it because they want to improve the experience of playing their game. I don’t see why that’s a bad thing. It’d be a bit naive to imagine an online community would automatically default to being really nice to each other. You need tools to help combat the idiots.

            I don’t want to go too overboard with this defence, because I completely recognise the shit that is in the LoL community. These games are so completely reliant on team-play that if you’re new and on your own, it’s not a particularly welcoming environment to jump into. I mean, I only play with friends now because I don’t want the chance I’ll get stuck in a match with a troll. Might seem like a damning indictment but there you go. I’m not going to pretend I haven’t had bad experiences, but then I’ve had bad experiences with people on most areas of the internet, gaming or otherwise.

            Lets be honest, the absolute best way to experience most multiplayer games is with friends. No hassle, no pressure, and more than likely one of them will already be experienced enough to help you. I think this is especially true for MOBA. Playing it on comms with friends can be both a joy and incredibly intense.

            Once you get past that initial barrier there’s a lot to admire about the communities around these games. Like a lot of places, I suppose.

    • pakoito says:

      Too long to explain but it gets you most of the gaming fixes some of us need: it has competitiveness, teamplay, short burst sessions, manual skill, strategy capabilities, build experimentation, knowledge and investment is rewarded and if you screw up in 5 minutes you’re back to the starting point.

      And most important, when it’s fun it’s superfun. You just made a great choice, your partners and you flow in the battlefield and the enemies run in fear and cowardice. Or maybe you just turned a losing game into a winning one. And you and your friends are screaming of joy on the microphone because you’re pumped up with adrenaline from the last 2 minutes of pure focus that lead to a won teamfight.

      The downside and cause of all bad communities is that a single screwup or a bad teammate can get you in a 40 minutes ride of boredom and frustration you cannot quit. LoL dealt with this by lowering the bar, HoN with a Concede option, Dota hasn’t.

      EDIT: Rereading myself, what this game gives me is what basketball gave me when I was 16 and we played in the province league. E-sport.

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      “I’m not fond of this MOBA genre. The whole character-leveling system introduces some kind of hideous skill abstraction into a competitive multiplayer game. How did this ever get popular?”

      I will always argue that DOTA is at heart a single session strategy-RPG hybrid. It transforms the somewhat arbitrary character customization choices of single player RPGs (“I want to get a sword instead of a spear because reasons”) into game deciding strategic decisions (“do I get the magic armor that slows that scary archer’s attacks, or the magic scythe that turns her into a sheep for a few seconds?”).

      More specifically re: your question, in DOTA experience and character levels should be understood as another resource to manage as a team, same as gold. E.g. a support character might purposefully leave XP range so the combat character gets full credit and levels faster.

      Yes, sometimes a player snowballs and just starts winning fights due to being higher level. But they are also worth more XP if you manage to kill them – allowing you to catch up quickly if you can ambush that player or counter them with items/skills.

  15. wolfinexile says:

    They said PC gaming was dead.
    They said space sims were dead.
    They said turn-based were dead.
    Now they’re saying RTS is dying.

    “Rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated”.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I’m guessing “dead” means “this thing is not so profitable any more”. Sure, there are still space shooters coming out, but the days when you could have multiple franchises running successfully are probably gone. And sure, people were just wrong about PC gaming, even if the linear FPS has moved over to the consoles more or less.

      • wolfinexile says:

        Using the term “dying” has different connotations to simply being “unprofitable”, so if that’s what they mean, then they really should stop all these exaggerated BS statements.

        There will always be a healthy market for mainstream genres, and RTS is a mainstream genre. Companies like GPG made really good games (Dungeon Siege 1 & 2, Supreme Commander) when they were smaller, but as time goes by it just feels like they’ve lost the plot.

        RTS games were fun, back in the “Golden Age” of RTSes when we had games like C&C: Generals, Total Annihilation, Age of Empires and so forth.

        Ever since then, RTS games have generally been on a slide towards the mediocre. That is the real problem that’s affecting profitablilty. A good example is Supreme Commander 2, which when compared to the first game feels dumbed down and limited compared to its predecessor.

        Its interesting to see this Blair Fraser ignoring the big white elephant that is Starcraft 2 in his arguments. RTS is hardly a niche market, as evidenced by Starcraft 2′s amazing commercial success.

        One valid point Blair makes in his rant is, that the RTS genre needs to avoid stagnation. We’re seeing more and more procedural systems in games today, and I feel that is the direction that RTS games need to go as well.
        Also RTS games like the Total War series have a meta-campaign, which I feel should become synonymous with RTSes of the future.

        • Gap Gen says:

          Bear in mind the quote is “It’s a dying market” which implies that it’s the sales that are drying up, not the quality of games or interest from dedicated fans. But sure, it could well be hyperbole, or just plain wrong.

          • Bhazor says:

            Yeah. Dead.
            http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/659943965/planetary-annihilation-a-next-generation-rts

            Fans don’t vanish and genres don’t die.
            A market only dies when publishers stop making games for it.

