Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece – it is in no way factual and I am not trying to pass of what I am about to say as fact. You are free to agree, disagree or make up your own mind regarding the points I am about to raise. All I ask is that you respond respectfully. I do not intended or believe that this post will sway Relic in any sense of the word, it is merely thoughts put into text.
**Recognising the Problem **
Let’s get this out of the way, Dawn of War 3 isn’t a bad game. At its core, Dawn of War 3 is a very fun Real Time Strategy game and challenges the players like Real Time Strategy should. While many on these boards will say otherwise, I feel it’s important to point out that the core gameplay is solid and fun. Reason being, because what I’m about to go into isn’t in relation to that core gameplay and I feel it’s important that you (the reader) separate my criticism of the game & Real Time Strategy.
“The First Step in Solving Any Problem is Recognizing there is One”
Real Time Strategy games have a problem retaining players and it’s important to look at why that is the case. While the majority of current active players will point to issues with balance or lack of ladder/ranked modes as a primary cause of players dropping off, I have to respectfully disagree. In an almost blasphemous thought, I believe that the competitive nature of Real Time Strategy has caused its stagnation and ultimately it’s down fall.
Now, before you rush down to the comments section, here me out. Real Time Strategy is a daunting and stressful genre that requires players to analysis the game in a myriad of different ways, from knowing what the popular strategies are, the maps and how each unit behaves with each other. The learning curve is steep and playing to be competitive takes a lot of time. Now, some people take to that as a challenge, wanting to do better but if your aim as a developer is to keep players playing then having a game built around this competitive nature is almost counterproductive.
The reason for this hypothesis can be broken down to: losing sucks. As we’ve seen in the game so far, losing to cheese/overpowered strategies can cause immense frustration. You can do your best, maximising your timing and you’re positioning only to lose because your opponent used a strategy that is horrible. Now, if you’re an old hat at Real Time Strategy, you’ve come to accept that there are time when you’ll simply lose again and again until balance is sorted. If you’re a new player and you’re dipping your toe into this incredibly competitive market and you lose constantly, eventually you’re going to get demoralised and probably just quit.
This is because until games like Call of Duty, Dark Souls or League of Legends, when you lose it’s harder to find out why you lost. Think about it, the factors in your loss in a game of Dawn of War can be trace back to the decision to not build an Ork Shoota Boy squad at 1 minute 45 seconds instead of 2 Minutes 03 Seconds, if only you had that unit out early could you have won. Or was it when you spent requisition on upgrading that listening post instead of buying an upgrade. Or was it any of the numerous other variables in a match. Whereas with the games I’ve mentioned, it’s much easier to see where you went wrong and improve upon that; “I’ve just to aim a bit higher” “I’ve got to learn to dodge roll better” “I’ve got to be more map aware” and so forth.
To the people who enjoy the competitive nature of Real Time Strategy games this isn’t an issue at all. This is their bread and butter and they enjoy the challenge of competing against other players in the competitive environment. The issue is though, as these players smash ‘noobs’ they inadvertently reduce the potential player pool – every newbie decimated and sent on their way with a “ggez” is one potential player who will never return, meaning eventually the game will run out of players for you to play against.
Real Time Strategy games for as long as I can remember have always had this problem, where competitive player vs player is seen as the for front of the game and where the ‘meat’ is – it’s where the most attention should go and where the vocal players demand the developers focus. It’s why we’ve 100 threads complaining about balance.
But is Real Time Strategy really about this competitive player verse player environment?