Ironclad Games: RTS is a dying market

Blair Fraser on a troubled genre, and the end of Age Of Empires Online

The director and co-owner of Sins of a Solar Empire studio Ironclad Games has revealed he believes that the real time strategy genre is on its way out.

"It's a dying market," Blair Fraser said in an interview with RockPaperShotgun

"RTSes, to my mind, are very niche now. And that's unfortunate, because that's what I love, and that's what I grew up playing, and that's what I make. Or made, anyway. I just think the demographics have changed. Company of Heroes may be profitable, and StarCraft II is an anomaly. But most of them aren't gonna get big numbers."

He was keen to point out that the Canadian Ironclad's big title Sins of a Solar Empire was still "thriving" but mainly because it had moved away from the traditional RTS model. The studio has also released multiplayer online battle arena Sins of a Dark Age.

"If genres don't keep evolving, they die, and I was seeing not a lot of evolving in the RTS, base-building genre. By extension, I think the MOBA genre has to continue evolving if it's gonna make it past two generations."

In the extensive interview Fraser also gave his opinions on the recent demise of Age Of Empires Online, which is no longer receiving new updates.

"I can tell you why Age of Empires Online went out of business," he revealed.

"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. And that's why Age of Empires Online isn't generating anymore content, and that's why we're not charging for army-type units [in Sins Of A Dark Age]."

Ironclad was founded in 2003 and released its first title, Sins Of A Solar Empire, five years later in February 2008.

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Latest comments (10)

Pier Castonguay Programmer 9 years ago
RTS is not dying, it's just not exploited enough. High quality RTS games are very rare (CoH/SC2/DoW2 are pretty much alone) and innovation is null. Give them some new features and ideas and it will be the most profitable game ever. A lot of people are waiting for a real new C&C game (the last 'ok' one was the third, and before that is was RA2).
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Andreia Quinta Photographer 9 years ago
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Dirk van Wijk Student - Computer Science (Master) 9 years ago
Well, he said
Company of Heroes may be profitable, and StarCraft II is an anomaly. But most of them aren't gonna get big numbers."
But it's true that most RTSes aren't that popular, only a select few.
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Show all comments (10)
Victor Perez CEO, Games GI9 years ago
Someone remember what was said about tanks simulations games? You never going to sell more than couple thousand, and lucky if you do, but what about WoTanks... How much money expended in WoW copies?

Obviously play again and again the same game it is not what people wants...

That is an entertainment world... sometime works , other not...
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 9 years ago
StarCraft II is an anomaly
Like Diablo and all the other Blizzard games that sell despite being hard-core anomaly? You cannot blame the public for not being enthusiastic about half-baked, half-hearted games are not even as good as previous (similar) examples.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd9 years ago
Er... SEGA's 2nd largest franchise is the million + selling Total War saga. This guy is off his rocker.
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Tudor Nita Lead Programmer, Gameloft Romania9 years ago
The comments above pretty much confirmed Blair's opinion. Except Dow2 ( which I consider to be the only anomaly), every other successful RTS title has evolved from the genre it spawned from. Starcraft moved on to E-Sport, CoH switched to a micro management model, TW is a completely different experience from the RTS of old, Sins is a 4x / RTS hybrid done right.

The fact that we have 4-5 highly successful RTS franchises != abundance. Quite the contrary, especially when compared to 94-2004. The death of older, more traditional franchises also makes his point ( most C&C titles, AoE).

Although not a complete listing by far, this is worth a look:

As with the rise of mobile gaming, I call it the age of communication syndrome [ instant gratification, visual > imaginative ]. The younger generation has been conditioned into it by the limitations of the cheap, readily-available, mobile platforms.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Tudor Nita on 3rd February 2013 11:36am

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Brian Lewis Operations Manager, PlayNext9 years ago
The RTS genre is not dead.. it just needs to evolve. The same could be said of the MMORPG genre in the past few years... many titles cam out, and failed. It is only now, with them redefining themselves via the F2P model that we are starting to see innovation, and growth.

I would expect the RTS genre to have a rebirth in a few years, once people stop trying to replicate the past, and start looking for what will work in the future.
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People still enjoy playing RTS games, it just RTS game makers stopped making games RTS players wanted, whilst listing every reason is difficult, one obvious cause seems to be an industry wise attempt to dumb down the genre, look at Empire Earth 2 vs Empire Earth 3 for but one example, EE3 was massively dumbed down in attempt to make it more appealing to the mass market, but ultimately an exclusively fps gamer will not play a RTS no matter how simple you make it, they want an fps and similarly an rts gamer wants to buy an rts game, making a game easier to get into is not the same as making it less complex, and this has been the hole many have fallen down, innovation in the rts genre has been less then stellar, no true MMORTS yet exists only a few multiplayer rts with always on chat and matchmaking, and due to the failures and lack of fresh games publishers have got the mistaken impression its a dead genre, comments like the above, by people who ought to know better, have hardly helped.

Also the rts genre has done little to reach out to new gamers, while having done little to cater to older gamers, yet its a genre ripe for revival once some innovation is injected into it, Starcraft II shows that there's a market for these games, you can't wash all that away by calling it a fluke, its just only Blizzard have the clout and the name to reach it, but addressing the many issues of the genre is not going to be easy, specially on a slight budget and without sufficient advertising, which is why getting publishers on-board will be important, and comments like this hardly likely to help.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alexander McConnell on 19th March 2013 8:38pm

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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee9 years ago
I'm not best experienced in this genre or particularly on the ball with the its sales across the board. But just looking at a few standout examples things appear to be looking quite healthy to me. That said, perhaps the biggest proportion of the demand is taken by blockbusters from the likes of Blizzard, 2K and SEGA...

Not sure.
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