RPS Asks: Do You Play Online RTS?

Tiberian Question Time

Today I went to have a bit of a fiddle with the upcoming Dawn of War II stanpansion (did I say it right?) Chaos Rising, my thoughts on which I will be expressing by repeatedly placing my fingers onto a series of plastic blocks arranged in a grid formation tomorrow. Today, though, I want to scratch at an itch that’s been bugging me and, quite clearly, a lot of RTS developers for a little while now. While playing – and getting roundly spanked at – CR’s multiplayer, I once again mulled over the problems multiplayer real-time strategy faces in trying to remain true to its build’n’bash roots whilst also finding ways to be accessible to folk who weren’t raised on years of it, or at least aren’t heavily invested enough to learn all the statistics, hotkeys and timings necessary to do well in online matches. Is there a danger that the new trend towards less building and more co-operation is throwing out too many babies with the minutiae-filled bathwater or, are those babies horribly mutated anyway? Whether you like to think of yourself that way or not, if you’re reading this site you’re a pretty hardcore PC gamer. You’re the audience for these games, and for the attempted changes to them. So: do you like to strategise online, in real-time? How? Why?

This is mostly about hearing the PC gaming community’s thoughts on that matter, and how their habits in this regard have (or haven’t) changed over the years, so the meat of this post is yonder comments thread below. But in the name of MATHS-POWER let’s have ourselves a wee poll too. Pray forgive the floating ns – a bizarre bug in our polling software, and also an attempt to hypnotist you into sending us some pudding. We do like pudding.


Personally: I play some RTS multiplayer amongst friends, but I steer well clear of going online unless it’s necessary for some article I’m working on. The disparity in knowledge and mastery of the game, the units and the bloody hotkeys between people who play it regularly and fiercely, and little old me, who’ll play it only until I have to/want to turn my attentions to another game, is huge. And the results of that disparity are often depressing. Or: I’m a weakling. But I accept that entirely. The question is whether I’m relatively alone in it and should indeed be jeered at, or if it’s a general trend – and, if so, should developers be striving harder to find more ways to let us weaklings in?

So, yeah. Share your RTS multiplayer habits with us: what, why, what does and doesn’t work, what do you wish the genre was doing? YOUR WORDS. WRITE THEM.


  1. Jarmo says:

    I only play multiplayer RTS in LAN parties with my friends. I never go online to play RTS games. I have no interest whatsoever in playing against strangers. Also, all the talk about the skill disparity on offer there is pretty daunting and does nothing to lure me there.

    • Kakrafoon says:

      Yes, exactly my point. Dropping into a round of shooting 32 or 16 players in Team Fortress 2 or Battlefield 2142 is far less daunting than going Mano-a-Mano against a perfect stranger.

    • Jarmo says:

      Playing mano-a-mano feels like a very personally aggressive act, almost like a fist fight. When the opponent isn’t a friend there is nothing mitigating the feeling. No matter whether I’m winning or losing, I either feel bad for myself or the other guy. I don’t like the negative feelings so I don’t play.

    • Catastrophe says:

      @ Jarmo

      I agree totally, thats how I feel regarding RTS online play.

      I enjoy RTS games but tend to stay away from any online component for this reason, though I enjoy them on LAN.

      I used to play Total Annihilation, online and I was pretty good, but still got the anxious feeling back then.

  2. Bonedwarf says:

    I love RTS. Been playing all the way back to the original Dune 2 on the Amiga. I love them.

    NEVER EVER play them online. Used to. Hardcore into Starcraft and Warcraft 3, but the thing they are, by their nature, repetitive and learnable. What order to do stuff in etc… Exploits and all that. Plus you’re against people who do NOTHING but play. Even buying the game on release day you’re going to be behind the times almost immediately and being yelled at, called a noob etc… Simply because you can’t/won’t devote all your time to learning the game.

    And obviously the later in the games life you buy it, the more screwed you are. I bought Dawn of War when the first expansion came out but knew I was screwed if I ever wanted to play it online. Same with Company of Heroes. It’s too far into the games life cycle to stand a chance online, which means doing the old Starcraft Human vs Ai and in that case, why bother going online?

  3. Aim Here says:

    Actually, the fact that RTSes are daunting, difficult, and come with a huge learning curve is exactly why I’m trying to pick up Starcraft these days (after having a quick look through some other RTSes). I got bored with modern games being so easy and being patronised with simple so-called achievements and showered with meaningless awards, when I knew fine well that I sucked. So I found a game which wasn’t afraid to tell me I lacked a whole bunch of skills.

    I still find trying to start a match quite intimidating (it’s not like a public FPS server, where nobody cares which part of the high score table you’re on – someone is about to know, and care about, exactly how bad you are at this game), but It’s a huge buzz on those rare occasions when I do manage to win against another live human being.

    • pistolhamster says:

      I have begun to be really tired of these “Skittles games” that shower you in their equivalent of brightly colored candies with extreme sugar content and artificial flavour. I guess I am the minority, the world really seem to like skittles games.

