What Makes RTS Games Fun: Why We Play RTS

Over the past decade we’ve seen the tragic decline of the RTS Genre. There are a few reasons to blame for the downfall of RTS, such as the lack of compatibility with gaming consoles or the rise of the MOBA. Ultimately we’re not seeing enough companies willing to invest in RTS games, so very little are being produced.  For me personally it’s quite tragic, RTS games are something that I’m immensely passionate about. I’ve grown up with them back in their golden era and have stuck with ever since. I’ve played many at a competitive level and now I do Shoutcasting on my YouTube channel for few different RTS titles.

With RTS becoming so niche it’s resulted in a rather misunderstood genre, this has inspired me to start this series where I break down RTS design philosophy and explore what makes RTS games fun, compelling and successful. The first thing I want to talk about is what actually makes RTS games fun to play, specifically compared to other types of games. RTS is quite a broad genre and people enjoy a variety of RTS games for different reasons, but these are some of the reasons for me personally.

RTS games can be extremely satisfying and rewarding to play. This is due to how complex and in-depth they are, as well as how much is required of the player to fight their way to victory. To be successful in an RTS game, one must learn and master all of its intricacies. A player needs to devise and perform strategies on the fly, through the management of their economy, production and tech, on top of the execution of finesse tactics and delicate micro management.

RTS games make you feel empowered and almighty. This is not by any means unique to RTS, but I think  RTS does this especially well since you’re not playing as some fictional character or Avatar. You, the player, are the grand strategist constructing your base, developing your economy and producing your army. When you defeat your enemies it’s because you’ve outwit them through a counter strategy, gained a superior economy or by crushing their army through tactical excellence and more efficient control and synergy of your units and abilities. You are forced to think critically and react under pressure, responding with difficult decisions and unit management of varying opportunity cost. RTS games make you feel brilliant and cunning because of the way you out smart and outplay your opponents.

This strength is also one of the greatest downsides of RTS. All the complexities and multitasking can be quite daunting at first to new players, as it’s a lot to take in. This is why single player content, tutorials and intuitive design are vital to introduce new players to the games and to the genre at a gentle pace. From the perspective of a more casual mindset, there’s much more fulfilment to be had from RTS than just the competitive side of conquering your opponents. In RTS games you generally start off with almost nothing, and from there you grow. Whether it be creating a self-sustaining base of production, sprawling with strategically placed defense turrets, or building an empire consisting of intertwined cities with hundreds of villagers fuelling your economy. RTS games appeal to our creative side and make us feel good about our digital creations, especially because they actually serve a practical purpose, whether it be to produce a conquering army of tanks or to hold off an enemy attack.

There’s also the visual component; since RTS games are generally from a birds eye perspective they’re quite grand in scale. This creates an epic tension of witnessing a large battle of two armies clash, but especially so because of how connected the players are to these armies. They represent the entire match worth of economic, production and strategic investment, and are shaped by the prior battles leading up to it.

RTS really isn’t for everyone, but those who enjoy them tend to form some of the more dedicated and passionate gaming communities. RTS games require a significant investment of time and effort, but what you get out in return can be the most rewarding experience gaming can offer.  Just how exactly, is what I explore in other essays of what Makes RTS games Fun, where I break down and discuss RTS design philosophy such as pacing, micro and economy.

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