          • Gap Gen says:

            Note “dying”, not “dead”. And like I said, games will continue to be made in a genre, and resurgences will happen. But sure, I’d accept the argument that a market isn’t literally dead even if a game in that genre comes out only once every, say, three years. It just isn’t particularly profitable to make games in it compared to other genres for developers with large overheads.

          • Bhazor says:

            Where as publishing a bland high budget shooter into a saturated market is a sure fire way to make the big bucks.

            Just ask THQ.

            Brad Wardell has done/said a lot of stupid things. But there is one thing he said I strongly stand behind.

            Paraphrasing
            “When you’re the only one making a game in an empty genre you get a lot of attention a guaranteed audience and no competition meaning you don’t have to outspend a rival and can keep your budget small”
            Can’t find the exact quote (think it was a PCGamer interview) but that is a view that in the crowdsourcing age seems almost prophetic.

          • Brise Bonbons says:

            “Bear in mind the quote is “It’s a dying market” which implies that it’s the sales that are drying up…”

            These days it feels like all it means is “this genre doesn’t sell as many copies as CoD, so how on earth are we supposed to make a profitable big budget game? WE ARE CONFUSED”.

            As budgets are allowed to grow unchecked, I can understand how certain markets would become less profitable. But I think it’s ridiculous to state that any of these markets are “drying up” in any objective sense. Especially when the only proof of their demise is poor sales figures for middling games – which often seem to run mass-market graphics budgets or gamble on shitty F2P models in an enthusiast market.

          • wengart says:

            He seemed to be talking about the classical AOE/C&C/Starcraft style of RTS. Planetary Annihilation might share similarities but it certainly doesn’t look like a classic RTS.

  16. Caerphoto says:

    Am I the only one who had to look up what MOBA means? :(

    (“multiplayer online battle arena”, according to Wikipedia, which seems kinda vague – even Quake deathmatch could be described with those words. Also known as “action real-time strategy”, which again doesn’t seem particularly specific.)

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      It’s good to look stuff up.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Yeah, I had to look it up too. I guess it’s the same as RTS, FPS, F2P, whatever, in that you only have to look it up once.

    • DickSocrates says:

      It’s a vague description because the game itself is vague. You have a collection of characters who can do things on a map and they do things or don’t and control areas or you could go farming and control points and then stuff happens and it all looks like Warcraft III, because that’s clearly the pinnacle of art design. And the community is full of angry unpleasant people (like the Internet). And it’s overhead.

      I’ve watched some videos of it and still don’t know what it is properly. I’m too old to be interested enough to learn.

    • Parge says:

      I had to as well.

      Saying RTS games are dead is hyperbolic. What they actually mean is that there isn’t any originality in the genre, and you aren’t giving the fans what they want, thus they aren’t spending their money.

      Planetary Annihilation proves that the market most certainly is there.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      not to be confused with MOMA

      • Caerphoto says:

        Well at least MOMA has some relation to ARTS.

        And to clarify my original post, I wasn’t complaining so much as feeling a bit confused about how this could be the first time I’ve heard the term “MOBA”, despite subscribing to RPS’s RSS feed. I think I’m getting old, is the problem.

    • adamsorkin says:

      Possibly, but only because you did it for me.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Riot Games coined it to describe LoL. It sounds completely dumb & is so generic it could be used for pretty much any online game from TF2 to World of Warcraft to Starcraft 2.

      Lane Pushing Game has been suggested as an alternative because that’s pretty much what the whole point of the game is, to push your lanes so you can assault the enemies base & win.

    • sinister agent says:

      Think of it as Warcraft/Starcraft, but you only control one, “hero” unit.

  17. Screamer says:

    Cool story bro!

  18. Eddard_Stark says:

    What a crapload of bullshit, pardon my French. I get it that Blair Fraser is running a business and he ultimately takes his studio the direction where he believes money go, but boy it’s just sad. I don’t even know where to start. Yeah RTS are in a tough spot. But a dying market? Does it not have an audience? It may be a niche one compared to MOBA, but the playfield for RTSes is so much broader and the competition is less. Take e.g. Starcraft 2, DoW2, Wargame: EE, Total War Series + your own Sins of a Solar Empire – how is that not a broad spectrum with a large audience? MOBAs more innovative than RTS, are you serious? Come on, RTS is such a broader and deeper genre, there’s still tons of stuff to do there, so many directions to take. Just know your audience, know your niche, play to its strengths, plan and limit your budget. Oh, and Age of Empires Online went out of business because a)was a mediocre game on its own that was turned F2P when most of the audience just wants a regular AoE b)GFWL c)ridiculous pricing and nickle&diming policy.

    We’ll see how it goes ofc, but smth tells me Sins of a Dark Age is going to flop hard. It’s mind-boggling how bland and uninspired it looks so far. And with the MOBA scene being as oversaturated as it is, I highly doubt there’s place for yet another take on the same formula. And I personally have zero interest in it. I’d prefer a solid RTS any day over this.

