Sins of a Solar Empire Dev Claims RTS Is Dying

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Sins of a Solar Empire Dev Claims RTS Is Dying

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Blair Fraser views real-time strategy as too niche to stay afloat.

If you've noticed a dearth of high-profile real-time strategy games lately, you're not alone. StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is on the horizon, but Age of Empires Online is as complete as it's ever going to get, and it's not as though the Total War or Company of Heroes series garner the same kind of coverage as the latest military FPS or sports franchise. Blair Fraser, one of the minds behind the successful RTS Sins of a Solar Empire, doesn't hold out much hope for the genre as a gaming mainstay. Fraser believes that stagnation in RTS mechanics has fed consumer disinterest, and saving the genre in its current form will be tough, if not impossible.

Fraser points out that many of the most popular and anticipated RTS titles of the day are entries in time-tested franchises without too many innovations. "I'm not seeing a lot of what I used to in RTS," he says. "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." While Fraser acknowledges that some of these series still draw in lots of money, a few big titles in well-established series do not an entire viable genre make. "RTSes, to my mind, are very niche now ... I just think the demographics have changed ... It's a dying market."

One of Fraser's most damning examples is Age of Empires Online the MMORTS based on the hit Ensemble Studios franchise. The game ceased adding new content earlier this month, and while it isn't dead just yet, it may not be long for this world. "I can tell you why Age of Empires Online went out of business," Fraser states. "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."

Fraser hopes to avert many of the pitfalls that have led other RTS series to ruin in his upcoming game Sins of a Dark Age. Still, even if his game turns out great, it's unlikely that one single title can save an ailing genre. After the StarCraft II trilogy is complete, will there be any room left in the gaming world for real-time strategy?

Source: Rock, Paper, Shotgun

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As a lover of RTS games (Even if I do kinda suck at them) this saddens me.

RTSs need to find a balance between accessibility and depth so they can bring in new players AND develop a standing community. It's an inherent problem in the genre that the depth usually comes at the cost of accessibility.

Unless you're Blizzard and putting out Starcraft 2, name power doesn't really work. Most of the time, dedicated RTS players will just go 'Eh. Better play Starcraft' which is what is causing the games to not get a foothold in the market.

Starcraft 2 is already the new RTS for Starcraft players--someone needs to make a deep RTS for everyone else. Niche unfilled.

A lot of RTS franchises fell on their swords when they decided to go console. Some (Age of Empires) made some poor choices in sequel features. A lot of publishers didn't help RTS devs at all as well. Shit, I hope SEGA gives Relic the same kind of love they give the Creative Assembly.

I don't think it will ever die, and has the possibility of making a comback with the steam box bringing PC gaming to the living room, instead of locking it away in the basement. Just hang in there and I'm sure there will be a turn around.

Too bad War never changes, unless it's turning into an MMORPG.

Age of Empires Online failed because nobody asked for or wanted Age of Empires IV to be an MMO. Company of Heroes was the other type of RTS, the type where you can't base build (unless my memory fails me) and I haven't played Starcraft II.

No Total War love, Fraser? I do have to admit though, there is not a lot of activity in the RTS genre right now aside form Heart of the Swarm and Company of heroes 2 coming out soon, Rome 2 in October, and DoW 3 not having a release date yet.

That aside, since this is the guy from the SoSE franchise, I hope their new game code can flipping multithread.

Soon there will only be one genre left. The linear FPS/TPS with quick time events...

Actually I'm not as pessimistic as Blair Fraser. I think the RTS genre has exhausted itself and needs some rest before new ideas can emerge, it used to be one of the most popular genres after all. It also suffered a hit from the popularity of consoles without mice, you can't really make a proper RTS without a mouse.

It will get a comeback eventually.

Crono1973:
Age of Empires Online failed because nobody asked for or wanted Age of Empires IV to be an MMO.

Nah, the reason AoEO failed was because too many people judged it based on the art style and what they expected it to be based on the terrible terrible marketing put forth indicating it to be more akin to an EmpireVille type of BS instead of what it really is. Plus some terrible pricing decisions made at the beginning of the game ruining the whole point of the 'Free to Play' thing.

RTS's aren't dead but that said, there are more ways to make a bad one than a good one. Believe me I'v played a lot of bad ones. RTS's are basically scaled down 4x games, eXplore, eXpand, eXterminate and I foret what that 4th 'X' is for.

