Is the RTS Market Dying?

I’ve always enjoyed strategy games of every type – even if I’m not terribly skilled at them. I still play Warcraft III occasionally, and I recently picked up Age of Empires III and Civilization V. There’s just something thrilling about matching wits against another player in a manner that doesn’t involve twitch game-play or copious amounts of gunfire and explosions. Unfortunately, one facet of that genre might be on the way out – at least, if director and co-owner of Ironclad Games (Sins of a Solar Empire) is to be believed. 

“It’s a dying market,” said Fraser in an interview with Rock Paper Shotgun. “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.”

“If genres don’t keep evolving, they die, and I was not seeing 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.” 

Initially, I was setting out to counter what Fraser was saying; to make an effort to defend the RTS genre. But then I realized something: he may well be right. Look, for example, at all the AAA titles released between 2011 and 2013. Look at the genre of each game. You’ve got plenty of shooters: more than any other title; as a matter of fact – I’m not sure that’s a good thing. There’s a scattered helping of RPGs, and a few action games and platformers. There are sports titles, and racing games. Even puzzle games.

In other words, there’s something for everyone. It’s not like gaming itself is getting stagnant. Sure, we might be seeing some tiresome trends in mainstream gaming, but we’re also seeing some pretty incredibly titles hit the shelf.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to extend to the strategy genre. To that end; here’s a challenge for all of you: name one highly publicized real-time strategy game that released during this window. And it cant’ be Starcraft II. 

You can’t do it, can you? 

It’s difficult to say why the strategy genre has found itself in such a slump. Perhaps it is exactly as Fraser said: it may well be that RTS titles haven’t evolved in a suitable fashion; that they’ve grown stagnant. Perhaps all that it’ll take for the strategy genre to be revitalized is a bit of creativity; a unique touch; a bit of flair. I don’t think it’s that simple, though: I believe there’s more to the issue than what Fraser says – though I will concede that the genre does need to evolve a bit. 

I  also refuse to believe the genre is fading – it’s just hit a low point, lost in a flood of brown and gray military-themed shooters and avians with anger-management issues. Yes, I will acknowledge that there are fewer strategy titles around with which to scratch the itch – but there are several very good reasons for that. 

First, there’s the fact that most strategy games don’t exactly work all that well on any platform other than PC. A touch-screen RTS would likely be an unmitigated disaster, while most every attempt at RTS titles on the console fell victim to poor control schemes. Yes, there were a few efforts that worked (Halo Wars and Civilization Revolution, for example), but in general; RTS titles are made for the PC.

With the landscape of gaming as vast as it is, a genre that only works well on a single platform is bound to feel like it’s fallen out of the limelight. 

Second, it’s a matter of demand. A lot of people simply aren’t interested in strategy games at the moment. That doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future: it just means they’ve moved to MOBAs, MMOs, and shooters as their poison of choice (coincidentally, the MOBA genre evolved out of RTS titles). There’s a fair chance that, somewhere down the line, we might see an influx of good strategy titles. 

 I’ve not much else to say on the matter. What do you folks think? Is the strategy genre on its way out, or is Fraser simply blowing smoke? 

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