    • Reapy says:

      Yeah this article confused me, as though I had missed hearing about this game as I started reading. Then I realized it was the dota clone with 1 new gimmick game I had lost interest in the second I started reading it.

      Also I find his idea of what RTS is confusing throughout the article. RTS is basically anything something happening in real time that you are issuing those band select style orders to. Those are pretty much the elements that make you think ‘RTS like’ in your head.

      He is right that if he wants to succeed its too late to copy (which is what they are doing?), the big players are already out there and saturated with players and a huge head start. Have to come up with something new to move the players, not add in random quests to DOTA and call it a day.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Now now, don’t lose your head over it.

  19. Rian Snuff says:

    Whenever someone claims something is dying like this, I instantly lose a shitload of respect for them.

    And, I just also just learned that google word correction doesn’t register shitload as a typo..
    Which amused me a lot!

  20. bstard says:

    Play Crusader Kings 2 and see how RTS is evolving. The genres aint dieing, you people are to conservative.

    • Sine says:

      Actually, I’d argue that Crusader Kings 2 is turn-based strategy, not an RTS. Days do fly by when you’re playing it, but everything in it is still organised around turns (days)

      • Gap Gen says:

        I wonder if you could argue that RTSs are TBSs where dt is just very small. Eh, probably not.

        • mickygor says:

          Only if you can halt the flow of time and issue commands, presumably.

          • bstard says:

            My point here was if you define a genre very strict, there’s a moment where any innovation makes a game fall outside, and that is the moment a genre dies.

        • Strangerator says:

          Simultaneous turns!

  21. GeoffBallington says:

    Look at where MOBA came from.

    MOBA was born out of DOTA, which was a custom game for Warcraft III, meaning it was a player-made map built using ‘world builder’ – Blizzards incredibly easy-to-use map making tool.

    All of the assets and units in DOTA were already in WCIII, just repurposed by the map maker, their scales, names, and abilities were edited using the tool to make original heroes.

    It wasn’t particularly special as a custom game compared to some. Someone had re-made the entire Lord of the Rings adventure on a single, sprawling map, where people joined the game as one of the heroes from the trilogy, and played through the various areas of Middle Earth together, insta-death optional, typically taking 5+ hours to run, and just as fun every time.

    It’s simplicity-to-use, yet incredible underlying complexity made it possible to create a WC3 version of almost anything. The boardgames RISK and Monopoly exist in WC3 form, again using repurposed assets and units, nothing was brought in externally (I think it was quite difficult to make custom units). WC3 served as the popular home & incubator of many-an-inspiring Tower Defence game, something that has seen a surge in popularity recently. Thousands of RPGs covered every desire, from ‘Pokemon World’ through to ‘Helms Deep Defence’ or the RP-focused LOAP (Life of a Peasant).

    In LOAP, 10 players took on the roles of individual citizens, another single player took on the role of a ‘police faction’ and controlled hundreds of police units (he could spawn them, along with police cars, etc), whilst another player was ‘Mafia crime lord’ and another a ‘drug baron’, again controlling a faction based out of a mansion. Citizens took on jobs to buy houses which could be expanded, and buy cars or w/e – the ‘laws’ were determined by the police and usually a citizen self-appointed as mayor. LOAP itself spawned hundreds of iterations, LOAP Resident Evil for instance, which doubled the already huge city map’s size, adding an Umbrella corporation laboratory and faction and introducing zombie outbreak functionality and police-enforced quarantine zones.

    It was games within games within games, and it was executed so well.

    Now, with Steam Workshop, we’re already seeing thousands of custom skins and models being imported into the game, and we’re seeing the ability to customise your character – functionality that WC3 lacked, yet WC3 still kept an active player base of 80k+ Custom Game players for 10 years.

    I anticipate the day when someone re-envisions custom-games, everyone will rejoice.

    • zeroskill says:

      As far as we know right now, Dota 2 will have mod tools available. Just like every other Source based game. Granted, the Source SDK is not as simple as the Warcraft 3 map editor, but it’s not particularly hard to use either. So there you have it.

  22. Risingson says:

    As it happened with adventure games, space simulator/combat games, non-hardcore flight simulation games, adaptation of wargames, etcetera, what happens is not that the genre is dying, but that not many good games of its genre have been released lately. Or not standout games. It’s like the spark was gone in developer companies.

