RTS Games: Is the genre truly dead?

The Real Time Strategy (RTS) phenomenon

Remember ordering dozens of tanks into the enemy’s base in Red Alert and watching with glee as everything burns on the screen? In the late 90s, you would be hard pressed to find anyone with a inkling of interest in gaming not having heard about games like Red Alert and Starcraft. It is hard to imagine, at that time in 90s and early 2000s, when the RTS genre was at its peak that it would fall to the low height it is today.

Of course, Red alert and Starcraft did not start the genre. Dune 2 was the mother of the strategy genre and was released in 1992. It was created by Westwood Studios, the creators of the Red alert franchise, and was published by Virgin Games. It was only with the release of Red alert, however, did the genre find its place among the mainstream audience.

Dune 2, Mother of Modern Real Time Strategy Games
The mother of Real Time Strategy, Dune 2!

To put things in perspective, there are 5 Command and Conquer games in the top 50 best selling PC titles of all times. he estimated 3 million sales for Command and Conquer and Red Alert 1 put them as the top selling PC games of that respective era.Starcraft 1 and  Starcraft 2 are in the top 10 as well with 11 million and 6 million (Wings of Liberty) sold respectively. T In order to give you a sense of the drop off in interest in the genre, just look at the fall in sales between Starcraft 1 and Starcraft 2 as stated above.

Real Time Strategy (RTS) hit by a perfect storm

What changed? It is not possible to pinpoint this on any one factor but look at changes in the industry as a whole. Certainly for me, growing up on RTS(Real Time Strategy) Games, the death of Westwood was a huge blow. The creators of the hugely successful Command and Conquer series were unceremoniously closed by EA and merged into EA Pacific. The Command and Conquer games that followed were by no means bad but they failed to capture the charm of the previous games. After the release of CNC: Tiberium Wars and Red Alert 4, the Command and Conquer series seems to have been laid to rest.

Soviet Troops storm an Allied Base – Red Alert 1

Another key player in all of this was Blizzard. Creators of another staple of the RTS genre, Warcraft and Starcraft, they perhaps unintentionally paved the way for the death of the genre. Warcraft 3 was a hugely successful RTS in its own right which is known today for creating the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre. A community modded map in Warcraft 3, Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) spawned many knockoffs and created a popular competitive E sports scene which was so popular that it pretty much killed the RTS multiplayer scene for many casual gamers. Blizzard’s current business model is a far cry from the traditional model of delivering solid and high quality RTS titles like Starcraft.

Is it over? Maybe not. Maybe so.

Perhaps the bitter truth is that Gamers have just moved on from RTS games. Gamers who grew up on their genre are more than likely to be middle aged fathers with little time for gaming. The gamer of today may be more interested in games with more instant gratification and flash. Like any other industry, survival depends on evolving to meet change and one cant fault companies like Blizzard for doing what is necessary.

We may never see a RTS in the mold of Red Alert or Starcraft again. However, this will not prevent a old school gamer like me from cherishing the legacy they left behind. Thankfully, EA seems to have taken notice of the demand from gamers such as myself. There is talk of a remaster of the Command and Conquer games and Blizzard just announced a remaster of Warcraft 3 at Blizzon 2018. However, how long can we be satisfied by mere remasters?

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