      EA is especially awful on this. I remember playing Burnout 3 for the first time and got absolutely showered in unlocks and what not. You really stop caring then, and consequently I stopped playing it, because the game went from Fast and Difficult as in Burnout 1 and 2 to ez-mode Skittles Extravaganza bland-a-fest :(

  4. pinbag says:

    I dont realy like the fast pased rts’s that are being pusched up to us old veterans ….
    They feel so cheap …

  5. StalinsGhost says:

    Generally I try them out a bit, before promptly getting smacked down by the big boys.

  6. Johnny says:

    I voted “Bad news for strategy gaming – dumbing down and all that” on the last question even though that’s not ENTIRELY the truth – I despise Dawn of War 2 because it’s just boring; it’s not just doing it different, it’s dumbing it down so hard that I spent most of my time playing that game WAITING for stuff to happen.
    On the other hand, World In Conflict is simply brilliant to play multiplayer with 6 players or more, but that’s because it’s got actual strategy to it. Dawn of War 2 does NOT, no matter what the back of the box tries to tell you.

    • zzzzzz says:

      I felt cheated when i played (and was bored by) Dow 2.
      It has *nothing* in common with dow 1 except the Setting,and can hardly be called a sequel…

    • Kleevah says:

      I feel the exact same way.
      World in Conflict really nailed how to do a “light” FPS where strategy and tactics gets all priority over base building and upkeep. DoW2, on the other hand, really didn’t feel like a FPS at all, more like a squad based action game or something. Which would be totally OK if it wasn’t for the fact that the first DoW was very very good, just making me disappointed by the sequel.. :(

    • Kleevah says:

      And why the hell do i keep writing FPS when I mean RTS… :p

  7. Danny says:

    I loved playing Company of Heroes online. Normally I play most RTS games online for a month or 3, until the ‘noobs’ leave and the ‘hardcore’ crowd takes over. I’m a really sore loser, so I only want to play games where I have the upper hand.


  8. Sian says:

    I love RTSs, but I never play them online. In traditional RTS games, the winning side is mostly decided by two factors: learning by rote and applying that rote with enough speed. In my experience, matches usually go like this:

    1) start building, blindly following a build order that you found in most videos of the game on youtube.
    2) start/fend off an early rush to disrupt/avoid disruption of your rote.
    3) mass the unit deemed as the most overpowered in the game.
    4) have one huge clash that decides the match.

    Some folks settle for less favoured units that are ready earlier in hopes of surprising their enemy, but in most games, people attack with one, maybe two kinds of units and that’s it.

    To me, this isn’t strategy, it’s mindless. Modern RTSs go against this trend, setting a focus on tactics instead of wasting all this time building a base, but even there, more often than not, there’s one unit that stands above the rest and will finish the match pretty certainly if it’s employed as the only unit in your army. Combined arms are rarely successful online, because even with hard counters that one unit usually suffices, because to counter THAT your enemy needs to mass its specific counter which more often than not will be comparatively useless against everything else, including buildings.

    And forget about ambushes, traps, finding weak spots in the enemy’s base, because a frontal all-out assault is the only way to survive their frontal all-out assault.

    I love building bases, I love employing tactics, using strike groups, ambushes (when the game allows me to), diversions, but online I don’t have a chance because everybody else has a rote and can press the necessary hotkeyes quickly enough. And then they call getting rid of learning to press the same buttons in a specific order every match “dumbing down”.

    • batpic says:

      @Sian, I think the exception to your Mass rule is Starcraft — as the Koreans have proven that there isn’t a single-unit strategy that will win you the game. But I certainly agree that it is not until the rote and speed are mastered that you see much strategy, which is very tough for new players and those who don’t devote their lives to a game.

  9. Fraser says:

    I don’t bother! I’m certainly daunted by the difficulty of playing the 0.1% of players who spend all their time online with this one game, but the bigger problem is the time commitment required to play an entire RTS match without being able to pause or resume another day. When I have that much time with a guarantee of no interruptions, which is very rare, I’d rather use it to immerse myself in a single-player game with a bit of story.

  10. Biz says:

    so I was done ranting on how deep, strategic, multiplayer RTS is essentially dead with no foreseeable hope of recovery because of popular developers not bothering to make complex games, Microsoft Game Studios’ retarded decisions, and casual gamers choosing the RTT’s over wanting to invest time in learning deep online strategy games…

    and then I thought of how people can spend hundreds of hours learning some complex MMO system…
    and then I thought that a MMORTS was the only way to introduce complexity back into multiplayer RTS without turning lots of people off…
    and then I realized that World of Starcraft is the only chance of such a thing gaining attention…
    and then I realized how absurd the idea of a starcraft MMO saving the RTS genre was so I went back to playing age of empires 2…

    and as I waited for a game to fill up I was browsing the internet about gaming stuff and naturally news about this starcraft remake (aka starcraft 2) is all over the place…
    and that reminded me of the huge legions of people who have been riding blizzard’s **** for the last 12 years…
    and then I came back to the original conclusion. the future of multiplayer RTS is screwed

    if firaxis doesn’t take the accessibility and facebook and conosle crap too seriously, I guess I can look forward to civilization 5. civ4 is basically dead, and even when I find a game it just doesn’t have any challenge. not a RTS, but at the end of the day any type strategy game will do

    a free fanmade remake of aoe2 with modern graphics may also get some attention, but microsoft is full of lamer lawyers so i don’t know about that…

  11. Sagan says:

    I was once pretty good at Warcraft III, but haven’t played an RTS online since. It just suddenly becomes way too stressful when you are playing against a human being.
    I played Warcraft III online for way longer than I wanted, because I had gotten good, and I didn’t want all that training to go to waste. But eventually I realized “this is a constant struggle, I will just be stressed out for 15 minutes, and it won’t be fun. I should stop with this.”
    Then I went to play tower defence maps, thank you.