    • Bhazor says:

      Pretty much.
      It goes

      10 “This genre doesn’t sell”
      20 “We won’t make a game in this genre”
      30 “No one is releasing games in this genre”
      40 “No one can buy any games in this genre”
      50 go to 10

  23. Molotova says:

    as long as it dies *after* TW:Rome 2 comes out

  24. malkav11 says:

    If RTSes are dying at all (which is debatable, obviously), it’d be my contention that it’s because the conventional wisdom is that an RTS is all about the competitive multiplayer side of affairs (or at least skirmishes against bots), and that that isn’t actually what most consumers want from them. I know I for one am only interested in RTSes if there is a robust singleplayer that’s a lot more than just skirmishes. Ideally a scripted singleplayer narrative campaign – Starcraft II and Dawn of War II both delivered excellently on that front in different ways – but sufficiently deep strategic layers and the like have also worked for me. Tellingly, Ironclad’s entry onto the scene has nothing of the sort.

    It would be like if almost the entire FPS genre were trying to emulate Unreal Tournament or Quake III.

    • sinister agent says:

      This is a good point. I and a few friends loved Starcraft back in the day, but we only ever played it multiplayer a handful of times. It was the loveably over the top story and characters that we loved. When we did play each other, we did it for laughs, not to win at any cost (eg: early rushes didn’t happen, because they’re boring). Playing elaborate and mean tricks on each other was half the fun – mining the entrance to the enemy’s base instead of your own, kidnapping your enemy’s favourite unit just to annoy them, etc.

      I’ve barely touched an RTS game since, they’re so often just too damn samey. The big exceptions have all been strong singleplayer games like Men of War, and much to my surprise, Warlords Battlecry 3.

      • malkav11 says:

        Starcraft in particular had a lot of Use Map Settings games being played, too, which were used to do things like mod in rudimentary RPGs and such.

    • progmeer says:

      Good point. Why can’t we have an AOE2 with modern graphics and features?. Over-competitive multilayer tends to turn off a lot of players of classical RTS who love skirmishes.

  25. Arithon says:

    Bad RTS games or RTS games done badly is dying. Agreed.

    Is RTS dead as a genre? Nope. Demigod was moderately terrible as it had major limitations, yet SINS is outstanding with enormous replay value.

    We spent probably over a million dollars developing that idea for Sins of a Dark Age

    I can’t see why that went wrong… Oh for a job where the “chat-over-coffee and do nothing” budget is six figures….

  26. Engonge says:

    Even though it seems to be shrinking,there will always be an audience for RTS as much as I can tell.Main problem with today seems to be the lack of patience.Thats why there isn’t that much RTS games coming out today as before.

    • Xocrates says:

      Except RTS are getting increasingly faster paced and more minimalistic while, amusingly, the more successful ones appear to be the slower and larger ones.

      I would argue that the problem is that almost no-one is making RTSs that are any good, and when they do they aren’t marketed enough.

      • Reapy says:

        Also account for the average ‘RTS gaming intelligence’ of the audience increasing over time, especially with the ease of watching a pro starcraft player show you how much you suck. I think when I was young playing warcraft 2 online ~ 1995ish, a lot of people sucked. The pool of players was smaller, but in general nobody knew how to play RTS games competitively. Fast forward to post starcraft years when war3 comes out, the average player you ran into was significantly better than the average warcraft 2 player.

        That knowledge and/or experience of having played those games can affect whether a person wants a game or not. Back in the day I would have played starcraft 2 online a little bit, maybe had fun. But because of the huge emphasis on competition in that game, the pro matches I had watched, coupled with my own knowledge of the build orders and unit stat/match ups I ‘NEEDED’ to memorize, I just said fuck it and didn’t even get started.

        That might be just me, but I find that when I can see how long the road is I have trouble starting to walk down it, where as if I get half way down it without realizing I’m walking it (eg just get online and play games) it isn’t so bad to take the last few steps and keep playing.

        I think that honestly in general what long term gamers need as a whole is vastly different depending on our ages and games we have played. Finding that hit design to bridge the gap between all the different types of gamers at the right time, (accounting for development time) , executing that vision and getting it out there, well, it is a daunting task to say the least.

  27. DK says:

    I see they’re already preparing the way for the excuses when their boring derivative MOBA nobody actually wants inevitably fails.

    Then they can point and say “look, we told you those genres were dead! That’s why OUR product, which is totally great, failed!”

    Also, I laugh at their terrible attempts to combine RTS players and RPG players into the same match – Heroes of Annihilated Empires did it years ago, and did it incredibly well. But then they also had a fantasy RTS with a genuine interesting twist, and incredible scale. Undead players, for example, had the capability to pump out one unit per second per production building.

  28. InternetBatman says:

    This is just whining. RTS are expanding and diversifying, not dying. You like base building? There’s now an entire genre called Tower Defense. You like heroes fighting other heroes? There’s now Mobas, and even cooperative spins on that. Traditional RTS are still getting made too, like the minimalist Eufloria and the maximalist Planetary Annihilation. FPS is getting mixed in too, but all this goober can say is “we had an idea and it didn’t work out.”

