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We all know that there have been attempts to create commercially successful MMORTS games, but all have failed. By failed, I mean that they didn't get really popular in the gaming community. Why is that?

What is an MMORTS?

It's like an RTS (a real-time strategy; Rome: Total war, Stronghold, StarCraft, WarCraft) but has an MMO component, meaning that you not only build your economy and industry, but you get to compete with other players doing just that in real time.

This interests me because I'm trying to make a game that is similar to an MMORTS as well.

Summary: what are the reasons that are stopping the MMORTS genre from evolving?

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I would argue that "you get to compete with other players" just makes it a "multiplayer RTS," which there have been several successful instances of. To qualify as "massive" one probably needs to have several hundred concurrent players at least. Persistent worlds are also typically a part of MMO games. –  Josh Petrie Dec 1 '11 at 17:10
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Also I don't actually know of any popular attempts to create an MMORTS commercially -- could you cite some? A cursory search reveals fairly meager results for me. –  Josh Petrie Dec 1 '11 at 17:11
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This question is probably too subjective: blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective –  Tetrad Dec 1 '11 at 17:15
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@JoshPetrie: I was talking about a persistent world, like World of Warcraft. MMORTS != MRTS. Also, I'm not sure either, that's why I'm asking, partially. I only know that there have been attempts. Tetrad: I'm sorry about that, but seeing that the community generally took it well, I'd beg you not to delete it. Also, I don't agree, this doesn't really seem subjective to me! thedaian: Well, I didn't hear about it, so yeah, it isn't successful (this can sound egocentric, but think about it - it really isn't). –  jco Dec 1 '11 at 21:37
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I recommend checking out the Extra Credits episode on this topic: penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/the-mmorts –  Foole Dec 2 '11 at 2:24
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4 Answers 4

up vote 26 down vote accepted

Update

For those interested, I did a write up about these problems and a few others, as well as possible solution. You can find it at my blog.


@JoshPetrie hit a lot of it on the nose, but I'll add a little to it as well.

Some friends and I a while back wanted to make a real MMORTS and went through the process of building a general game design outline that included features and a story and a few other things, and I can say from experience, transporting an RTS to a persistent state MMO presents a lot of difficult challenges for the genre.

For example, what would it mean to be offline? How does an entire civilization go offline? And what is to stop players from logging off when they are about to be rushed by another player? What happens to the land you own when you are offline? Are your buildings still there? Can people trade with you? Attack you?

What are the persistent goals? What is the point of the game in the long term? Build a big army? Build a civilization? For what purpose are you doing this? To fight other people? Where? How?

What happens if all of your civilization is destroyed? What does that mean? Do you revive? Do you have to start over? That would probably be frustrating.

What stops veterans with huge civilizations from destroying new players? What is a new player? Does the world just constantly expand? How much land do you get? When you conquer other players, do you get their land?

And there are a lot more questions just like these listed that crop up in taking an RTS to a persistent state. And that doesn't even touch on the MMO aspects and issues that crop up there. RTS, as the genre is now, is not made for a persistent state MMO environment.

Now, I will tell you, we came up with solutions for most of the above, so it isn't impossible. In fact, I would still be interested in some day seeing if I could get this to work. If anyone is interested in the solutions to some of these, I can do a write-up outside of this answer if you leave a comment. This answer, however, is long enough as it is...

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You/OP might want to check out a game like Kings of Chaos -- it is a text based game, but it offers answers to many of the problems you outline. Namely the persistant world, being "offline", etc. –  Nate Dec 1 '11 at 20:46
    
Hi, check my comment on @Josh's post, please, it mentions you as well. I'm accepting your answer simply because your addresses more issues, but both answers were great and helpful! (gave them a +1) –  jco Dec 1 '11 at 21:48
    
The online/offline thing is quite straightforward - you can't lose anything if the attack initiates while you are offline. If you are online and leave you stand to lose double of what the enemy takes (which you can contest via support - e.g. ISP problems). –  Jonathan Dickinson Dec 1 '11 at 23:13
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@JonathanDickinson There are still issues with things like that. First off, you'd always get support requests. Users would try to exploit that. And if they place a scout out in advance, then they can logoff before someone attacks. And world economy would be terrible if nothing is lost during an offline attack. –  Ktash Dec 1 '11 at 23:17
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@JonathanDickinson It's really not that straight forward, I chose a completely different solution! –  jco Dec 2 '11 at 14:31
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MMOs have significantly higher infrastructure and ongoing maintenance costs than non-MMO games, primarily because most MMOs also include a heavy element of persistence, and in the interest of ensuring integrity it's the developers or publishers who typically shoulder that burden.

