Has the RTS Genre Gone the Way of the Dinosaur?

It seems that only yesterday we were enthralled with the prospect of irreparably ruining our surrounding ecology purely for the purpose of acquiring enough materials to dominate our opponents, and now…? Well, the battlefield lies barren.

That’s not to say that there aren’t new entries to the RTS foray out on the market these days, but it does seem nigh-impossible to throw a shoe into the crowd and not hit a disgruntled fan at how little prevalence the genre holds in today’s market.

This perception, however, requires deeper analysis. Did the genre EVER hit the highs that some of its most staunch supporters attest to? Or is it merely a case of looking back through rose-tinted glasses?

Real-time strategy games have always ridden a specific niche.

Where traditional strategy games attracted players who longed for a slow-burn to their strategic endeavours, RTS games put a sense of urgency behind every action. No longer could one ruminate on a single decision indefinitely – with the looming threat of being besieged always on the horizon, build orders and APM became the name of the game.

Fusing traditional strategic elements alongside twitch-based gameplay was a marriage that many strategy game lovers abhorred – but it was new, sexy, and sleek; and that’s all it needed to blow up like a powder keg.

In the ‘00s, it seemed like everyone and their cousin was cranking out RTS games. Such monolith’s like Warcraft, Starcraft, Homeworld, and Command & Conquer had already been dominant in the public’s mind for quite some time. And while those games held on for quite a bit, a newcomer emerged that pilfered scores of the interested playerbase: the deadly MOBA.

Kicking off the vicious tide with games like League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth, the professional-grade games based off the long-standing success of RTS variant game modes like DOTA gave the MOBA genre its first real heavy hitters – and the public bit into it with a fervor that rivaled that of many AAA studio entries at the time.

Suddenly, there was an RTS variant that offered not only more complexity but also put incredible team play front and centre.

As time went on, more and more entries began to appear in the MOBA market  – all a competing for their slice of the pie. During this period, the production and reception of RTS games were effectively buried under the hysteria that ensued with Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas.

And yet, all was not lost.

Throughout this period, some development teams began to offer new and interesting takes on RTS genre. Games such as the Dawn of War entries in the Warhammer 40k Universe did quite well for themselves as they began to fuse RPG-like elements to the standard RTS format. However, the limited success of these can be viewed as an echo of what MOBAs were already doing on the market – without wholly committing to the MOBA formula.

Alas, while there were some interesting additions to the market, RTS-lites or fusions proved to not have a lot of staying power.

In the most recent years, RTS games still manage to grace the market, but it’s difficult to view them as anything but love-letters to the genre. And while it is most certainly a genre we adore, we’ve stumped ourselves every time we’ve tried to come up with a way to reinvigorate the genre. Oh well. Perhaps someone far smarter than us will manage to bring back frenetic micro-management back to the forefront of our gaming desires.

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