The RTS genre will never be mainstream unless you change it until it's 'no longer the kind of RTS that I want to play,' says Crate Entertainment CEO

Image for The RTS genre will never be mainstream unless you change it until it's 'no longer the kind of RTS that I want to play,' says Crate Entertainment CEO
Art for Grim Dawn's Fangs of Asterkarn expansion. (Image credit: Crate Entertainment)

Crate Entertainment has been working its way through some very 'PC gaming' game genres: First it made an action RPG, Grim Dawn, then it made town builder Farthest Frontier (which is scheduled to leave early access sometime this year), and now it's also working on a real-time strategy game. Unlike some of its contemporaries, however, Crate isn't trying to crack the code to making a mainstream RTS megahit: Real-time strategy is a "nerd genre," Crate Entertainment CEO Arthur Bruno joked in a recent interview with PC Gamer, and he accepts the limited audience that implies.

The idea that classic-style RTSes don't appeal to the biggest possible audience today is widely accepted as common knowledge; it's the reason game publishers have been somewhat RTS averse since the golden age of the '90s and 2000s. During our chat, Bruno recalled how his plans to make a new RTS game were met with groans during a meeting with a certain well-known holding company.

"Maybe two years ago, I had a meeting with Embracer Group, who were kind of feeling us out for an acquisition," said Bruno. "I honestly wasn't really interested, because I don't want to work for anybody else in any capacity, but it's often educational.

"So, I go to the meetings to see what there is to hear. And they asked what we were working on, and when I mentioned an RTS, people visibly groaned, like, 'Ah, why would you work on an RTS?' You know, they said, 'An RTS is like PC-only by nature, why would you work on a single platform game when you could have made something multiplatform and another genre?' And I'm thinking, well the fact that you don't want to make an RTS is exactly the reason why it's a great opportunity for us."

(Regarding the state of Embracer Group today, Bruno laughed and replied, "I think I dodged a bullet there.")

The biggest companies are leaving genre gaps for smaller developers like Crate Entertainment to fill, in other words. Bruno thinks that's because big publishers are hoping for lightning-in-a-bottle hits that return 10 times their investment—"When you're operating at that scale, you want to build something that has the potential to sell 30 million copies," he said—and he doesn't think the RTS genre is ever going to produce that kind of success. If it did, he's skeptical the game in question would really be an RTS as he defines it.

"I look at interviews now with people who are working on RTS games at these other companies, and a lot of them are trying to figure out how to make RTS more mainstream," said Bruno. "And to me, I just feel like RTS is never going to be that mainstream. I mean, sorry to say it, but as much as I love it, it's a nerd genre, there's only a limited portion of the population that is ever going to be interested in that kind of game unless you change it to such an extent that it's no longer the kind of RTS that I want to play."

That's not to say RTSes can never be any kind of hit: StarCraft 2 sold many millions of copies, Bruno noted, and Crate Entertainment only needs to sell a million to make "an OK return," he said. The series has also been an esports phenomenon. But for a company like Blizzard, he doesn't think that's enough anymore, which is why the developer stopped making new RTSes, or at least seems to have for now.

Crate Entertainment's upcoming RTS hasn't been announced in a formal way—they've just let people know that they're working on it—and contrary to speculation that Bruno says he's encountered in certain Steam reviews, its development has not pulled resources away from town builder Farthest Frontier, which is set to get optimization improvements, a new tech tree, and other changes before its 1.0 launch sometime later this year.

During our wide-ranging discussion, Bruno also said he's encountered misconceptions about the size of Farthest Frontier's development team—it's not a big team, which of course is why Crate doesn't have to aim for tens of millions of sales—and expressed some frustration over comparisons he'd seen to the "solo developed" Manor Lords.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.