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?
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.
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!