Liken it to speed chess or checkers where you have 5 seconds to make your move or forfeit your turn. This naturally tends to cut a surprising amount of depth from the game. Granted it makes a very good game in of itself. To make a stand out RTS game you can try doing what Blizzard did with Warcraft and Starcraft, they tacked an enjoyable story onto decent mechanics.

I will however agree tat you should commit to whether your RTS is going to be for console or PC and stick to it. DOn't try to straddle the fence or you'll just end up with a neutered game. Two different gamers, two different hardware systems and two different sets of capabilities. Now... maaaaaybe if the devs spent more time on compelling stories and balanced systems then they wouldn't have so much trouble... but we all know that good RTS gameplay makes for lousy trailer footage.

Falterfire:

Crono1973:
Age of Empires Online failed because nobody asked for or wanted Age of Empires IV to be an MMO.

Nah, the reason AoEO failed was because too many people judged it based on the art style and what they expected it to be based on the terrible terrible marketing put forth indicating it to be more akin to an EmpireVille type of BS instead of what it really is. Plus some terrible pricing decisions made at the beginning of the game ruining the whole point of the 'Free to Play' thing.

All of that and the fact that nobody asked for nor wanted AOE4 to be an MMO.

Crono1973:
All of that and the fact that nobody asked for nor wanted AOE4 to be an MMO.

Calling it an 'MMO' is misleading though. Aside from being online-only (Which I agree is an issue) it's not really an MMO any more than Starcraft is. Yes, there is loot, but there's a game mode (Called Champion Mode) used by just about all competitive matches that disables loot and level-based benefits.

The single player involves loot and leveling, but that's totally separate from being an MMO type thing and is more related to RPG type elements.

Sorry i'm loving tropico at the minute.

Falterfire:

Crono1973:
All of that and the fact that nobody asked for nor wanted AOE4 to be an MMO.

Calling it an 'MMO' is misleading though. Aside from being online-only (Which I agree is an issue) it's not really an MMO any more than Starcraft is. Yes, there is loot, but there's a game mode (Called Champion Mode) used by just about all competitive matches that disables loot and level-based benefits.

The single player involves loot and leveling, but that's totally separate from being an MMO type thing and is more related to RPG type elements.

It's an online game with quests and it's based on gear. Call it what you want, it was unwanted and it's no surprise that it failed. What it came down to was Microsoft deciding to make an online game like everyone else and like everyone else, it failed. It's just like when people wanted KOTOR 3 and instead we got an MMO.

Bostur:
Soon there will only be one genre left. The linear FPS/TPS with quick time events..

And when that day comes, we shall rise and say "NO MORE!". Or something along those lines anyway.

Does Pikmin 3 count? Cuz it is an RTS, and I've pre-ordered it anyway. As well as Company of Heroes 2 being a sizable blot on my radar.

Though honestly I do find RTS inaccesible, much like fighters they can be very intimidating to the uninitiated and online play is often like running off a cliff over and over until you actually get good at the game. I simply don't play them as much as I play other kinds of game and part of the problem is I don't always have the time to dedicate to the game. I remember playing Company of Heroes and after 2 and a half hours of struggling I finished a mission, only to come back later and find it had decided not to save ._____. as a result I put it down 6 months ago and haven't touched it since.

To me planetary annihilation seems to be the only RTS this year (let alone the past couple of years) that's actually keeping the general RTS formula while also innovating at the same time and I'm going to get the game for sure when it coms out.

As for EoN though they are in a bit of a mess I'm sure when they come round to fixing the problems it will become something of a spectacle rather than the latest C&C which has it's singleplayer content cut from it and made only multiplayer while probably going with micro trans just to win which is just plain stale and boring while showing a lack of innovation.

When the new AOE came out the other year it didn't grab my attention at all and still doesn't because they dropped what made it AOE and decided to make it more cartoony and more simple (showing the business isn't getting much money and therefore attempts for a new crowd).

While I do love Starcraft 2 I only play it for it's campaign and skirmish games with friends and bots because the multiplayer portion of the game has become serious to a point where it's not even fun (Yes there are many that dislike having to micro manage every 2 micro seconds like some god tier level Korean).

BigTuk:
RTS's aren't dead but that said, there are more ways to make a bad one than a good one. Believe me I'v played a lot of bad ones. RTS's are basically scaled down 4x games, eXplore, eXpand, eXterminate and I foret what that 4th 'X' is for.

eXploit and it's the third X.