  12. Quercus says:

    I play RTS games a fair bit and generally prefer co-op games with friends, although occasionally I go for more confrontational games online.

    Although they are very daunting, I think Relic went too far in dumbing down (or rather, simplifying) what you could do in DoW2. What they should have done is had simplified game modes that new players can get into, but retaining the full battle modes as well, because their core fan base (playing Company of Heroes for example) in general found DoW2 too simplistic to retain their interest.

    If you create an excellent game such as CoH, it is relatively simple to adapt it to simpler game modes that new players can easily get into, but if you create the game as a simplistic one, adding complexity is almost impossible.

    • Adam Whitehead says:

      The problem with this argument being that DAWN OF WAR II’s sales have dwarfed those of COMPANY OF HEROES by quite a lot (hence why Relic are still dragging their feet over CoH2 in favour of producing more DoW content), so from Relic’s POV their decision to ‘dumb down’ DoW2 was vindicated.

      I agree that DoW2 wasn’t an RTS, but I actually really enjoyed the game in a DIABLO-in-space kind of way. It did have problems with repetiveness though, despite being of unusually decent length (something Relic have struggled with in the past: really, 17 missions from one faction and that’s it?).

    • Alex says:

      DOW2 was a blast, I never played online. I would actually try it if I thought there was decent matchmaking available that selected for skill and experience. Agreed about the stressfulness though, I just don’t need it after a hard day at work. If I want competition and strategy with a real human I’ll go play tennis.

  13. Blackberries says:

    RTSes are one of my favourite genres of game, but I play them overwhelmingly for the singleplayer. Therefore if the game’s mechanics aren’t satisfying played alone, if the AI isn’t halfway interesting and if there isn’t a well developed and worthwhile campaign then I will be sorely pissed off.

    That said, if my friends also manage to have the same game, I love playing multiplayer with them – but co-op, against AI.

    I don’t get into player-versus-player multiplayer because I generally find it tedious. It’s rarely two great strategic mines duking it out across the plains of battle – after the game’s been out for more than a week it’s who can get out the correct assortment of units in the shortest time available. Only gets vaguely interesting when it’s 4-vs-4 or some such. I wouldn’t touch 1-vs-1 with a 3 metre strategy-pole.

    As for the changing dynamics – argh! I love the traditional bases-and-build model, as do people I tend to play co-op with. Our favourites are Age of Empires II (still!), and one friend and I went through a spate of Dawn of War, which was great. However after trying out the DoW II demo, my friend was so underwhelmed he didn’t even get the game. I did, for the singleplayer (which was a let down too).. the multiplayer isn’t anywhere near as fun as the first game.

    So in short: Keep the old formula and make sure the singleplayer mode is the meat of the game, so far as I’m concerned.

  14. megaman says:

    I played DOW2 in and out, but never could be bothered to try the multiplayer. My mulitplayer experiences in C&C in the past were so gruesome that I am now generally shy of meeting 12 year-old strangers kicking my ass in 5 minutes although I’m the one who played almost every RTS since Dune and he just saw the light a couple of years ago.
    Dumbing things down too much can’t be the solution (I envy those who really master the pvp variant of RTS games). It would make things more interesting for me, but at the cost of those pros, so I am not entirely convinced this would be a good thing. This made answering the last question hard.

  15. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I really like to play an RTS every once in a while. My latest RTS darling was Dawn of War (and expansions), which almost convinced me to go online.

    As for the polls: The only question I couldn’t answer properly was the last. I like base building.. and I also like co-op play. For me base building is no deterrent from going online.. being bashed for being rubbish at it is. I don’t think gameplay in general should be ‘dumbed down’ (unless you make a game specifically for the inexperienced crowd) but there could be different playing modes, with easier ones lowering the threshold for the inexperienced. A good matchmaking system is imperative, as well.

    I didn’t try multiplayer with DOW, but I tried a couple of times.. with C&C, Starcraft and Warcraft 3, but the results weren’t encouraging, so to speak.

  16. Flint says:

    I’m not really a RTS player (hence the third answer to the first question) but I do play the very occasional RTS game. I’d never even dream of going online though – I’ve got enough to manage already in the singleplayer, I honestly don’t want to become the laughing stock of the hardcore community.

  17. JamesOf83 says:

    I find them daunting. I love RTS games, but my limited experience of trying them online usually ends up with me dead because the other person knows a rushing strategy where they can send in a handful of units to kill me before I’ve even got my first factory up.

    Obviously when you first play an FPS online you’ll probably be killed 10 times in a row before you even get a single kill. The difference is you’ll respawn within seconds and you can try again, over and over giving you the chance to learn the game quickly. Also, I think FPS skills easily trasfer to other FPS games. If you can move your character about well and aim well in one FPS, it’s not going to be much different in another. With an RTS, things can work drastically differently.