Because of that, it's important to ask how the player will benefit from making the game in question an MMO. The business benefits are fairly obvious: extra income from subscriptions or microtransactions, et cetera. But those benefits only apply if you have players, and players will want to have fun, so it's important that your players can have more fun because your game is an MMO. Otherwise, it's likely not worth the overhead to add the MMO aspect to the game.

Thus, I would content that the reason you don't see a lot of high-profile commercial MMORTS attempts (at all, let alone successful ones) are because the RTS genre doesn't necessarily get that much more fun when you scale the gameplay scope up to include hundreds and hundreds of other players.

Many RTS games revolve around building mechanics, which perforce roots a player to a specific region of the world. RPGs can be more fun as MMOs because a player can explore the world more freely, and thus encounter and interact with other live players in a more emergent fashion. The fact that players remain relatively fixed in the world in most RTS limits the number of other players any given player may interact with.

The other major aspect of RTS games is unit control and coordination. Through this mechanism a player might be given more freedom to wander the world and encounter others, but unless the player is going to move all their units in one big swarm you have a serious problem with their attention being split (which implies some interesting technical challenges in terms of the amount of data that must be reported as well) between various groups of units that are scouting, attacking, et cetera over huge areas.

Probably you don't see may successful MMO RTS games because nobody has found a great way to make the critical parts of the RTS game type work within a massively-multiplayer scope in a way that actually adds to the fun of the game.

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Thank you very much! This was very helpful. My real motivation for asking this is that, as I said, I'm trying to make an MMORTS game as well. Your and @Ktash's answer really helped a lot. But, I think I found a solution to all of the problems you posed here: make an MMORPG/RTS. Basically, players have a character, but that character can build a limited amount of units (10 in my game) and an unlimited amounts of buildings, that can easily be destroyed by others while he's offline. This explains it better: bit.ly/t3tqMc and bit.ly/vfyAtZ. –  jco Dec 1 '11 at 21:45
    
@Bane I've edited my post and added a write up I did about some of the issues listed here and by me. More food for thought than anything. –  Ktash Dec 2 '11 at 0:47
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There has been a commercial MMO RTS released in Korea nearly 8 years ago, but it was essentially MMORPG + RTS.

MMORPG part of the game was you controlling a "General", fully customizable and you can go to town, talk to people in a massive world.

RTS part of the game was when you engaged other player Generals. The game screen changes to a full RTS.

Other player generals, not in the fight, can spectate but with a new game screen.

I am not sure if this game was a huge success but at the time it had several thousand players, and had in game items.

With regards to a MMORTS, I'd imagine it would consume insane amount of bandwith. And like KTash mentioned, there's so many design questions in regards to persistence, however I am more concerned with how you would possibly be able to control entire army in the real world with thousands of other player's army.

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Heres one too: gamasutra.com/view/news/36846/… –  Aralox Dec 5 '11 at 0:48
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4-6 player RTS's in games like War 3 or Starcraft can have a 20-30 minute play time.

RTS play typically has a couple ways it can go, because of the tiering of units:

  1. 0 min~10 min: Initial building and rush opportunity (usually lowest tier units). If game ends here, it was a "rush" victory
  2. 10 min~20 min: Sustained attack and expansion thwarting, if game ends here it'll be with mid-tier units
  3. 20 min~30 min or later: Epic battle with top tier units.

RTS games have short games, and the victor is decided early on due to key strategic mistakes or loss of a group of units, or just huge disparity in skill level.

So, how can an RTS work as an MMO? Slow time down? Then it'd be more boring, and probably difficult to sustain your audience (if your partner leaves or is afk for 5 min in an RTS you could lose the game. What if your partner were afk for 3 weeks in an MMO rts?).

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