Flash of Steel header image 2

Three Moves Ahead Episode 21 — Soren Johnson and the state of the genre

July 14th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 15 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


Soren Johnson drops by to talk to Troy, Tom and Julian about how the future of strategy games is online – whether you like it or not. He drops some hints about what he is working on at EA, talks a little bit about Civ and why RTSes have to die in order to be reborn. Julian sells iPhones to everyone, too.

We also conclude with our regular Dominions 3 update – there could be a war a-brewin’. Tom predicts the future course of the game.

Listen here.
RSS here.
Subscribe on iTunes.

Nile Online
Quarantine 2019
League of Legends
Soren’s Blog


15 Comments so far ↓

  • EyeMessiah

    I bought Multiwinia over steam!

  • Dectilon

    I’m one of those who refuses to believe PC gaming will die, and strategy gaming in particular. The theory is that people are getting dumber, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I doubt people are actually becoming dumber on average, so the want for strategy games will still be there. Perhaps one of the problems is that a strategy game often feels like a big commitment. It really sparks that want of improvement that doesn’t necessarily appear in shooters and the like. Playing a strategy game can be a bit of an investment, and people just don’t emigrate from strategy game to strategy game as quickly. It’s easier to sate the market. I think Starcraft 2 will do really well, but I don’t think it’s a game others can ride on in the same way some argue the new generation of fighting games has done on Street Fighter 4.

    As for Dominions; I think we need better coverage of this game! I don’t think any of you have reported on your research for example (which I guess makes sense since you’re all there), but it would make things more interesting for the readers here.

    A decent player will not leave a contested province unguarded I think, but Vanheim’s units are mostly stealthy, so it could be an actual army you have there. On the other hand, you better have some some summons or powerful attack spells ready to go if you’re gonna declare war this early.

    Oh yeah, and something I didn’t realize at first when I started playing: If a province says it has “about 40 enemies” that isn’t necessarily the case. Only if you have a scout in the province can you be sure of that number being in that range of ten. If you don’t have a scout there it can suddenly say 20 or perhaps even 60 next turn without anything having actually changed.

  • DESIGNER NOTES » Blog Archive » Three Moves Ahead Podcast

    […] enjoyed taking part in the latest Three Moves Ahead Podcast, on which we discuss where the strategy genre is headed in the coming years. Needless to say, […]

  • Troy

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that PC gaming will die, and certainly not because people are getting dumber — PC gamers have always been as stupid in general as other gamers. I don’t even think most strategy gamers are especially swift. I’m almost exclusively a PC gamer, and always find something to play. But there’s no doubt I have fewer new games to write about now than I did five years ago.

    Soren is arguing not that the PC is a dead platform but that there will be an industry shift because the financial returns on the traditional PC gaming model just aren’t there for many genres, strategy in particular. The dominance of legacy titles and franchises limits the amount of risk that publishers are willing to take, and the budgets for AAA titles are too high for a market that is either in decline or is more parsimonious than it once was.

    Personally, I think that Soren is right that strategy gaming – and a lot of PC gaming as well – will begin to play to the PC’s strengths. You can do a smaller budget game more easily if you are willing to accept the tradeoffs because it is an open system. And the internet will increasingly be integral to how we understand the PC gaming universe.

  • spelk

    Another wholesome podcast folks, nice to have it mixed up with a guest speaker, still missing Bruce’s input though.

    Its encouraging to hear about Soren’s plans with a Strategy/Boardgame Portal on the web, there are so many underappreciated board games out there, and there are so many people who just haven’t got the luxury of a group of boardgaming friends to draw from. A web based gaming portal to serve up conversions as well as new strategy IP would be top on my list of sites to visit.

    My gripe with Travian is that it doesn’t give you enough of an enjoyable experience, unless you’re deeply organised with many other individuals. You’re only just starting to see things progress and you’re unleashed onto the global scene, where you’ll be quickly consumed by larger more organised alliances.. farmed into a state of dormancy almost. There should be a challenge curve, with rewards and accomplishments, without hitting an almost MMO griefing wall by big alliances. Planetarion exemplified this problem many moons ago, and subsequent games seem to still follow this model.