    I suppose because I like to build bases and that takes a while in most RTS’s, I don’t want to invest that time online with someone I don’t know for them to potentially pull out. From the PC Gamer preview of SupCom2 though, it sounds like if this happens or they drop connection that the AI will take over, though this may only happen if they lose connection I’m not sure.

  18. Duoae says:

    I liked RTSes but not squad combat games (looking at you DOW2 which shouldn’t even be listed in that last question) but i’ve always played RTSes cooperatively (team vs team) with friends on the internet. I’ve never played against random people because a) i’ll get my ass whooped and b) it’s not as fun playing against someone who you’ve no connection to. You’re not literally fighting them like in an FPS.

    I don’t want all games to move towards co-op only as playing against the AI is generally not as fun since their weaknesses can easily be gamed but i certainly don’t mind the inclusion.

  19. neems says:

    Has there ever been an RTS that really and truly rewarded strategy over numbers / speed? And if there was such a game, would I suck at it?

    I wonder if you could get away with a game where both / all players have identical armies, playing on symmetrical maps, perhaps with a setup timer. Best man wins.

    As a side note, did anybody else come away from Dawn of War 2 (singleplayer) with the impression that it was an action rpg?

    • Adam Whitehead says:

      COMPANY OF HEROES has enough variety to discourage rushing with one particular type of unit at the start of the game, and there are some interesting tactics to use later on (for example, the Germans rolling an ultra-expensive and irreplaceable King Tiger into your base only to have its engine disabled by a well-placed mortar round and then pounded into rubble by anti-tank guns). STARCRAFT does have a similar paradigm, providing you can overcome the Zerg player’s prospensity to Zergling-rush at the start of the game, which, even if it doesn’t wipe you out, can cause enough damage to put you on the back foot for the rest of the game.

      GROUND CONTROL, its sequel and WORLD IN CONFLICT do have a set-up where you field two identical armies (within reason). GC2 and WiC permit in-game reinforcing though, whilst GC1 (still one of the best RTS games ever made, albeit one of the most hardcore) doesn’t.

    • archonsod says:

      Depends on how far you want to stretch the term “RTS”. The Total War series for example.

      I think the key difference is the combat variables. Traditional RTS is more like Rock, paper scissors with elaborate graphics – Unit A will always destroy Unit B no matter the situation, assuming equal numbers.

      Personally I preferred Men of War to Company of Heroes.

  20. MadMatty says:

    Ive played RTS since their birth, Dune 2 on the Amiga.
    I agree with just about all the things being said about RTS here on the comments (for once everyone seem to be in agreeance?! w00t!).
    Had some fun with Battleforge, but it was quite short lived as it lacked the deep strategy part- of say SupremeCommander, which i think is the king of multiplayer RTS right now. Mainly because Supcom as the ability to automate units, and stack up, like 30 mins worth of orders on a unit, and that minimizes the click-speed thing, making for a quite strategic game, while still conserving the entertaining aspects of micro-management. And base building!
    Played Starcraft quite a bit also, which was great amongst friends… theres a lot of clickie-micromanagement to that game, but its intended and quite fun really… but players who are mouse-ninjas have a big avantage.
    Do i play online? no, the people who play daily kick my ass, so theres really no point.
    I played around 300 matches of C&C Generals Online, and after that, i was *nearly* worthwhile opposition for the regular onliners- go figure.
    When i did play obsessively, i played Counterstrike around year 2000-02 – racked up about 80 000 player kills, 40 000 confirmed thru the ol´ Clanbase :D

  21. MisterX says:

    NEVER ever play online other than co-op with my friends against the AI
    Supreme commander or LOTR: The battle for middle earth 2 were both excellent for this.

    I like to more orr less take my time in the early game, playing online doesn’t allow this at all.

  22. Ffitz says:

    I agree with what a lot of peeps are saying here. I love RTSes, but only really ever play the single-player campaigns.

    The reason being that I can’t and won’t get to grips with the “do everything as quickly as possible with shortcuts, build queues and mob-rush” play style that MP RTSes seem to devolve in to. I just can’t cope with a base-build and a build queue and troop running about orders all at the same time. They make my head hurt.

    I like to turtle, and I’m happiest when I’m building a really fancy base in an RTS (DOW2 excepted).

    What I’d love to see in an MP RTS is dual-control co-op. Something where two players control the same team, at the same time. So, for example, I could be base building while my partner is ruching about capping points with our starter squads. Any troops I create from our factory, I can send off to a spot that he designates, where he can take control of them simply by clicking on them.

    I don’t know if any games already offer this, but I haven’t really been keeping an eye out for one because MP RTS leaves me so cold anyway.

    • Carra says:

      I also love to turtle. It’s what makes games like Stronghold so damn good. I wish there were more of those defense oriented games. These days it all seems to be about more and more aggressive assaults.

    • MisterX says:

      I’d buy that.

      Homeworld 2 sorta filled that gap I would take the fleet out to battles, my mate would defend our motherships , build fleet and give them over to me.