    Finally, what’s wrong with it becoming niche? Niches themselves are thriving. Adventure games are definitely niche, but it looks like Doublefine and Telltale have found their places making adventure games, also the Blackwell conspiracy guys and Deponia.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      To echo your post, his statements just show how gravely some developers lose all notions of context when all they’re paying attention to is a) their game b) money c) other games that represent big money. He never mentions any of the games you list simply because they’re not as huge as SC 2, and the way he speaks of SC 2 as an anomaly reveals the little knowledge he has of the developments in the genre he most likes. I don’t like MOBAs, and I don’t like to think that the future of RTSs lie with them, but I feel confident that good things are coming thanks not only to new ‘classic’ (sort of) games like Planetary Annihilation but also thanks to the actual advancement of the mechanics that make MOBAs and Tower Defence games tick for so many people.

      It’s a bit like with MMOs: everyone’s too busy looking at big money WoW, and only a few games are trying things differently. Those games, like PS 2 or EvE, are not only a blast to play but are also full of people, which speaks of really high demand. The thing is, devs stricken by navel gazing are too common and too sure of themselves (my game doesn’t work, it’s WoW’s / SC 2′s fault, or it’s the fault of the genre DYING!!! You know, because I don’t form a part of that very important half of the gaming market, I’m just doing what the customer wants…) to be up to the task of creating an innovative / groundbreaking and competitive supply.

      tl;dr – some devs are just mediocre, thank god for kickstarter, etc

  29. oceantorment says:

    What he is forgeting is that LoL, Dota 2, HoN are F2P games, F2P games needs a huge audience to generate profit, to get to 1million people to buy something you need to have 10 million players. They are going to have massive costs with infrastructure to host all the games created for all these players (Damigod had too interesting gameplay ideas but failed horribly because of this) and they are going to need to steal audience from LoL and Dota 2 (One has a massive headstart and the other has a very powerful company behind). LoL and Dota 2 are multiplayer competitive focused games, this means that if all your friends don’t want to leave Dota2 and LoL, it means that you too will not leave Dota2. What problaby will happen is that people are going to play for a while and then lose interest and return to LoL and Dota2 where all their friends are and they aren’t complete noobies. On F2P games you go big or go home.

    The option for a Dota/LoL/HoN game is the more risky one, it appear that he is trying to convince himself that was a good idea by saying that the RTS genre is dying (Starcraft II, DoW 2, Company of Heroes, Total War series says hello)

  30. RedViv says:

    RTS and most strategy is “dying” because it’s a genre mostly played by “casually hardcore” people, this meaning that most of them get very few games and put little money into the business, but tend to play hundreds of hours of their title. There is very little room to move, so if you want to make money you will have to polish, or fill a new niche in a genre that is rather difficult to navigate and sound out.

    At least that’s my conclusion from the last fifteen years or so of the genre. The search for new niches could be the evolution they are looking for – but I see far too much monetisation/maximisation talk in these words to have much hope for more than just a well-meaning attempt to tackle the middle ground between previous title and the grand new Lane-y genre, that is likely to fail.

  31. zbmott says:

    RTS-style units both aiding heroes and making them feel all the more important by comparison? What’s not to like?

    Didn’t WarCraft III and its expansion implement exactly this idea 11 years ago, with (in my opinion) great success? And wasn’t that before MOBAs were even a thing, because the first MOBA to be known as such was DotA, which was a WarCraft III map? (Although, as I understand from Yannick LeJacq’s excellent history of the MOBA, DotA even had a StarCraft-powered precursor, Aeon of Strife.)

    • Joshua Northey says:

      This is exactly what I was thinking all through the article, and also why I can never get into MOBAs.


      So you want to play a game of WC3 without the bases or the armies? Why????

      In my experience the MOBA player base is also filled with younger less interested in strategy populace that RTS and TBS games.

  32. krisanto says:

    Uh oh, MOBA’s mentioned too many times in this article. Brace yourselves for Xerian is coming.

  33. Hoaxfish says:

    Probably the least thing I enjoy about RTSes, is the idea of limited resources with base-building. The second thing is the slightly bizarre abstract of “technology” where every fight you literally re-invent the same thing over and over.

    Games like Ground Control (with no base building at all), Total annihilation (with infinite energy from collectors, metal from the ground and recycling), and even Dawn of War’s capture points break some of the slow turtling slog or resource-grabbing I’m frankly bad at.

    I could see RTS re-emerging from MOBAs, as a form of rebirth… the two genres are so closely aligned it’s hard to see nobody ever making that push to upscale the amount of units you directly control.

    Maybe it won’t be the 100 vs 100 unit fights, but maybe each player gets a “squad” of heros, so no hero just stands alone while their opponent swarms the whole map, but neither does the amount of units need to be exactly symmetric either.

    • Strangerator says:

      Shouldn’t MOBA’s be just called competitive team ARPG? Hmm, TARPG. That has a nice ring to it.

