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Is 2010 The Year of Strategy Gaming?

March 8th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 15 Comments · Industry

Every now and then I like to plan a bit ahead. Look over the release schedule, line up ideas for Three Moves Ahead, try to angle for high paying interviews and features (and the occasional review) and just get a sense for where the year is going.

I will not have time to play all the big strategy games this year in nearly the depth I will want to. Look at this list.

Napoleon: Total War (out)
Supreme Commander 2 (out, but not at my house yet)
Command & Conquer 4
Starcraft 2
Dawn of War 2: Chaos Rising

Civilization 5 (assuming it isn’t delayed)
Victoria 2

And, of course, this list is full of sequels and franchise stuff. Only Elemental is original, and Stardock’s Brad Wardell has been leaking tidbits left and right on his Twitter feed.

I can’t remember a year this busy with major strategy releases, and, of course there are tons of minor ones. Rise of Prussia, Greed Corp, Toy Soldiers, Conquest of the Americas, expansions to Tropico and Field of Glory and Majesty 2…and god knows what else Matrix games and HPS Sims will release this year.

With all these big titles coming out, this could be seen as a do or die year for AAA strategy games. I’m writing up a conference call I did last week with EA’s Jonathan Bass, the design lead on Command & Conquer 4, and like many RTS designers he’s thinking long term about the state of the genre and how to both find a new audience to justify development costs and not lose whatever audience he already has – as the lead on a major franchise, he’s felt the fanbase pain.

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.)

That is business stuff, however, and I’m not really a business reporter. (If there’s one thing gaming journalism really needs, by the way, it is a qualified and knowledgeable business reporter. Someone who can read an SEC statement and knows the difference between a merger and an acquisition. But I digress.)

As a gamer, this is a big year and I only hope I have time for half of it. Tom Chick was right – we will not be running out of things to say on the show in 2010.


15 Comments so far ↓

  • Nikolaj

    I think there’s a good chance that Vainglory of Nations will also be out this year. It could possibly give Victoria 2 some real competition, which is funny, since Ageod is now owned by Paradox.

  • Troy

    Yeah, a chance for Vainglory of Nations. And there are certainly others I’ve missed.

  • Brian

    Any chance for a Tom Vs. Bruce Vs. Troy Vs. Julian Vs. Robb (or some combination thereof) for Dawn of War II?

    Or frankly, any of those games on the list. It would also be nice if you guys were to really get into a good Solium Infernum game like the Rock Paper Shotgun guys.

    Humorous after action reports of friendly strategy game matches are one thing the internet needs more of.

  • Richard

    Hi Troy. I think you missed Achtung Panzer and the
    ANNO 1404/Dawn of Discovery Venice expansion.

    Achtung Panzer looks especially interesting:

  • James Allen

    Some others:
    – Distant Worlds, a 4X game from Matrix Games, possibly out this month.
    – Storm over the Pacific, a grand strategy game from Wastelands Interactive, coming March 23rd
    – Making History II, coming Q2
    – Command Ops: Battles from the Bulge, Matrix Games, Q2
    – Combat Mission Afghanistan, Battlefront.com, Q2
    – Commander: Conquest of the Americas, Paradox, Q3

  • James Allen

    And speaking of Achtung Panzer, here is my review of it.
    And two more strategy reviews from me soon: Flotilla later this week, and Rise of Prussia next week.
    Lots o’ strategy, my friends.

  • frags

    When you have the RTS poster boy Starcraft 2 and the epic legendary turn based title like Civilisation 5 coming out on the same year, expect fireworks!

  • BryanP

    @Brian – Yah and I’d still love to hear the after action on a Sins of a Solar Empire game too!

  • Scott

    Maybe in 2010 we’ll have a Hearts of Iron 3 that’s actually playable! That’s almost like a new release!

  • Ginger Yellow

    Sins: Diplomacy too.

    “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.”

    And they wonder why AAA publishers are in such financial difficulty. Whether we like it or not, strategy games have a small and apparently shrinking audience – which may or may not be tied to their PC-centric nature and piracy. Publishers can either try to chase the mass market with huge budgets and fail 95% of the time, or they can tailor their expectations, spend less on assets and focus more on quality design and balance and appeal to people who actually like and pay for strategy games. Yes, I’m very sad that it doesn’t look like we’ll get a flashy sequel to Company of Heroes, say. But if 10 games of the quality of, say, GalCiv or Sins or Solium Infernum can be published for the same cost, is that really so bad? Men of War’s budget was probably a small fraction of Red Alert 3’s, but I know which I’d rather play.

    Also, there’s the small matter of Starcraft 2. I’ve got this nagging worry in the back of my head that it’s going to do to the hardocre RTS audience more or less what WoW did to the MMO audience, namely monopolise its attention for years on end. I hope it will play out differently, what with all the people who don’t even play RTSes mulitplayer, but I’m not so sure.

  • Gertjan

    Please pay attention to Distant Worlds, it looks to become very promising. It will come out at the end of March.

  • WCG

    What I’m most anxiously awaiting this year is the next version of Dwarf Fortress. I mean, it’s been a year and a half since the last release.

    OK, that might be a strategy/RPG hybrid, I guess I’ve never been good at categorizing games that don’t fit into a neat box. Who tends to play it, anyway? I like both RPGs and strategy games, so it’s hard for me to tell. But it’s certainly the game I’m waiting for.

    And I second the request for “humorous after action reports of friendly strategy game matches.” In these games, players are basically creating their own stories (even when they don’t write them down). I’m convinced that’s the future of gaming. Plus those AARs can be hilariously entertaining.

  • Brian

    That’s a good call, GY. We, as strategy gamers should be concerned that SC2 is going to point the RTS genre in a direction away from innovation just as wow did for (most) MMOs.

    Now that doesn’t mean there won’t be options out there. In fact, in a lot of ways WoW is encouraging innovation by people who don’t want to compete with that juggernaut. Plus, the RTS community has a lot more history than the MMO scene did when WoW showed up.

    There’s always Relic doing new things and reinventing the RTS. Endwar, as well. Even the new C&C is bringing some pretty strange things to the genre (moving bases? crazy!).

    We, as consumers, should be cognizant of the situation and support new ideas as they come.

    Of course, we’ll still be playing SC2 while we yearn for our innovations =)

  • Ginger Yellow

    “We, as strategy gamers should be concerned that SC2 is going to point the RTS genre in a direction away from innovation just as wow did for (most) MMOs.”

    Hell, I hadn’t even considered that angle. I just meant that all the people who would otherwise be playing a variety of RTSes online would instead be playing SC2 (and to a certain extent that this would lead to lower sales for new RTS games). I mean, at the moment there’s only 20 or so people playing CoH automatch at any given time (that I can see from my location, obviously). What’s it going to be like when people move on to SC2?

    I’m not too bothered about the innovation side of things, to be honest, as I’m in general a fan of the traditional RTS (just not so much the Starcraft approach) and I’m more worried about the genre abandoning base-building and economy management altogether. Of course, I’d like to see innovating games do well and sit along side traditional games doing well. My worry is that SC2 will simply suck up player time and money like WoW did.

  • Ginger Yellow

    See, this illustrates my point perfectly, albeit not in the strategy genre. Molyneux’s saying Fable needs to sell 5m units, therefore the game has to be dumbed down to meet the target. He’s got it backwards! Basing your design decisions on a sales target achieved by a tiny handful of games is insane. Come up with an interesting game design, work out its likely audience, and budget accordingly. Not the other way round.