OSG and RTS: A Comparison

Although there are many OSGs these days, the genre wouldn’t be where it is without the mass of RTS games that have come before. So what makes them alike and what makes them different?

Multiplayer Aspect:

This is one aspect in which the genres differ greatly. RTS online games are fast, frenzied affairs that can last mere minutes. We all remember Zerg rushes from the days of Starcraft. At times it can seem more like who can click the fastest or who remembers all the hotkeys better rather than who has any kind of strategy. Additionally, games are usually played against only a few other players at a time, or even one on one. OSGs are all massively multiplayer, so there are thousands of other players at any given time in a particular game. It can take days, weeks or even months to solve conflicts- if they ever get solved at all. Alliances are a huge part of OSGs as well. In order to succeed at an OSG, you simply cannot do it alone. Even if your army might be the biggest on your server, even a small alliance could easily team up to take you out. An RTS 1v1 battle is really just a race to who can build the bigger army quicker. OSGs also encourage interaction between players and alliances in the form of trading and diplomacy. Players can trade goods back and forth, and alliances are encouraged to talk to one another. In an RTS, teammates may talk to each other to discuss strategy, but communication between enemies is usually kept at a minimum.

Resource Management:

Both RTS games and OSGs share a need to amass as many resources as rapidly as possible- and to keep those resources coming for the duration of the game. In OSGs this is usually done through specific buildings or fields that really don’t even need to be watched- once they’re built, they’re just going to keep producing resources (wood, stone, etc). A key difference with OSGs is that the resources are usually infinite; a cropland will keep producing crops indefinitely. In most RTS games though, resources are a limited commodity and running out is a very real possibility, if not an inevitable one. For this reason, the battle between RTS players usually comes down to territories and the resources found therein. This is one of the main driving forces behind the need to expand your empire. Although not as major, another difference is that RTS games often require specific “worker” units to be built to collect resources; this takes away from overall army size and forces the player to micromanage resource production. In most OSGs, however, these units don’t usually need to be built, and resource production is usually as simple as upgrading the appropriate buildings.

The Need to Expand:

In both genres, the player must expand to be competitive. The more cities or bases one has, the more money, and thus, the bigger army. In OSGs, there is no fear of running out of resources, but at the same time, you need a whole lot more and a much bigger army in comparison to RTS games. In Lord of Ultima, for instance, the system is designed to let you expand anywhere there is an open space on the world map. It is possible and in fact encouraged to devote entire cities to the production of one type of resource or one type of unit, but to utilize them all as a whole. As mentioned above, expanding in RTS games is usually due to a need for increased resource production and/or the depletion of resources at your home base. The newly founded bases in RTS games are not necessarily permanent either- they are usually hastily set up and very vulnerable to the enemy’s attack, since they are probably seeking to expand on the very spot that you just did. The “fog of war” found in so many RTS games makes actually finding the right place to expand an issue to consider as well.

The “S” Stands for Strategy:

What exactly is the strategy in both of these strategy genres? At face value, it’s all about getting the biggest army, and laying waste to your enemy through superior firepower. The difference is that in OSGs, the emphasis really is placed on the size of the army- in fact, to be successful a lot of the time, you need to combine your army with that of your allies’, and overwhelm the enemy with shear numbers. In an RTS, army size is still very important, but the army can only get so big. And in comparison to an OSG, it’s usually not very big at all. So from there it becomes more about choosing the right unit types to defeat your enemy, as well as a race to see who can do it first. It can almost be a rock-paper-scissors type match; i.e., the enemy has guard towers? Build the game’s equivalent of catapults that stay out of range. They have mechanical units? Build the magic ones that do extra damage to them. In an OSG, however, what generally matters most is just having more units.

Anything to add to this list? Disagree with something? Let me hear it!



Competitive OSG?

Competitive OSG
– by Jonah Alexander

With the Starcraft 2 beta out right now and the release coming in July, I was thinking about the tournament scene for the first game in that series and wondering why they can’t have something like that for OSGs. Let’s divulge for a minute and look at the pros and cons of a hypothetical browser-based-strategy-game league.

As for pros, everyone would have a chance to compete (emphasis on chance) since you don’t need a super computer or to even buy the game. Plus, the type of attention that comes with a big name tournament could do wonders to bring more popularity to the OSG genre. Plus, the extended nature of the gameplay could play nicely into the season format of a league.

Unfortunately, I can also think of a lot of reasons why an OSG league probably won’t come about any time soon. For one, even though I think the extended gameplay I mentioned earlier could work for a season scenario, let’s face it, the slower gameplay of these games, wouldn’t make for quality viewing.

Real-time-strategy games like Starcraft are much quicker paced, and if all the spectators are waiting an hour for the barracks to level up in a live match — well, you get the point.

If they did have a tournament like this, I seriously doubt that someone could just record the match and throw it up on T.V., much like Starcraft tournaments air in Korea.

However, If someone heavily edited the footage to show more of the action parts of the game it might work. Perhaps, even, if everyone who’s competing had a certain amount of time in rounds to get as much as they can get done. Episodes could be scheduled like that, but, in the end, it might be a bit too restricting.

Another barrier I can think of is the genre itself is still gaining steam here in the States…slowly. A lot of “gamers” haven’t heard of any strategy games outside of Evony and they only know of that game for its ads. It’s hard to have a competitive league if people don’t know about the game, let alone are fans of it.

A tournament scene might be some how possible in Europe where Travian is really big, much like, again, how Starcraft tournaments are mainly big in Korea. Just check out this video.

If a developer can make a game that is a huge hit here in the U.S. then I’m sure people will think of all sorts of ways to promote it, such as tournaments. I fear, however, that if this were to happen, the gameplay style would have to change to be a lot quicker, and thus, it might not even be an OSG anymore.

Of course, the real-world money that people spend to shorten construction times in most OSG’s wouldn’t be used in tournaments, so perhaps if there was a way to compensate for the time difference of removing those from play, while still keeping the same feel of the games, then we’d have something.

Well, it looks like we have a long ways to go before we see competitive Travian or Ikariam on TV, or at least streamed on the Internet, but I’d be into it. If there was a tournament for an OSG, would any of you be interested in competing or watching it?