Recently with two games I’ve been enjoying, Act of Aggression and Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, I have run into some of the systems in the game that I wanted more information on. I looked within the game itself and didn’t really find any help so I turned to internet looking for an official website with what I was looking for. I was quickly disappointed for when I arrived at the Homeworld website I found this:
The website looked nice and was running great, but had almost zero non-promotional information related to the game. I was frustrated by this but as a child who grew up playing games in the 1990’s I knew the power of fansites but was shocked to find none, only a short wiki with no mission walk throughs, unit information or much beyond the lore. This left me with only the deep, dark hole that is reddit. I decided to take a break and study some Act of Aggression. I found the official website quickly and there was hope:
Huzzah, there was both a section about the game as well as two sections on the community and forum, this is a good start. I love chatting with members of a game’s community so I head to the forums and am again pleasantly surprised to see a fairly active community and an organized forums section. I head over to the section titled “The Game.” I’m very happy to see eight sections! Okay so maybe the shop is just promotional and meant to sell things rather than inform but I still have hope.
So I start browsing, the About, Battle, Base Management and Campaign sections are vague, but they they don’t want to spoil the story and such right? But when it comes to the different factions and multiplayer, you want to advertise and explain that stuff right? They put a nice video about each faction right away which explains the style of each army but I’m sad to see the units and tech tree are still “Coming Soon.” After spending some time with the site I walk away knowing nothing new about the game despite having some series questions about the tech trees and a few basic systems in the game. Frustration sets in again.
A few weeks passed and this topic of game websites popped into my head again. I was frustrated, why didn’t these complex game have the resources to explain the systems of their games, even to a real time strategy veteran like myself? Now there does exist an independent group of sites which were sort of helpful but a lack of basics on story, factions and tech trees was dumbfounding to me. Even looking back in time at older games it was similar, so this isn’t a new problem, but it’s confusing to me. I guess in the late 1990’s the internet was still kind of new and games all came with manuals that had lore, history, units, etc. Some companies int he past have done well, Westwood had a number of thorough websites for their games so there is precedent but even companies like Ensemble and Relic have had less than educational websites.
With this topic rattling around in my brain I set out to find a quality RTS website, I looked at old games and new ones. Since I consider myself somewhat familiar with most games I also wanted the opinion of someone not really experienced with real time strategy games who can give an unbiased opinions. Thankfully I have a wonderful and willing wife. A few key things she was looking for in a site that she felt were necessary for new players:
- Story background and key people/places/things
- Pictures and videos are a good thing
- Information on each faction i.e. how they play, units, tech trees and what makes them fun
With these three foundations in mind we went hunting. Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak failed pretty miserably, meeting none of the three pillars. Even the story section was literally two sentence. Next we revisited Act of Aggression’s site, that was a bit better. They had blog entries about various campaign characters, though there was only one so far. Bare bones but at least there was something there. We also liked that there was a video for each multiplayer faction but was disappointed to see no information beyond that about faction difference or progression systems as the match progresses. Overall it was an improvement over Deserts purely for having a good foundation but lacked much depth.
The Age of Empires 2 HD, Company of Heroes 2, Total War series and Planetary Annihilation had even less information than Homeworld, often talking more about the developer than the games themselves. Series like Supreme Commander and Command and Conquer no longer have official websites. I have hope with Grey Goo, it’s traditional style and old school developers should love websites! Again, disappointed.
My wife comments “You can’t say ‘we give you strategic freedom!’ but then not say how, that’s just a waste of space.” I kind of agree, one sentence descriptors without context are just space fillers. Grey Goo gets even worst as you go down, they present each race with a web chart but reuse it and just relabel it. Now I did discover, thanks to the wise Wayward, that Grey Goo has two official sites and my wife and I had found the wrong one, which may also be a flaw, so we decided to investigate this later.
Next we looked at two games in Servo and Offworld Trading Company that fared better. Both did a good job at giving us background on the premise of their game and story, answering questions and presenting their gameplay. Again those in-game progression systems are not explained.
We continue searching and thanks to a few suggested games we stumble upon the Battle Battalions site. Now Battle Battalions is a non-traditional RTS created by a smaller company, but surprisingly it had the best website so far. My wife was a bit put off originally since it didn’t have the fancy graphics or flow of some other, higher budget sites, but quickly found what she was looking for. Despite no story to speak of, we were still happy to find a page entirely dedicated to each unit, this was amazing. Their encyclopedia even gave on how to use the units more effectively. Now it didn’t have tons of data for each unit but just showing pictures and tips for each units was really helpful for my wife. We ended up spending about half an hour on the site reading about each unit and watching tutorial videos they had.