And largely you're right. The conventional RTS when taken to a larger scope becomes a 4x game. It's not necessarily that RTS is a niche so much as it's a starting point for another genre. Once people master the RTS genre where only aesthetics separate them they want more complex so they go to the 4x genre. So devs have a choice, do they make a RTS which is scaled down and simpler mechanics or do they go larger scale and more complex which makes it a 4x? Given audience's push for "as complex as possible" the 4x is an easier money maker.

Were RTS ever not niche?

I'm not sure I agree that the market is shrinking; I just think it never changed much at all & is small by comparison

Will RTS games ever be "blockbusters" like FPS and sports games are? No. Does that mean they are dying? I don't think so.

It is extremely difficult to make an RTS game accessible without dumbing it down. Total War has been trying to do this and has been modestly successful, but the simple fact is that RTS games will have a high learning curve by default. Even the most simplistic RTS games, like RUSE, are more complicated than Call of Duty.

I'm drawn to the more complex games like Hearts of Iron III, which took me 15 HOURS of fumbling around to figure out the basics. I have 375 hours put into the game and I still haven't mastered it.

BigTuk:
RTS's aren't dead but that said, there are more ways to make a bad one than a good one. Believe me I'v played a lot of bad ones. RTS's are basically scaled down 4x games, eXplore, eXpand, eXterminate and I foret what that 4th 'X' is for.

eXpolit

Blizzard does kind of have the RTS market cornered but I doubt there is any less desire for a good RTS I think we need to wait and see how planetary annihilation does before making any calls on the genre

RTS has never been as big as shooters. They most likely never will be either. I am not sure what the point of his comments are except to make jabs about other franchises and praise his next title. Just like chess has never been bigger then football in the last hundred years. It's just not comparable.

Wonder why only a few of the titles are doing well? Because the rest suck. AoE online was terrible, rise of nations was meh, and don't get your hopes up on bioware doing any good with Command and Conquer because as we all know bioware has tons of RTS experience.

People don't buy bad games, people stop playing bad games. This is why people are more likely to pick up age of kings or broodwar then any of the latest released junk folks are being shilled.

The reason? There was an RTS bubble in 2003-2006-ish. Too many RTS, not enough buyers for any of them. So the publishers, in typical publisher fashion, decided that genre, not saturation, was the problem.
Then we got hit by the Free To Play wave. For obvious reasons, it failed.

You can see the viability of RTS in the success of SoaSE - a well-built RTS, reasonably marketed, will sell about a million copies. 5 in Blizzard's case. All you need to do is drop the damn free to play bull.

LordLundar:

BigTuk:
RTS's aren't dead but that said, there are more ways to make a bad one than a good one. Believe me I'v played a lot of bad ones. RTS's are basically scaled down 4x games, eXplore, eXpand, eXterminate and I foret what that 4th 'X' is for.

eXploit and it's the third X.

And largely you're right. The conventional RTS when taken to a larger scope becomes a 4x game. It's not necessarily that RTS is a niche so much as it's a starting point for another genre. Once people master the RTS genre where only aesthetics separate them they want more complex so they go to the 4x genre. So devs have a choice, do they make a RTS which is scaled down and simpler mechanics or do they go larger scale and more complex which makes it a 4x? Given audience's push for "as complex as possible" the 4x is an easier money maker.

Oh the thing is complexity isn't what the audience wants. The audience wants depth... not complexity:
See here for an interesting take on that: http://www.penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/depth-vs.-complexity

The thing is, when you introduce Real-Time you have to scale down the complexity. Can you imagine some of the better 4X games if they required the decision speed of your typical RTS? Most of the depth in many RTS's is already wasted because competitively, strategies revolve around the straight-line (trike rush, zerg rush, peon rush). Hence why most 4X's are Turn based affairs where you can properly manage, plan and consider your actions. More or less RTS's are to 4x what Checkers is to Chess. Scaled down, simplified version of the later but with it's own unique appeal, mechanics and strategies. Sure RTS's try new things but the problem becomes, how do you make an engaging story to go with it.

To be fair though, all franchises are having this problem, JRPGS's are trying to get out of the angsty androgynous teeenager thing, WRPG's are stuck imitating Skyrim and FPS's well FPs's have had it easier since there's always someway to spice things up. Though despite that there are a disturbing number of COD wannabes out there.

RTS's are going the way of the TBS. They'll become niche games that few plays, but the genre will still survive as long as somebody makes games for it. And as long as PC gaming still lives, they will. It's one of the "exclusives" to the platform, due to the input needed for the game to work properly.
It could work well for tablets too, though. Maybe that's a market they haven't really considered yet?