    There was a game I was very interested in, called Dreamlords, where it coupled web based meta-play (like Travian) with a 3d client installed that played out the RTS battles. It fell to similar problems like Travian presents, but also had the double whammy of having a rather bland and tedious RTS client.. however, couple brief web based meta gaming management, with some meatier strategy/tactical play on an installable client and you could have something like Dominions 3 online.

    I think the game Tom was thinking of was Savage: The Battle for Newerth or its sequel, Savage 2 – a sort of RTS/action fantasy hybrid where one player is the RTS Commander, and other players are units in the game, collecting resources or responding to the Commanders wishes. I think its very similar in concept to the Halflife mod called “Natural Selection”.

    Reiner Knizia has two titles on the iPhone (I have an iPod Touch & I bought it for gaming), Knights of Charlemagne and Poison. There is a quick play dice battler called Karmastar that is an interesting condensation of a boardgame, because there are only 8 turns in the game, and you have to beef up (or battle based on) one of your 5 stats every turn. Simple gameplay, but a compelling distraction – that I’d like to see fleshed out into a more involved with more turns game. Julian mentioned the German board game conversion Zooloretto, worth checking out.

    There are a number of Asian strategy titles on the iPhone, Shogi (Japanese Chess), Hanawaase (Hanafuda) or Godori (Korean version) which is a card game based on a unique deck known as the flower cards, San Dou Di Zhu (Chinese gambling card game), Chinese Chess, proper Mah Jong (as well as a tonne of Mah Jong tile matchers) and a Julian mentioned a number of competitive Go implementations.

    The DS is ideal for strategy games, but historically the DS has been marketed at the “Nintendo friendly” demographic. There are one or two decent titles on there, but Nintendo seem to be pushing the fitness and brain training lifestyle titles and I can’t really see them funding/encouraging strategy titles unless they could leverage it towards the masses.

    For me, the iPhone/iPod touch is just a more convenient version of the DS, plus it supports watching TV and Films, listening to music and audio books (and this podcast), along with digital comics and a platform that is more readily developed for especially in the niche area of boardgames, card games and strategy titles. The number and diversity of titles already available on that platform you would never see published on the DS (or the PSP/PSP-Go for that matter).. and it can only become a better situation the more developers see the platform as a viable gaming/media solution.

  • George (Stuttgart) Brof

    great show! thanks, guys. There is a great little Reiner Knizia game on the Ipod/Iphone named Robot Master.

    It’s a min/max board/card game where your score is made by the lowest score on the board.

    you should check that out (I am not related to R.K. in any way :-)


  • Dectilon

    I’ve never quite got what triple-A meant exactly, except that it’s a product that eventually ends up in a box. I think the slowing of new games for the PC is a compound of various issues.

    First there’s cost I guess, but cost is only a concern if there’s risk. The risk is twofold. Disinterest and piracy. I’m not sure which is the greater when it comes to strategy gaming, but I do think PC gaming needs a paradigm shift when it comes to payment models and DRM for there to be a rekindled interest. As consoles become more like computers I wouldn’t be surprised if piracy gets easier on them too soon, so it might become a universal issue.

    Also, I think there’s a misunderstanding of the target market. Many strategy gamers aren’t particularly interested in Crysis, and therefor they don’t upgrade their computers as often. Therefor extremely demanding strategy games aren’t as tempting. I don’t have a terrible computer anymore, but for a long time I couldn’t play HOMM5, so I just stayed with 4 and I was just as happy with it. I think Blizzard understands this. They don’t try to push the limits of what a computer can handle constantly, they’ve made a conscious decision to keep system requirements down. Starcraft can be played without a hitch on a P90! Warcraft 3 runs fine on my friends super-old Mac that he scavenged from a pile of computers that were getting thrown out at his university!

    Starcraft 2 will probably be the same, yet who would contest that it’s a triple-A title? In summary, I don’t think PC-gaming necessarily needs to become web-based to survive, but there’re a few issues that needs solving.

  • SwiftRanger

    @spelk: there is also Heroes of Newerth, a new game from S2, which apparently is a DotA clone. That’s probably what Tom meant. :)

    I am very curious about the kind of strategy web games Soren Johnsen and Brian Reynolds will come up with, and I also look forward to other experiments like Mythos (from Petroglyph) and how BattleForge will evolve. I really like a rare concept such as Demigod too but all that doesn’t mean that I think the rest of the strategy genre is stuck in a rut, especially not that traditional retail box business model or the basebuilding model.

