Is the RTS Genre a "Dying Market?"

Things are not looking good for RTS fans. Even the developers of real time strategy games are talking about how dire the situation may be for one of the most well known PC gaming genres. In a recent interview with RPS, Ironclad studio head Blair Fraser (Sins of a Solar Empire) took a surprisingly candid stance, by saying “its a dying market.”

This is a strange thing to hear from a company that has put so much effort into the genre over the past decade, and it begs the question, what is going on? Fraser attempts to give a reason why by saying, “RTS titles, to my mind, are very niche right 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.”

Can the bloodied RTS market make a comeback?

As a huge RTS fan myself, this is worrisome to hear and I am hoping that this is more a quote of personal frustration than an objective assessment of the genres prospects. But even so, it is quite obvious that these types of games have become less popular over the past few years. The reasoning can be widespread and varied, but the main underlying causes seem to be the rise in MOBA games and the lack of compelling titles that keep consumers coming back for more.

Starcraft was a massive seller as expected, but games like Shogun 2 are simply too few and far between to keep the genres momentum going. Add the fact that MOBA titles like League of Legends and Dota 2 have become extremely popular, and the issues for RTS games become apparent. But Fraser is quick to mention that the entire strategy space is at risk:

“If genres don’t keep evolving, they die,” Fraser states. “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.”

Lets hope that Ironclad and the rest of the strategy game developers know that now is the time to move the genre forward and start bringing titles that have widespread appeal. The demand is there, but it does little good if there are not any games worth playing. I am looking at titles like Company of Heroes 2 and Stacraft: HotS and Total War: Rome II to reignite the fire.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the RTS, and how can game developers bring the genre back to the forefront of PC gaming? What titles are you most excited for in 2013?

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5 comments

  1. I’m saddenend about the current state of the RTS genre. The genre is still my favourite genre and I don;t like the shift from basebuilding strategy games to MOBA games. I think the strategy genre needs new IP’s for it to make it’s comeback.

  2. Supersonic540 · · Reply

    As i have said to all of my friends time and time again… if they make an Advanced Wars RTS, i will start my RTS career.

  3. Personally I love CnC games and looking forward to CnC f2p. Sounds like they decided to get back to old formula but innovate it with different business approach. Also CoH2 is big one on my list and as much as I like strategy in Total War games I hate politics an other randomness to keep me occupied – I find it too difficult. StarCraft does not really attract it. Have not played single game. Every time I see trailers of the game they feel very goofy idk why. And then there is World in Conflict and Massive’s facebook is being constantly bombarded with comments asking for WiC 2. Love that game, easy to get in multiplayer even more fun with friends but you can play one game for only as long. Then I looked at Wargame and I keep feeling like “meh” at least for the price that is now – they try to innovate but at same time confuse me with innovation. I think genre is not dying it is just developers are not looking at what is demanded and/or not sure how to properly execute it without messing up users with innovation. On the other hand strategy might not need and extreme amount of innovation. How much Call of Duty innovated in past 4 years? they still sell high. It is more about getting it right even if it is still the same. Also a lot of strategy games turned into – build this way or you lose meaning playing step by step exactly the same unlike in other genres other things are possible but are quite hard – RTS is unforgiving such things

  4. Ethan Forster · · Reply

    I dont think that RTS is dying I just dont think it has had the same growth as other genres have, and since in todays market no growth is just as bad as being dead to big developers thats why people are saying this.

    Look at PC gaming as a whole, thats been so called “dying” since the Xbox 360 started gaining in popularity. People still play the PC and people will still buy and play RTS games. They just might become more niche and bigger companies wont be able to afford to risk making RTS games. Which to be honest is fine with me.

    My favourite series of RTS games have always been niche games made by the Russian developers 1C.

  5. LordAnubis · · Reply

    When I was much younger I remember loving games like star craft, but at some point the mechanics of RTS games started to seem less like real time strategy and more like real time spam. I started to get more interested in games that dealt with more than just the battles. I wanted to feel more like the leader of a nation than Zap Branagin sending wave after wave of men at Kill Bots until they hit their preset kill limit (although if they made that and got Billy West to voice Zap it would be hilarious fun).

    I liked Total War, as a balanced army was often better than a spam army of one unit type. I like EUIII for the slight illusion of choices that sort of make you feel like your in charge of a nation, and I really hope that EUIV expands upon the feeling of being a nation’s leader. (Europa Universalis is a franchise from Paradox Interactive)

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