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The Future Of Strategy Games

Game Developers Conference 2011: In The Trenches
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One very interesting panel discussion was titled “Strategy Games: the Next Move.” Moderated by veteran game writer Tom Chick, it featured a stellar panel.

From left to right, Jon Schafer, Ian Fischer, Soren Johnson, Dustin Browder and Tom ChickFrom left to right, Jon Schafer, Ian Fischer, Soren Johnson, Dustin Browder and Tom Chick

Two lead Civilization designers were on the panel, Jon Schafer (Civ 5) and Soren Johnson (Civ 4). Dustin Browder was the lead for Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty and Ian Fischer, who designed and managed the launch of Age of Empires Online and worked on the Age of Empires franchise at Microsoft Studios, is with Robot Entertainment,.

Strategy gaming is in both a golden age (with a vast array of small, medium, and AAA titles available to all types of players) and yet going through the same painful transitions as the rest of the industry. The traditional model--a monolithic game, shipped in a box (or delivered digitally), followed by expansions--is still doing well, as witnessed by Starcraft II. But experiments with DLC have had mixed results with Civilization V, trying to drag a reluctant user base into a business model more familiar to console games.

Meanwhile, free-to-play games like League of Legends are going gangbusters, making their money of the sale of in-game items and characters. Finally, social games on Facebook and other related sites are hugely popular. Soren Johnson is working on a Facebook game for Electronic Arts based on the Dragon Age universe, called Dragon Age Legends. Johnson fervently hopes that Legends will be the Facebook game for more hardcore gamers, yet still have the social elements that have made other Facebook titles so popular.

Even so, small games from indie developers are also doing well. Games like Solium Infernum, AI Wars, and Bronze have captured the imagination of many players, while being developed by small teams (or individuals in some cases). And yet they're excellent games in their own right.

In the end, strategy gaming has made something of a comeback from the time where it looked like all we’d ever see were the same old RTS clones. The future looks bright for strategy gaming, but it’s also likely that what comes out tomorrow may look quite different than what we’ve been playing all these years.

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