This gave me great hope as my wife and I came to our final site, and the one I knew most intimately, Starcraft 2. I purposely did Starcraft 2 last because I know it, like with past Blizzard game sites, was very good. I hadn’t sat down with the site in a while though and wanted to see how it stacked up to our recently created qualifications. So we long on and we are greeted with nothing too fancy compared to a few other sites we’ve seen.
My wife is happy there is a whole section on game media, as she has for other game sites, so we start there. There is the traditional fare of Shop and Forums along with two Starcraft 2 specific tabs in eSports and Arcade (a free segment of the game supporting user create mods and games). But we’ve been fooled in the past, having a segment about Game doesn’t always mean they have quality information. What’s this, a pull down tab!? Okay so we’ve got options, we like options. Broken into three parts we see the list has options we’ve seen in other game’s menus, so Starcraft isn’t alone in this aspect.
As we look down this list we see the sections my wife really wanted:
She was a bit confused by the last section but I explained what patches were and how Grandmaster had to do with the multiplayer ladder she said she didn’t care and wanted to move onto the other sections. When we clicked on Game we were greeted by a pretty comprehensive page of information.
Right away we see a nice, simple section titled “What is Starcraft 2?” and it takes use to a variety of videos about the story, campaigns and faction styles. From here we spend a lot of time looking at the story and lore of Starcraft, getting background on the main characters, locations and motivations behind each faction. My wife loved this part since she enjoys the story within game universes a lot. We spent a lot of time here as she learned about a lot of the key events that had happened, important people and the wars that had gone on during the games.
But the majority of this index deals with the multiplayer aspect of the game. They give an overview of each race where they give a paragraph or two introduction of each faction, show that factions “characteristics” or what sets them apart and then presents the units and characters of that faction. My wife has played some Starcraft before but she nodded a lot while reading what separates the Terran’s play style from that of the Zerg or Protoss. Knowing the Terrans have more freedom of where they can build and that some buildings can fly sparked her interest to try Terran again whereas she had only enjoyed Protoss before.
For each faction they then give us a breakdown of each unit, what that unit’s strengths and weaknesses are, lore and their statistics. For my wife this was incredibly cool because I’ve gotten her to play a variety of RTS games but often she’ll make a unit and have no idea what it’s good for. This was especially true when she played Grey Goo where she enjoyed the gameplay but got tired of building things and losing it all because she didn’t understand the role of those units. That is where a bit of info like this is good for:
Now a few days later we went and visited the second Grey Goo site and were surprised by it’s quality, it’s what I was hoping from old school developers. Clicking on the Game Info tab opened a very transparent menu with each faction, the option to look at their tech trees, units, characters and more. Plus there is also sections on the lore, which was a big win for my wife. I will fault for making their indepth site harder to find and having much lower SEO than its promotional web site I am very glad this site exists. It hits just about everything we wanted, has the tech tree and unit lists, explores the lore and universe of Grey Goo and is visually appealing.
After we browsed through about a dozen official real time strategy game sites from both large and small publishers, we sat and talked a bit about it. Our two favorite sites were Starcraft 2 and Battle Battalions while games like Act of Aggression show effort and potential but the all too common “Coming Soon” was all over their site. In a year that site could be great, but right now it’s just a little sparse. But in the end we disliked sites like we saw from Company of Heroes 2 and Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak. My wife pointed out that she’d understand a game produced by a small company having a weak site but when I told her of the pedigree of these two companies and their publishers and she was surprised. She did say the sites looked nice and had a nice flow but had almost no information about the game itself and if she wanted more information about the game that site would not sell her on the game much.
One thing we both noted that not all games can have the lore and story sections like we saw on the Starcraft 2 page. Battle Battalions had no story to speak of but still had a nice site while a game with rich lore like Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak could greatly benefit from a story section. The Deserts campaign was good and had quality characters and story, sad to see it not represented at all. But we did note that games with shorter campaigns or a campaign that doesn’t rely on lore, that’s not as vital. But if you have a good story with good characters, show it off.
We also took note that there are community sites for these games, most better than their official ones, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. If I make a game and am a new product or title, I want my site to be as comprehensive as possible so that when people search my game that my site is a one stop site. I’m not against community sites, they are often vital for a games survival, but having your official site be a place new players can browse and learn is a valuable tool that I think is often lost.
With some of the biggest complaints of real time strategy games arising from their complexity, developers and publishers should try and provide as many tools and information as they can. New or curious players want to learn about the game, let’s not make it hard to find information about how to play it.