      Great fun

  23. Carra says:

    Once upon a time I played nothing but online Age of Empires 2 for nine months.

    Since then I haven’t played that many online games. A game of shooty, shooty fun like TF2 or RtcW fcomes along now and then. And of course I played way too much WoW.

    But RTS games are hard to get into. It will easily take you months to be a decent player. It’s also a completely different experience than the single player game. You have to be way more aggressive. My usual playstyle in these games is to build an army while protecting my base and suddenly send them all in one big wave. That just doesn’t work in multiplayer. And of course being good at starcraft does not mean that you will be good at age of kings. While being good at Quake 3 will make you decent in Unreal Tournament.

    These games require a serious time investment. Today I’d rather just start a game of TF2 for some quick fun. If you have played any shooter in the last ten years you can go ahead and have a few frags.

  24. Polis says:

    I had voted easy to get into, that is not fully true but the other option was wrong also. First of all there are rankings so you can play against people with similar skill, secondly I think that it would be best if people would start playing at lower game speed so they will be able to execute they plans, and later on going to fastest game speed, focus management is important part of RTS game you have to know when it is best for you to focus on attack, when you can go back to base to start production (often even in middle of the combat), nobody even the fastest players can do it all/have perfect control. That makes harrasment much more important, and you can harras in the same time when there is big battle becouse it will be much harder for your opponent to notice it etc. Focus managment is why many people are against multiple building selection if you will be able to do everything then this critical fast thinking will not be part of the game any longer. (almost nobody cares about unlimited unit selection, you will split your army in parts for various reasons anyway)

    “I don’t get into player-versus-player multiplayer because I generally find it tedious. It’s rarely two great strategic mines duking it out across the plains of battle – after the game’s been out for more than a week it’s who can get out the correct assortment of units in the shortest time available.”

    That is not true at least for SC, it is very adoptive game you can’t just mindlessly make your build without watching what your opponent is doing, and there are no doom units all units are useful depending on the situation. Good mechanic skills are important but they alone will not make you good player.

  25. pkt-zer0 says:

    I really like Starcraft… as a spectator sport. I enjoy the strategic depth, but it pains me to know that I’d need way higher APM before that actually becomes a factor. Which is why I’m looking forward to SC2, which will hopefully have a better interface.

    Not pleased with recent trends, because more often than not it ends up being nothing more than taking out the ‘strategy’ from RTS. Too much dumbing down is a shame, as I actually prefer RTT to RTS.

  26. Andrew Dunn says:

    I love RTS games (broadly speaking) and Company of Heroes and Men of War are two games which I regularly played online for the best part of three years, combined. Dawn of War 2 adds in a fair bit, too. However, I did answer that RTS games are generally daunting to get into, online, although modern Relic RTS games are probably the most accessible even in full adversarial multiplayer. I’ve been playing RTS games since 1997 but Company of Heroes was the first one I actually became good at.

  27. Jimbo says:

    Only play co-op – leaning toward RTT rather than traditional RTS. Some skirmish vs. AI is ok, but much prefer a proper campaign that can be played co-op.

    Soldiers / Faces / Men of War are the pinnacle of co-op gaming in any genre if you ask me.

  28. Ginger Yellow says:

    I only recently started playing multiplayer RTS, despite being a big fan of the genre. Unless you count a few LAN games of Age of Empires when I was at university. I started playing online Company of Heroes after the ToV expansion, and now play it most nights. I’m decent enough without being particularly good (level 9 American, 7 Wehrmacht, but I’ve only played a handful of games as the Germans). I actually think CoH is pretty friendly for newcomers, mainly because the units are mostly familiar and engagements pan out more or less as you would expect them to in real life. In a loose sense of course – obviously units survive a lot longer than they would, but the point is you can pretty much intuit how a unit will fare against another even if you haven’t played before. Also, the GameReplays community is more than happy to provide helpful tips for newbs if you post replays of your defeats.

    I also played a lot of Demigod early on, but kind of fell away as the community became more and more hardcore and actively hostile to casual/new players. Other than that, not much at all.

    As for base building, I’m generally speaking a fan of complex economies in RTS, so I don’t mind it at all. But I’m glad people are experimenting with different approaches. I wouldn’t want base building to disappear completely from the genre, but it’s good that some games don’t have it.

  29. Scroll says:

    I do miss the days of playing TA on a lan, Ho hum.

    These days I might give sup com or Red alert 3 or Sins ago online every once in a while but I prefer to play offline, far less stressful.

  30. Radiant says:

    Unlike say FPS’, fighters or Tetris; RTS’ online are so different to the single player game that campaign mode really doesn’t prepare you for online.

    Online is like playing an infuriatingly hard game, which you’ve never played before and you don’t know the rules or the spreadsheets stats.

    As Solium Infernum shows you that type of game is best played with friends.
    Even then it’s 2 hours of your life; which is ok if it was just you but you also have to take 2 hours away from one of your friends too.
    Without beer that’s IMPOSSIBLE.

  31. Adam Whitehead says:

    Me and my friends played CoH online against other players for a while and became quite good until Relic reset all the rankings for reasons known only to themselves, and suddenly elite players who poured eight hours into the game daily were going up against n00bs. After that the game lost a lot of its charm, and we switched to playing co-op against the AI (although given Relic’s tendency to mess around with the AI settings every patch, this has also been a variable experience). That wasn’t so much fun.