      One way to evolve RTS genre:

      MORRTS – Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Real Time Strategy. Ok, the name could use work, but it at least makes more sense than MOBA. Take your typical RTS setup in a game like Supreme Commander. In an online match, each team would have four players. But instead of each of the 8 players constructing a base from scratch and micromanaging every aspect of the battle, divide the players up into roles to play. Let’s say the 4 roles are Infrastructure, Ground Commander, Air Commander, Naval Commander. Infrastructure is your base-building numbers wonk, and the rest are pretty self explanatory. Each commander has control only of his relevant set of units as they are produced.

      Too often in RTS games the player is forced to make inefficient attacks because it is more important at a certain time to pay attention to his base than to monitor the battle and adapt the attack as it unfolds. This setup would allow players to focus a lot more heavily on the tactics of each battle, and of each type of warfare. This still allows for very high level competitive play requiring good communication, but also allows new players to learn 1/4 of the game at a time. I think the 1/4 of the game at a time thing is huge, because part of the thing that scares people away from RTS games is their huge scale and prohibitive learning curves. And obviously it would be easy throw in a game mode where suddenly you have the classic “one player does all 4 roles” if you prefer that type of game.

      You can track player stats in all 4 areas too, to build up a specialty that you become known for. Maybe have a ranking system so that you might be playing higher level games when you choose the “air command” role than when you choose a role in which you have very little experience.

    • MrUnimport says:

      There was a game like this, it was called World in Conflict. Maybe it was also called Ground Control because that was from the same developers, but I didn’t play it so I don’t know.

      In World in Conflict there were no bases, only control points and respawn zones. Each player, eight to a team if I recall correctly, controlled a small group of units, choosing a role from between helicopters, tanks, infantry, or artillery/repair units. In proper RTS fashion these could be split up to tackle different objectives at the cost of reduced effectiveness and increased micromanagement: but most people in the games I played simply massed heavy tanks (a player’s personal resource pool permitted about five or six at a time, with the points from destroyed vehicles regenerating over time) and blobbed them back and forth across the map in a fairly DOTA-style fashion, now that I think about it., except without a meaningful penalty for death.

      It didn’t really help that static defences were rendered impossible by the game’s Tactical Aid system, which allowed players to call in devastating airstrikes on a point of their choice, and were therefore best countered by moving around as much as possible.

  34. gingerbill says:

    RTS is dying my foot . Sounds like it’s his imagination that’s dying . I hate when companies make crap games then cry the industry is dying because nobody bought my crap game. Age of empires online was rubbish , it was reasonably well made but had all been done before and was just boring , i wouldnt use that as an example of a dying Genre just an obvious example of people not wanting a very mediocre game.

    Weren’t they saying RPG was dying not so long ago? Things move in cycles. RTS just doesnt translate well to consoles so most companies ignore tham . Who knows whith new consoles round the corner.

  35. KDR_11k says:

    Commanders and heroes can’t go along? Tell that to Air Mech.

  36. ScatheZombie says:

    The problem isn’t that the RTS is dying or the MOBA needs to evolve. It’s that you guys keep making RTSs and MOBAs that no one wants to play. Take, End of Nations for example. The issue with EoN wasn’t that the RTS genre is dying so the game is automagically screwed. The issue was that … you removed all base building (something that I think is really key to RTS players), instead of a single hero you had a tiny army to control (something that was unfamiliar to MOBA players), had maps that *heavily favored* specific armies, had balance issues that made the game a very rock/paper/scissors approach to balancing without being able to see what your opponents were bringing (another major issue with MOBA *and* RTS players alike). The problems were with trying to evolve and mix two systems that, in theory, should work together but in practice do not and catering to neither the MOBA or RTS audience at all.

    The issue with MOBAs is the same issue MMOs are having right now. There’s only so much market space and you generally only have one or two completely dominate franchises taking +90% of the players and the rest of the games need to fight amongst themselves for the last 10%. MMOs have the advantage of being able to counter/compete with WoW by being B2P/F2P. MOBAs don’t have that luxury since both DotA2 and LoL are already F2P models. So, with that I would agree that a new MOBA game is only going to be successful if it fills a specific niche – probably with a specific, currently unused theme. Or if they properly budget for their realistic market penetration (which is a *major* problem in gaming right now – game companies making games that will only realistically sell 500,000 units but expecting 5 million sales – there are so many games that are “successful” but end up with the short end because the management doesn’t believe they were profitable *enough* – the Darksiders franchise is a perfect example of this).

    I think the issue with the RTS market is a problem of attempting to expand the design when it doesn’t need any expansion coupled with technology over-complicating things. Because the tech has evolved so far we can have, as Sup Comm/Total War have proven, hundreds if not thousands of units on the screen at once. Which is amazing but … also beyond the comfortable comprehension of a lot of gamers. If you have that much going on at once, it needs to be fairly simple (something I think Total War does well). If there are also underlying complicated systems on top of that massive blob of your army then you are stepping into serious war game territory. And let me tell you, as a serious war game/board gamer, there are *a lot* more Warhammer players than there are serious war gamers (I’m taking serious WW2 *take-three-months-to-play* table top war games). Because the market for the mass-scale, complicated game is very small. I think there is definitely a market for RTS that KISS (keep it simple, stupid) and that market is going untapped right now because designers feel they need to keep going bigger, better, faster, more complex.

