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Death of RTS Games?

Lately, I have this apathy feeling with computer games. This feeling of being lost. Like I am just waiting for the next big game to come along that will revolutionize gaming, expand the PC gaming base, and create a golden age online. I’ve been trying to pin point where, when, and why this happened. When did the magic leave games? What happened to the huge clans and real design teams with leaders not leftovers.

Sometimes I think I have simply played every genre and game that there are no new challenges left. I spent hours through RPG games like Dungeon Siege, RTS games like Rise of Nations and Empire Earth, FPS games like Medal of Honor, Sports titles like PGA Golf or NHL 2003, and even Dark Age of Camelot, a MMORPG game. All the games I play still give me enjoyment for a few hours, but at the end of the game, I feel like it was a waste, just time killed away. Maybe, I yearn for the old times at Age of Empires & Kings Heaven where everything was new, and although I was a bad player, the community seemed wonderful to me.

That is where I truly do love games the most too. A good community or group of friends can make even a mediocre game seem amazing. Likewise, the communities for my RTS games and to a lesser extent my Paradox Games like Hearts of Iron are what truly motivate me to play. The warstories, the forums, the single player maps and mods are what I really love. They’re online communities, actual societies built by gamers who dwell here daily but leave at any whim. But, it seems that the communities these days aren’t as huge or great like past game communities. People seem to love hyping or dissing a game without really even playing them. Like two kings fighting over an acre of grass for no reason. This disturbs me greatly, and I haven’t yet found the real root or solution.

RTS games naturally attract only a niche audience of PC players. Unlike most mainstream games, RTS games have a greater depth that rewards long term players, a cross between action games like Call of Duty and deep strategy games like EUII. On average, a player must play at least 20 minutes to have a “real” fun game compared to games like BF1942 where you can play for 5 minutes or deep strategy games like Hearts of Iron that literally takes days. The fun really comes in a RTS when you beat your enemy in a decisive battle or conquer another enemy. Being forced to rebuild your base repeatedly while airplanes are searching for your dead ass is just no fun. Neither is being killed in the first 5 minutes by a single guy with a spear that I think 15 peasants could overtake in real life. Most of the “hardcore” gamers would simply say, “get better” or play in a newbie game. These are really only excuses, not solutions. These excuses are limitations to the genre and temporary rules to offset the real problem. These problems are hard to fix, and no one has really come up with a solution, but without one RTS games will remain a niche entertainment.

Many gamers and critics also have long proclaimed the death of RTS games because the games are all the same or just no fun. RTS games feature the same basic steps of gather resources, build armies, and conquer your enemies. This is the pattern that everyone recognizes in RTS games. Some fan patriots say their game is different in some better way from all previous games, but really it is just changing the way you gather, how fast you gather, how you kill, or how you train your units. It is simply adding on features on top of an already complex game. In the end, the new players want dazzling graphics and great game-play, and the hardcore niche group wants more features on top of an already complex game. This is said in all areas of entertainment along with game genres, but RTS games need a new jump. Apart from RTS experts, I can’t imagine how any normal casual online player could want to keep playing RTS games year after year unless they have a lot of friends to play with. A side effect is also that players don’t see a reason to buy the new games since they offer the same game-play with only better graphics and more streamlined but complicated features, and on top they have to relearn the controls.

Therefore, the online RTS communities are all growing smaller than their past counterparts. Each year there are a few new RTS games appearing, but the base RTS fanbase isn’t increasing as quickly. Some fans get bored of RTS games and move on to another passion, some simply save their $40 dollars and stick with what they already got, and others do move on to the newer RTS games. The communities become much smaller. There’s less amount of talented people. Less fun for everyone since there’s less scenarios, mods, clans, tournaments, and most importantly people. Maybe, this is simply just the way it is. This is the new age of RTS games, simply an evolution. But I really wish a new genre was setup or RTS games reached a new level. It is hard to say how this is possible and even harder for a developer to pitch this type of idea to a publisher, after all games these days have to sell a few hundred thousand copies or they don’t receive funding. But the only reason I truly still can love playing RTS games is the fans. And as a past scenario designer, clan member, former webmaster, fansite writer, and RTS player, the inspiration is becoming less and less to continue with more fan critics tearing at developers and publishers to add more eye candy instead of content. Sometimes they want more content, but it only appeases a few people. Quantity over quality.

In the end, RTS games won’t ever die. Each year tons of jaded RTS gamers leave while another new generation of newbie gamers enter. It just would be great if the oldies didn’t leave and the newbies didn’t feel so overwhelmed.

- Angel Park
12/27/2003


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