    Back in the day I got pretty good at STARCRAFT, but these days would probably not last more than a few minutes against experienced hardcore players.

  32. Cooper says:

    If I play something multiplayer I want it to be drop-in-drop-out where even a lack of skill doesn’t mean a shit game.

    Someone, at somepoint, will create the TF2 of RTS games. But I envisage that meaning many more players on a map than most RTS multiplayer currently allows for so that those of us without super skillz can still have a laugh.

  33. CMaster says:

    I’ll add my personal experiences here, as plenty others seem to be doing. No idea if they will ever get read, but here you go. First though, a bit of a personal RTS history:

    I dabbled with various RTS demos as a kid, loving the idea but never getting any of them due to lack of money to buy £40-£45 PC games. I eventually wound up with a copy of Starcraft (having played the excellent demo) and loved it. Only ever played the campaign though, as I got stomped in skirmish matches. A couple of LAN games vs one friend, and two very, very dissapoinint battle.net experiences a couple of years later. Then I disocverd Homeworld. I loved that game so much, that it put me off RTS games for years. They just flat out couldn’t compare. So after Homeworld, I never played RTS beyond the occasional demo, which reassured me that I was tired of them. Someone bought me Red Alert 2 at some point, which I blitzed through the campaign with, but hte lack of depth meant I had no interest in multiplayer. Recently, Supreme Commander became an occasional skirmish vs the AI and turtle diversion, while World in Conflict grabbed me for a while. Company of Heroes has now become my most-played game on Steam over the past few months, after picking it up as part of the THQ pack (grabbed largley for the DoW games that I had friends who loved) in November.

    Now a little bit of multiplayer history. After dabbling with a few unusal FPS (mostly The Opera) and trying to get the ancient NetStorm working, I became hooked on Natural Selection. Here was a multiplayer only game that was both action packed and strategic, and where an individual player could contribute to the stratergy of the team, without a poor decision letting the team down (unless you were the marine commander), at least at the non-competetive level. In fact, I became a fairly vaulable player, despite not being great at getting kills. I had a good grasp of the stratgic situation and when things would be useful, as well as helping organise the team. I’ve then trucked through a couple of MMOs and a variety of other FPSes and the like to varying degrees in online gaming that aren’t relevant. I then picked up World In Conflict, excited by the prospect of genuinley tactical combat and team-play aspect. I was dissapointed to find out that actual online play mostly involved building 4-6 of your best unit, moving them around together and trying to avoid your hard counter long enough to build up enough points to call in fire-support that wiped out another player in one shot. And so we come to my recent, and only significant involvement in online RTS: Company of Heroes.

    Company of Heroes is a game I have come to absolutley love. Asymetric armies, multiple viable paths and build orders, variety of maps, commander skills etc. Scales nicley with multiple players too. It also has a nice mix between the importance of unit mix and quantity and the position of individual units for an individual engagement. It has it’s issues, like doubts about how balanced the sides are and the fact that at higher (but not that high – this includes the level I am getting to with 60-70 matches) levels the life or death of 1 or 2 units can decide the outcome of the game. The matchmaking does a fairly good job – having played through most of the SP game and done a couple of comp-stomps and a match versus a friend, I was able to hit the “Play Now” button and join 1 v 1s that I won slighty more often than I lost. They were against other players who also seemed to be feeling their way with the game and factions.
    One of the things I end up despairing at with the game more and more with the game though are the other players. Most of them are absoltuley fine, if a little arrogant. However so many of them seem to prefer that the game has not stratergy or thought. One of the most popular match ups you see in “custom games” is Annihalate 3vs3 on The Scheldt. This basicaly comes down to all players on both sides throwing massive amounts of MGs, Snipers and Mortars at one little choke point. It seems they’d rather play that than a map where they have to think on their feet. Another common one is 2vs2 on a map with very unbalanced starting locations, with the game creator + friend in the stronger starting position.

    So yes, I do play RTS online. But it’s a bit of a recent revelation. I think that good match making and a large enough community to support it are important. I also think that there is space for a “Massively Multiplayer” RTS, or rather RTT where you bring a small group of units and control them (possibly a persistent, upgradeable set of units in a more conventional MMO world, or possibly just a purchasble set of units in a traditional lobby-game world) in a much larger battle (5 vs 5 upwards) could have great potentional.

  34. KJR says:

    I used to play RTS’s more heavily, but the community around them is perfectly tuned to demotivate me. If I’m on the winning side I get called a hacker among other things, if I’m on the losing side I’m dumped on by both my teammate and my opponents. Call me weak-willed, but the last thing I need in my scant spare time is to be called every expletive in the book by some child because I’m playing a video game.

    The most important feature of online RTS to me is a “no-chat” feature. Maybe more games have them, but I haven’t had the patience to find them. It’s a shame because I very much have enjoyed the core mechanics of online RTS ever since Starcraft, and even enjoyed the playing aspect of DOW II and Demigod.

