Rockpapershotgun asked an interesting question last week: do you play RTS games online? The online part of RTS games is often the most important part from a developers side. Quite a few games only offer multiplayer, they can often be played singleplayer but it's really just multiplayer with bots. Demigod is a nice example. Yet only 23% of all gamers even tried to play online. A lot of people seemed to be surprised by these numbers but it didn't really surprised me. Personally, I only played a game or three of Demigod online and then went back to playing against bots.
Once upon a time things were different. Ten years ago I played nothing but Age of Empires 2 online for a year. It was great fun to match your own strategies with your opponents. I never got to be a good player but I did get better. Since then I haven't played that many online games. A game of shooty fun like Team Fortress 2 or Return to Castle Wolfenstein comes along now and then and keeps me playing online for a few months. And of course I played way too much WoW, I must have played that game for four years straight. But as for non mmorpgs I usually stick to single player games.
RTS games are especially hard to get into. It will easily take you months to be a competitive player. It's also a completely different experience than the single player game. You have to be way more aggressive. My usual singleplayer playstyle in these games is to build up an army while protecting my base and suddenly send them all in one big wave. That just doesn't work in multiplayer. The first few games that you play will without doubt end in being defeated humiliatingly. Most players will stop playing after these few games, only a few will persist.
And of course being good at starcraft does not mean that you will be good at age of kings. While being good at Quake 3 will make you decent in Unreal Tournament. And even if you suck a lot at a game like Unreal Tournament at least you'll get a few frags at the end of the run. You might be at the bottom of the list but you've killed someone, the end score might be 10-2. The RTS games will just show your score as 5-0.
These games require a serious time investment. Today I'd rather just start a game of TF2 for some quick fun. If you have played any shooter in the last ten years you can go ahead and have a few frags. TF2 is a prototype of a game that's easy to get into and hard to master.
That doesn't mean that I won't play any RTS games online anymore. When Starcraft 2 hits the shelves I'll go and join a few rounds online. And I'll probably get my ass kicked so badly that I'll just stick to playing against the computer opponents again. I'd also love to see more defense oriented games. Tower building games or turtle games such as Stronghold could get me to play them online. It's a niche market which has quite some potential. Whatever the niche, it would be great if a top game like Age of Kings gets me hooked for a few days. We can only hope.