Observation on the real-time strategy genre

Quick post sharing a theory I have. The RTS genre’s heyday was in the 90s. What used to be a big category of games that sold really well is mostly a niche, catering to the hardcore – and those just tend to play established games such as Age of Empires 2 or StarCraft. But the interesting thing to me is why it no longer is the case.

I feel the RTS is a mashup of several other kinds of game – made before its constituent genres became popular. It combines several different playstyles, but most people only latched onto a specific aspect. For example:

  • The people into bunkering down and building bases went into games that focused on this, such as tower defence. There are also more simulation-driven games that do emphasize base building like Dwarf Fortress and Factorio that do have some RTS-like elements, but are further removed mechanically.
  • The people into controlling a single unit got into MOBAs, such as League of Legends. This genre actually spawned out of mods (like the original DOTA) for Warcraft 3, which pioneered “hero units”.
  • The people into the higher level strategy without as much “micro” went into things like 4X and “grand strategy” (of usually the Paradox type). Civilization has had enduring popularity, after all.

The people interested in only one aspect would flock to those respective types of games, leaving the RTS as a combination of them abandoned.

Of course, there are still RTS games out there that do well commercially, outside of niche entries for genre diehards, such as Company of Heroes and Total War. My impression is that these aren’t competitive APM-driven games, but something a more casual strategy player could enjoy on a more relaxed timeframe.

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