    So, yeah, the issue isn’t with the core mechanics of RTSs. It’s poor design and monetization decisions across the board within the genre. StarCraft 2 has pretty much proven that RTS players want the RTS game you made 5-10-15 years ago with better graphics, better balance, and a better matchmaking system. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel here guys.

    Addendum: Another point that I think RTS developers have lost – and this was echoed by the Total War developers as well – the vast, vast majority of your player base (like over 80%) is going to play your game for the *single player* or only in small skirmish games against their friends. I know the multiplayer ranked matches are all the rage and seem fairly popular, but the actual amount of players who buy the game for that is actually very small. On the other hand, tournaments are an amazing marketing boost … so it’s a rather double-edged sword. But I still think I’ve been seeing more and more trending away from a single-player campaign experience (with a few notable exceptions such as Total War and SC2) and more into multiplayer tournament style systems – which is the wrong direction.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Very good point about this being similar to MMOs. There isn’t quite a single dominant game like WoW, but the top 3 certainly acts as an anchor for the whole genre to spread from… the whole thing becomes a mess of cloning “success” rather than playing with the abstract concepts.

      I would also put the Tower Defence genre on a similar path, though there has yet to be a dominant “success” it’s still very tight around the original game design. The main separation is probably Tower Defence’s singleplayer nature.

      I’m not sure if there’s something in the fact both developed from modding an RTS game, or that the engine was simply capable of that flexibility.

      • darkChozo says:

        The parallels are certainly there, but at least there’s already some variation on the format beyond minor gimmicks. Awesomenauts is probably the standout example there, with Smite and SMNC also being good examples of MOBAs in the “not super like DotA” niche.

        But yeah, if we’re talking RTS-y MOBAs with a billion items and champions to learn, there’s probably not a market for more than a couple, just like there’s not room for a billion hotkey late game-focused MMORPGs or a trillion top down, grid-based building-placing tower defense games.

  37. Strangerator says:

    Creative Assembly has acquired the Warhammer license.

    Dear CA,

    If you make a game of the scope and quality of one of your Total War games in the Warhammer Fantasy universe, I will gladly pay you all of my dollars for the full game. I know that a WHFB ARPG or MOBA (shudder) would have broader appeal, but please consider I would lavishly reward you for going the RTS route. I’d play the crap out of this type of game. I understand that you might need to find a creative way to get fewer people to accept paying more money for a game of this scale and cost to produce, so might I suggest charging 5-10 dollars per playable faction? Hey, the concept always worked for Games Workshop! So maybe you ship the game with a core 4 or 5 playable races and then you just keep pumping them out as expansions. I think there are around 16 total you could do, and they have enough variety among them that it would be tempting to get them all. Anyway, keep up the good work, and keep making good games.

    Sincerely,
    Fan of a dying genre

  38. Lemming says:

    I enjoy RTses, I hate MOBAs.

  39. Eschwen says:

    One word: budgets.

    Like it or not, the funding just isn’t there to make the traditional large scale stuff anymore. The risk/reward equation on RTS doesn’t entice the people holding the purse strings. Why would it? If you’re in the publishing business, why would you risk $10m+ to develop a game that at its absolute maximum has an audience of about ~1-2m players, most of whom won’t buy the product for full price anyway and all of whom will expect hundreds of hours of well-tuned entertainment and constant support?

    In this business the funding goes to the best risk/reward ratio. As RTS budgets have scaled down over the years, players have noticed that they’re not getting the same value that they’re used to, which translates into ‘the industry isn’t making good RTS games’. Truth be told, it’s really damn hard to make a game with the same scale, depth, and quality as its predecessors when you have less than 1/3rd of the money to do it with.

    So maybe RTS isn’t dying. But the development budgets being allocated to the RTS genre certainly are, and you can all see the results.

  40. syndicatedragon says:

    Attention devs: please make a new RTS game that is like Kohan. That is all.

  41. P.Funk says:

    The problem doesn’t come from the fact that games need to evolve or die, it comes from the fact that they can’t justify selling us something new every year if it doesn’t.

    The game of chess hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, yet people keep playing it. Not a huge amount of money to be made there though, so obviously newer and more exciting board games get created. But at the end of the day Chess will endure when the rest have died.

    So I don’t think the genre has to reinvent itself every half decade, or else what in god’s name do you do when MOBA’s get old? What do you do when our bland culture has extracted every last ounce of variation out of the set piece formula that we are sick of it?

