The RTS Genre Is Now A Thing Of The Past; Here’s Why

It seems like the golden days of real-time strategy are behind us.

Story Highlights

  • There has been a decline in the number of great RTS games being released.
  • The community was split into two different groups based on preferences.
  • In the wake, the causal market was left in the dust.

Sometimes it seems as though some of the most creative and entertaining experiences of the late 90s and early 2000s were games that belonged to the RTS genre. I’m thinking of seminal titles like Age of Empires, Starcraft, or even Age of Mythology if we’re feeling a bit adventurous.

These were all incredible games that themselves laid a solid foundation for the genre as a whole, and many of their sequels would go on to evolve it even further.

Age of Empires II is hands down one of the greatest games ever made, and while I personally never got into it, StarCraft II’s impact on the esports world cannot be understated.

Stronghold Crusader Was A Castle Simulation RTS
Stronghold Crusader Was Truly Special. (Image Credits: eXputer)

And there were many many other titles along the way as well. The Command & Conquer series is iconic for its over-the-top narratives and incredible single-player campaigns, and the Stronghold series, with its emphasis on castle management, has a very special place in my own heart.

But something changed over the years and the genre is not nearly as big as it once was. Studios are simply not making these games at the frequency they once used to, and truly great RTS games seem to be few and far between.

So What Happened To The RTS Genre?

It would be very easy to point fingers and blame one factor or the other for this decline.

Some people think that the rise of console gaming is partially to blame for this, as many people moved away from mouse and keyboard and onto controllers that are not as compatible with RTS games.

But the rebuke here is that there are some incredibly responsive RTS ports on consoles and that PC gaming has been on the upswing for a long time now.

Data showing a rough estimate of the PC userbase.
PC Gamers In Millions (Image Credits: DFC Intelligence)

So why then, is the genre still in decline when there are more PC gamers now than ever before?

Others have blamed the rise of competitive gaming as a cause, which I am personally more likely to believe even if I don’t fully blame it as the main reason. It can be called the split between the immersive and competitive RTS audiences if we like.

One of the best examples of this is the original Dota, which was actually a mod for Warcraft III and it blew up so much that it went on to become its very own thing. Its sequel, Dota 2, is one of the biggest games on the planet and draws in millions of players on the regular.

And when faced with so much success, what else are you supposed to do but capitalize on it?

Immersive Vs. Competitive RTS Gaming

Gameplay From League of Legends
LoL Is The Biggest MOBA On The Planet. (Image Credits: eXputer)

So with the advent of multiplayer gaming and hyper-competitive titles like Starcraft, developers realized that there was a market for fast-paced games of the sort, and they were incredibly lucrative

So there was a split within the RTS audience, between those who wanted mechanical and fast-paced titles with an emphasis on multiplayer, and those who wanted more traditional experiences with an emphasis on simulations, creating stories, and base building.

And it’s here that I think that things start to get really interesting.

Because I believe that modern MOBAs like Dota 2 and League of Legends are in many ways the purest distillations of the competitive side of this split. People wanted the breakneck action with none of the base building and none of the extensive skill trees, and they got it.

On the other hand, those who wanted more of these things went with the immersive side. If someone has a taste for grand strategy or simulations, then series like Crusader Kings, Civilization, and even indie titles like the recently released Manor Lords are there for them.

Those Left Behind

So when we talk about the decline of the RTS genre as we all knew it, what we should instead talk about is the middle ground between the immersive and competitive audiences.

Both sides have found games that cater to their specific niches, and there are players left behind who don’t adhere to either side. There is a casual middle ground here that is no longer catered to as it once was because developers thought it wasn’t worth it anymore. But I don’t think that’s really true.

One of the best examples of a game that walks this middle ground is Age of Empires IV, which is perhaps one of the only truly classic RTS to come out in the past decade.

We don’t have exact sales figures because Microsoft has not made them available, but I don’t think it takes much to understand that It didn’t sell tens of millions of copies even if it did fairly well enough

But well enough is not enough these days, especially for Microsoft who just yesterday shut down 4 of their own internal studios.

And therein lies the entire conundrum. These games will not do MOBA numbers, they will not stay relevant for decades, nor generate billions of dollars, so why would anyone want to make more of them? In a perfect world, creativity and a love of the genre would triumph here, but we don’t live in one.

The decline of the RTS genre is simply another symptom of a twisted industry that values the numbers going up more than they care about creating fun games.

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Huzaifa is eXputer's Review Editor, who’s all about RPG games. He’s got several years of experience critically judging games and writing his unbiased thoughts on them. You can also find his content published on sites like Twinfinite & GearNuke. Huzaifa has been gaming for 23+ years, during which he managed to amass 400+ hours on Elden Ring! You can follow his gaming activity on his Xbox and Steam Profiles.

Experience: 5+ years || Previously Worked At GearNuke & Twinfinite || Mainly Covers RPG Guides & Latest Games Reviews || Education: Bachelors in Hospitality.

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