  35. EyeMessiah says:

    I’m a HUGE fan of online multiplayer, but imo RTS multiplay suffers from the standard multiplayer problem i.e. that hardly anyone plays it, and those that do play everyday.

    If your playing semi-casually (i.e. not every day) against randoms, which I suspect is what the vast majority of gamers experience of online play is, its very difficult to find people to play with who are at a similar skill level & level of commitment to the game. Chances are you’ll end up playing someone substantially more hardcore than you, then you won’t bother playing again and the multiplayer aspect loses yet another potential semi-casual player, which is a shame give that the problem is that there aren’t enough semi-casual players to begin with!

    I’m not sure what the solution is, beyond somehow bringing multiplayer out into the mainstream and attracting new players with a larger range of skill levels.

    Of course it would nice if we all had a large pool of gaming buddies to draw from, but we can’t all be games journalists can we?

  36. Ginger Yellow says:

    One of the things I end up despairing at with the game more and more with the game though are the other players. Most of them are absoltuley fine, if a little arrogant. However so many of them seem to prefer that the game has not stratergy or thought. One of the most popular match ups you see in “custom games” is Annihalate 3vs3 on The Scheld

    This is true, but you can always play automatch, which as you say works pretty well. You get the occasional dick in automatch, but it’s pretty rare. Though I can understand delving into custom games for matches other than 1v1, and it can be dispiriting.

  37. terry says:

    I am genuinely terrible at playing RTS games and so never play online because I always get the nagging feeling that I’m wasting someone’s time. It’s fine if you’re playing with someone you know or someone who is equally clueless, but there’s just too much of competitive gap otherwise. Tied into that RTS mp games seem to have the hardcoreultragrognardsperger demographic who are intent on steamrolling teh n00bz, which puts me immediately off even trying. I get quite enough of that in TF2!

  38. BlondRobin says:

    I love RTSes, and I do feel a little like games such as DoW2 are fairly dumbed down; being a big fan of DoW1 and base/economy/etc management, I feel that their removal simply detracts from the game overall. However, on the other hand, I haven’t played an RTS against human players since Starcraft because, as many others have echoed, it rapidly turns into nothing more than rote memorization of optimal build strategies which are not fun, interesting, or deep. The closest I’ve come to a multiplayer RTS is playing AI War with a friend recently, honestly; which I like a lot, but isn’t competitive.

    So I struggled briefly with the final question; on one hand, I like co-op in all games and am overjoyed it’s finally making a comeback, and it’s true I might be able to play a far simpler RTS online now competitively. However, I have no real DESIRE to do so, because I feel like what little interest I had in doing so (not being an immensely competitive person) was stripped away with all the complexity. If Dawn of War 2 is the future of RTSes, I’m somewhat glad I was never a big fan of the genre to begin with.

  39. Chaz says:

    I quite like the idea of co-op RTS games. I’d like to be able to play RTS games online, but my mind is just too slow and losing makes me cry.

  40. Ginger Yellow says:

    BlondRobin: At least give CoH a try, especially if you have it installed anyway. It’s definitely not an optimal build order game, or even particularly a clicks-per-minute game, although obviously it does help especially in heated moments. It’s much more about reading the tactical situation correctly and deploying the right counters. I was intimidated from playing online for a long while, but it really wasn’t that hard to get into once I jumped in the water. In automatch you will occasionally be pitted against a far superior opponent, but there are plenty of noobs playing (especially since the recent Steam sale) and it does a pretty good job of matching players up of roughly the same skill.

  41. Daniel says:

    I used to play Red Alert (followed by RA2) on LAN with a friend. We were both of the mind that it’s more fun to build up huge armies of tanks and the have an epic battle than race to win the game in 15 minutes, so we’d have a 30ish minute ceasefire to start the game where we weren’t allowed to attack each other’s main bases.

    I play single player somewhat the same… once the AI is down to a few scraggly buildings I still like to bring in my whole army for an epic conclusion.

  42. Joe G. says:

    My story is similar to many of the above responders. I love RTS games and I buy a ton of them. However, I nearly always play them in single player mode.

    The main problem is, as someone else stated, too much RT and not enough S. You need to memorize your optimum build order and click through it faster than your opponent. My mouse skills are not all that great, so it is inevitable that I will fat-finger something even if I know my build order in advance, which is a rare occurrence in itself.

    The recent trend away from base-building has zero effect on this problem, because it merely shifts all the mouse clicking over to unit micro, which is just as difficult in its own way. The real problem is with mutiltasking in a real time environment, it is too hard to make sure that all of your units are maximizing their effectiveness. I enjoy both kinds of games in single player mode and I hope that the DOTA style doesn’t crowd out the more traditional base builders.

    I prefer my strategy games to play out like a chess match, where I have some time (not unlimited) to plan and think out my moves.

  43. cw says:

    I’ve played RTS’s since Red Alert which totally blew my mind when it came out. I never really played it online much however. Next I played Starcraft which I did play online but not regularly. Mostly I played on a LAN with friends. I played quite a bit of Warcraft 3 online which is where I really started to learn some skills that can apply to any RTS instead of just building the same thing every match. After that my computer couldn’t really handle the newer games for a while.