    I think part of the problem is how we see niche as the problem. As things evolve their tendency is to create variety. So we think if we can’t sell one product that covers all those niches we’ve failed. So you take the new varied nich and turn it into its own genre and declare its progenitor genre as dead. Its better for marketing I guess. Go ask any MOBA player if he thinks his game has any link to RTS and you probably get lynched. Apparently MOBA isn’t an RTS but we at the same time are discussing them in relation to the decline of the RTS. Go figure.

    I think it isnt just the genre, its who makes the games and how they’re marketed. You can cite a dozen examples of failed franchies of RTS but lets not forget that at no point do most of these critics of the RTS formula mention how many of these games just flat out sucked. The problem comes that not only does formula get old, but the people making the games regress to less exciting ideas.

    What is DOTA anyway? A brilliant product come about as a natural progression of the developer mentality from RTS to MOBA? Nope, its a community mod. The community created this genre, not the developers. There is a truth in there that no person trying to sell soemthing will admit to. The people selling us games are not the ones pushing us forward, mostly.

    Look back 10 years ago. 2003 we saw Homeworld 2 debut. I know that that franchise has been lost to the limbo of IP ownership, but really has anybody really done anything with that model? Not really. Its too out there, its too weird. Don’t ask consumers to think 3 dimensionally, thats too much.

    THere are lots of great ideas out there, its just that they’re not being given financial backing. PA is a project that only exists thanks to kickstarter. I don’t think RTS gaming is dead, I think that Publisher backed RTS gaming is over. If RTS is all about niche now then kickstarter is the future where the niche will show if it has the backing to fund its own product.

  42. Zlarp says:

    Logic is sound. Ego Shooters are totally on their death bed.

  43. teamcharlie says:

    I think this is a case where multiplayer-only and freemium just aren’t going to work. FTL and Starcraft II are both big successes in their relative sections of the genre, and I think it comes down to the fact that people want to buy polished, complete games and often want a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t require getting constantly decimated in online matches.

    So, no. I’m not willing to concede that just because Sins of a Solar Empire and F2P Age of Empires are going down that the entire RTS genre is cursed. Because that’s silly.

  44. progmeer says:

    I don’t like the direction these new RTS games are going. I consider them “who can click the fastest” type of strategy. Give me base building, resource collecting, random maps and I’ll buy it at any price. AoEO had a lot of potential, the engine was solid and the graphics were decent enough. It just felt like an incomplete game. I am keeping a close eye on Planetary Annihilation and Castle Story.

  45. JasmineGibbs22 says:

    until I saw the receipt which said $4836, I didn’t believe …that…my neighbour could realey making money part time on-line.. there moms best frend haz done this for less than and resantly repayed the depts on there villa and bought a top of the range Peugeot 205 GTi. this is where I went, Great60.com

  46. Shealladh says:

    The reason RTS “seems to be dying” is because they keep trying to make RTS what it’s never been. Sins of a Solar Empire is prime example.

    Funny part is that because their title failed, they blame the genre rather than admitting they made a bomb!

    Make a proper RTS like they used to be and they’d sell. Rather than making a graphic updated, mechanics dumbed down (ie. Age of Empires Online), the formula worked in the past for a reason.

    Go back to it and you might actually see that the RTS is FAR from dead

    • LionsPhil says:

      It will be interesting to see if Planetary Annihilation will demonstrate this point.

    • Chris D says:

      I think I question your statement that Sins of a Solar Empire failed. Multiple expansions and several game of the year awards would seem to point against that.

      But I think the bigger issue is that if you make a really traditional RTS you’re competing directly against Starcraft 2 and it would be a brave developer who tried to pull that off.

      • LionsPhil says:

        No you’re bloody well not.

        Starcraft 2 is one branch of RT-not-really-S, and the first Starcraft postdates Total Annihilation, let alone the C&C series back when the C&C series was good.

        You can make RTSes that aren’t “well, we better copy Blizzard, because that always works out so well” pre-optimized-build-order micro-click-fests.

        • Chris D says:

          I agree completely that you can make perfectly good RTS’s that aren’t in the Starcraft mode, with SIns, Ruse and DoW2 being examples of that. On the other hand the first RTS I played was Dune 2 and that shares a whole lot of similarities with Starcraft 2 and many others. I assumed that was the type of game Shealladh had in mind when he said “Make a proper RTS like they used to be” because actually SIns was pretty traditional in many respects.

          I haven’t played Total Annihiltion so I’ll refrain from commenting on the directly. My take on the wider debate is that RTS’s are doing alright, they’re just evolving into forms that people who really like the traditionalist approach don’t necessarily recognise as being RTS.

  47. belgand says:

    My only concerns are that it has the two absolutely key parts of RTS games that I care about: base-building and a compelling single-player campaign. Frankly base-building is usually far more interesting than combat anyway. Having to take my nice, shiny new units with their bristling tech tree out of the base and just go pound on some guys always felt like a dull chore. Like how combat in RPGs is just a tediously necessary step in the process of the real game: talking to people, exploring a new town, and buying equipment.