They're not dead, they're just not innovating anymore. The last major update to the RTS formula was Dawn of War 2, back in 2008. Sins is an actionized version of older 4X titles, Mobas have spun off in their own directions, and Starcraft 2 is continuing the process of not doing anything new, and balancing things so tightly that you have no chance of ever seeing new strategies.

Dawn of War 2 threw base building out the window, focusing on squad tactics and unit preservation. Also, the inherent imbalances in the gameplay makes things much more interesting. With a game like Starcraft 2, where everything is honed to a fine edge, and everything is so balanced, you see singular strategies that become ubiquitous, since they are built around the maximum efficiency idea. With crazy imbalances like in Dawn of War 2, things are far more unpredictable, with some truly bizarre strategies finding success in odd occasions.

The Tyranid Gun blob is one of the strangest builds I've seen, but when I witnessed it take down a Force Commander in less than a second of shooting, I knew it was dangerous.

Strategy games need to keep pushing the boundaries of what they are capable of, and keeping things [i]off[i] balance to throw in that extra level of fun.

It seems many thing have gone niche when people only gargle FPS bollocks.
But at the same time you aren't exactly pulling people in when there is no worth while campaign coming with your games, last memorable one I got out of Dawn of War 1, and that was 2004.

I think RTS can survive. I'm not sure if Sins can. I find the sins series dreadfully boring and find the game drags on way too long.

I'm really looking forward to CoH2, personally.

AC10:
I think RTS can survive. I'm not sure if Sins can. I find the sins series dreadfully boring and find the game drags on way too long.

I agree completely.

I tried sins, and didn't like it AT ALL.

My favorite RTS games are Total Annihilation and the first Supreme Commander.

No

Its not as popular as it was, but its certainly not "dying"

At the moment its rather relegated to a few BIG devs, but Im sure it will come around in popularity again, seeing as there's probably going to be alot of people switching to PC after this console cycle

Another one of those? No, as long as people still play these games, the genre isn't dead.
Maybe he'd like to use it as an excuse as to why he didn't make the profit he expected to make, but he would be very wrong.
We'll see just how much this genre is "dead" when Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm comes out.

Eh.. I think the reason RTS games died is they stopped innovating, people got bored of "Tanks, helicopters and infantry", I want submarines, space stations, giant mechs and big, impressive guns.. Half the reason Starcraft 2 never appealed to me, the scale was too small. Supreme Commander was amazing for it's time, honestly the best RTS to date, and hopefully Planetary Annihilation will kick off RTS games again.

I always recommend Sins of a Solar Empire to all of my friend. He even bought it... but I unno... we never actually played it together.

Is gaming really going to be without so many options in the next decade or so? Or will they release a flight simulator after 10 years, and it will be fresh and new since no one has made one in so long, springing forth more of its kind?

I liked Sins, although I found that the pirate raids way too annoying, and the games lasted for hours upon hours in you wanted to conquer entire systems. I thought it was going to be something akin to Homeworld, but alas, there is nothing like Homeworld besides Homeworld. Come on Relic, you're at a new house now, maybe the new management will have an epiphany. I played Starcraft to the bone, never was too good but I enjoyed it. Starcraft II stopped enticing me when it gave its online and e-sport crowds so much more importance than average-joe player. Trying to play on a more laid back manner is practically impossible. It's phrenetic, all the time. Also, their "benevolent" online DRM, plus ditching LAN support killed it for me.

RTS isn't dead by any means, but devs seem stuck on older ideas, or use new ones that don't draw in the non-hardcore market. Amongst my circle of friends RTS were great at LAN parties. All current devs are also abandoning that way of setting up matches, and I think that's how a lot of people got into the genre (biased as my perspective is). Also, they don't seem to know how to ease people into the mechanics. For example, SoaSE would have benefitted from a single player campaign that let you learn the sstrategies one by one. As it is, it's slamming into brick walls of complexity.

RTS's seem to be in more of a rut than dying, really. Not a terrible amount of innovation, nor much polishing. Sins is a great game and a good example of something still alive, but it was just too slow for me to play too often. Too many of the recent games especially tend to be on a "bases are bad" bent, and I can certainly say that that has never appealed to me in the slightest.

There's plenty of ideas too, more polishing on the homeworldesque genre, Achron's mechanics, more modern-based games that aren't utter crap, etc.

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