    After getting a new laptop last year, I picked up Company of Heroes during the xmas sale and
    absolutely love it. I just love how the units are handled, the graphics, the sound, everything is done so well. I do realize it has some balance issues that aren’t likely to be addressed, but they aren’t enough to deter me, at least not yet. The matchmaking isn’t horrible either.

    I really wish I could have gotten it when it first came out, but I’m still really enjoying it despite the large presence of highly skilled players. I alternate between playing skirmishes against the CPU on hard and playing online in automatch.

    I’d really like to find some other players to add to my friends list, especially fellow RPS players. So look me up on steam if you want. My steam name is alcrani.

  44. SwiftRanger says:

    When a good RTS game (SupCom, WiC, DoW II were the best in recent years imo) comes around I always try to play it online with friends in team ranked games. After a while balance and matchmaking issues limit the longevity of these games.

    Probably the biggest barrier for many people is that an RTS match always feels like all or nothing. Joining an online FPS dedicated server for 10 minutes is 1000 times less daunting that taking the risk of losing a match of 30-45 minutes in which you have to be top most of the time. Most online RTSs just focus on a ranked ladder which does nothing for the average person except for getting a tiny larger e-penis. Players need the right rewards for just even trying to play an RTS game. DoW II took some huge steps there with pure visual wargear rewards for your units (and took steps back with the TrueSkill matchmaking which happily keeps putting newbies up against top players).

    Team games often lower a barrier but it doesn’t always work (see C&C4) and when it does it isn’t even a regular RTS (WiC). I’ve always wondered what effect one huge persistent playfield would have on the multiplayer side, I believe that’s where developers should work towards (alongside more rewards).

  45. bill says:

    The thing is, playing muliplayer RTS one-on-one with a stranger is like having a 3 hour long chess game with someone you’ve never met before.
    Playing multiplayer FPS (for example) with 15 odd players is more like joining in a quick game of kick-around football in the park.

    In the first option it’s more competitive, more personal (and yet impersonal), more all-or-nothing.
    I suspect 10 minutes into the chess game i’d realise he was better than me and want to quit… but maybe feel obligated to play for the next 2 hours to an ending.
    whereas in the footie it wouldn’t really matter if i was the weakest player among many. And i could drop out at any time without causing too much hassle.

  46. bill says:

    It seems that what is needed is a cut-down, short, many on many mutiplayer RTS. And maybe with some randomisation to cut down on the efficiency queues.

    I’ve never played games like Savage, but maybe the split between controlling individual units and the whole battle is a way to let people get in bit by bit. I heard games like MAG do something a little similar.
    This may be exactly what DoW2 multiplayer does, I haven’t tried it. But what i’m imagining is something like:
    When you start mutiplayer you have a very limited unit/point cap and basically have only one squad. As you win games you raise this point cap and can therefore slowly gain more squads, and be playing against people with a similar level of skill/experience to you.
    When each game starts many variables are randomised, and not all units/upgrades/weapons are available in each game. So in one game you might be limited to scout marines, in another you might not have them available.
    Arenas are randomised, but symetrical. There is a time limit, and you can win by victory, or by being in the lead at the end.

  47. BonusWavePilot says:

    Another vote for ‘only play with my mates’, though using online thingummies to make it happen.

    Mostly I play ancient old C&C Generals, with the agreement not to exploit the ‘scud bug’, since as I understand it EA *still* haven’t patched it away. (GLA for preference – as much for the enthusiasm of their barks as anything. Liked Protoss in SC for the same reason.)

    I think my favourite RTS experience remains giggling to myself after clearly having lost a game of… erm think it was Red Alert? Possibly even one of the older C&C titles… where to beat your opponent you had to kill every last one of their guys – and irritating my opponent in a way I found increasingly hysterical by managing to keep my last infantry unit hidden and fleeing around the map while he searched for him. Made even better by the random crate drop things which would sometimes give you a whole building, or serious unit.

  48. pistolhamster says:

    Ooh, ooh. I forgot!

    Close Combat-series. Now THAT was brilliant. I played it Multi many times, and when you got your ass handed to you, it felt a lot different than when you get twitched down in split seconds in Vanilla RTS. I think that the “building loads of stuff” part and the “commanding huge armies” stuff combined just makes for a poor cocktail. It is one we are loathed to turn our backs on because it has served us so well as a trope for gaming since the early 90’s.

    But more units and bigger maps and deeper tech trees just doesn’t do us any good for gameplay. I am really wondering how Starcraft 2 is going to turn out. Will Blizzard cater to the massive fanbase in Korea who adore the old Starcraft? If they do, I think Im gonna buy only if the singleplayer experience is worthwhile and probably skip completely on multi.

  49. Tweakd says:

    I certainly played vCoH to death online. As soon as another RTS comes along to rival that (Homeword3?????) then I’ll start again.

  50. Joachim says:

    I hardly ever play RTSes online, and the reason is pretty much the same one you give yourself; It’s daunting, and I don’t really enjoy honing my skills enough to be able to compete on that level (not even sure I could). There are other, more rewarding, things to do.

    I think a large part of the problem is all those born and bred to win at all costs. I look forward to co-op, so those wanting to rub fellow human faces in the dust will go elsewhere.