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Europe – the stronghold of historical strategy

July 16th, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Of my three favorite strategy games so far this year, the top two were European. Darwinia is a British product and the flag waving Act of War is French. They are representative of a continuing trend in the genre. Europe is increasingly the source of our strategy games and the genre seems to be in decline in American development houses.

There is still, of course, the Microprose diaspora of Ensemble, Firaxis and Big Huge Games, but beyond the big three, there is Stardock, Stainless Steel Studios and little else. Mad Doc Software has done a bit of everything, including the recent Empire Earth II. Blizzard has put so much into the MMO basket, that there is little talk of another Warcraft or Starcraft. A quick browse of the E3 strategy lineup shows a major dearth of American talent.

Look at Europe. In the UK you have both Creative Assembly and Slitherine, both of whom do strategic games with a battle engine attached. The Germans tend towards economic development games and resource management titles (the Anno series, the Patrician games, etc.) Sweden has the reigning kings of grand strategy in Paradox Interactive and Eastern Europe has become the source of all kinds of resource driven RTS titles, led by Ukrainian GSC Gameworld, makers of the Cossacks series.

This coming year, German publisher CDV will publish Blitzkrieg II from Russian Nival Interactive and Codename Panzers: Phase II from Hungarian Stormregion. 1C has assumed the publication of many historical strategy games, becoming to Europe what Strategy First was for Canada, only with a much wider global reach. 1C has secured the European rights to Age of Empires 3 and will be the international distributor for XIII Century and Cuban Missile Crisis.

There is still a strong American presence in the wargame community, but the decline of that subgenre from the retail shelves means that its power in the strategy community is on the wane. You will be more likely to find a cut-rate Romanian WWII RTS or Anno 1703 at your local EB than the next large scale D-Day simulation.

The historical strategy genre is thriving in a dozen small houses in Europe and isolated to a few pockets here in the Americas. The consolidation of the game publishing industry in the US has meant that many publishers aren’t as willing to take risks on marginal developers in what is still seen as a niche genre (in spite of the huge mainstream sales of the Age and Civ series). If a US or Canadian publisher does want to take on a strategy title, it will usually be from a European developer where the costs are much lower than here.

Europe also appears to have a stronger market for these types of games. In spite of their blandness or finicky rulesets, both the Anno and Cossacks series have been huge hits in the Old World. Paradox first released Europa Universalis to huge audiences in Europe before trying the US market. Canadian developer Magitech has already found publishers for its Strength and Honor in Italy, Spain and Russia but has had little success in America.

Strategy games are still the biggest selling genre in America, according to the ESA, but that data includes The Sims – which is more simulation than strategy – and a plethora of tycoon games that really don’t fit into the historical strategy camp that grabs me. Without access to NPD data and similar data collection from around the world, it is hard to tell just how much of a market there is for my beloved subgenre.


One Comment so far ↓

  • Fuzzydevil

    I’m not quite sure I agree on the lack of a follow-up to any of Blizzard’s strategy titles. From what it looks like, the next of their major lines to receive a sequel – discounting Starcraft: Ghost, which is a spin-off to the Starcraft series – will be the Diablo series. I’ve heard talk that Starcraft 2 will follow on fairly swiftly after that, though whether that’s really in development, I have no idea. Rumours, all. Certainly makes sense looking at their track record, though.