    2008 was an incredibly poor year for strategy games on PC, aside from Sins of a Solar Empire/Twilight of the Arnor, but 2009 (Empire: Total War, Dawn of War II) seems to become almost as good as 2007 (SupCom(:FA), World in Conflict, CoH: OF). And what’s on the horizon (StarCraft II, C&C4, SupCom 2, Order of War, RUSE, Disciples III, Elemental) doesn’t even look to be standard stuff as well in most cases, not even the tried-and-true franchises since Blizzard takes a few creative risks with the StarCraft II campaign and Command & Conquer 4 sounds like one of the biggest (and most necessary) reboots ever.

    Perhaps there aren’t as many RTSs as there are shooters or third person action games but I am not really panicking.

  • Jimmy Brown

    “…the future of strategy games is online – whether you like it or not.”

    However, I tend not to do things I don’t like.

  • spelk

    @Swiftranger thanks for clearing that up, I guess Savage 2 must have done well enough for them to be able to carry on with the Newerth franchise into Facebook. I was a massive Savage fan when it hit, and I guess my knee jerk reaction was to pipe up about it when I heard Tom mention Newerth.

  • Michael A.

    Hmm… Iphone may be the hotness at the moment, but I think within a year or two, the “Google Phones” (running Android) are going to dwarf the Iphone as the platform for mobile gaming, for so many reasons:

    – Support from multiple vendors vs one vendor = better hardware for lower prices. You can also buy Android phones without idiotic user-locking agreements (did I mention how much I hate those).

    – Open vs proprietary closed technology = you can do stuff with Android that Apple won’t allow you to do on iPhone. Most importantly, you don’t need a Mac to develop for Android.

    – Android programs are Java programs. That makes it very easy to port software from pretty much any platform to the phone (the big hurdle, as always, being the UI). It also means that you have tons and tons of on-line game developers (whose games are usually Java), with the skill set to develop games for the phone right away.

    It’s still early days for the Android phones, but IMO there is no question that the user base for Android is going to outstrip iPhone in 1-2 years, and where the user base goes, the programmers (and the games) will follow.

  • Scott R. Krol

    That cat in the background made me think one of my cats was crying someplace.

    That’s the first I’ve ever heard anyone say that Panzer General originated in Japan. I think maybe the confusion is either (a) it also came out on the Playstation and 3DO and since Japanese developers dominated the PS the assumption was it came from the land of the Rising Sun or (b) there are several console games with Panzer in their title and the confusion is a mix up with another game. But no, Panzer General was an internal SSI design.

  • Ralph Lee

    Loved the illustrious guest. The discussions about the future of strategy games was interesting, though I wish you guys talked a bit more about the limitations of the “web” platform. Hope Soren comes on again soon.

    You guys mentioned briefly that the next episode is about sports management games–I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been playing Franchise mode of Madden since 2001 (yes, I’m part of the problem, I buy every year’s NCAA and Madden release), and I’ve been playing Sports Interactive’s soccer management games since Championship Manager 01/02 (They’re now on Football Manager / WWSM 09). Hopefully this time you guys will get around to playing the games or at least learning about them beforehand so you don’t have a League of Legends/Heroes of Newerth gaffe again :)

    PS: I didn’t realize Tom was such a luddite!

  • Alan Au

    Panzer General? I suspect Tom was thinking of the old Genesis RTS game Herzog Zwei.

  • Is 2010 The Year of Strategy Gaming?

    […] But what if sales are underwhelming? What happens to Gas Powered Games’ Kings and Castles if Supreme Commander 2 doesn’t perform up to expectations? The Command & Conquer team was already gutted by EA, so I think that that publisher needs big numbers to justify a presence in the genre. Yes, Stardock and Ironclad have shown that you can make a great strategy game or two without sinking millions and millions of dollars into it, but there is a AAA mentality that assumes you need AAA budgets for AAA publishers. (Soren Johnson talked a little about this in his podcast appearance.) […]