Life, The Universe And Gaming: The MOBA Fad Is The WoW Fad All Over Again
And I’m getting a little sick of it now.
When will developers and publishers learn that copying something is not going to immediately make you as successful as that thing (unless the point is not to be successful but to simply chip away some fans?) and there is really no point because like with World of Warcraft, you will put out some great new product that will have all the makings of a game-changer — no pun intended — and then after a few weeks the novelty wears off and people just go back to raiding with their friends in World of Warcraft.
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Likewise for MOBAs, the League of Legends addicts will play League of Legends and the Dota 2 addicts will play Dota 2 — with some crossplay by League of Legends addicts who inevitably concede that Dota 2 is the better and more fun offering — but other MOBA games the likes of Demigod, Heroes of Newerth and more have come and gone, and will continue to come and go without making much effort at all, whatsoever. And nobody, not EA nor Activision nor Ubisoft, will be able to change that. So they should all just quit while they’re ahead and try to craft a different game instead of trying to make more games “like” Call of Duty, or World of Warcraft, or indeed Dota 2.
It just won’t work.
If only it were that simple — let’s take a closer look at things, for the pure purpose of further fleshing out a point that has already been made.
See as much as we frown upon developers who create effectively copy-pasta by taking all of Call of Duty’s features and putting it into their own games, there is a sizeable market of gamers who actually buy in to this kind of thing. Sure, it didn’t work with Medal of Honor but EA were disinclined to care given how well their Battlefield series was doing, or I assure you they would not have put a halt on new Medal of Honor games. Likewise, various other games have sold adequately well by simply copying the things that the Call of Duty games did. It didn’t require as much effort, it didn’t require a whole lot of innovation, and it still ended up in some form of sales even if the games themselves did not actually win critics over, nor last long in the eyes of gamers. Homefront.
On the other side, games that try to copy World of Warcraft effectively waste their time because players will decide to try it out, and once the novelty wears off, go away. We’ve seen this happen with so, so many MMOs over the years. Who even still remembers Tabula Rasa, or hell, Star Wars: The Old Republic? Now the recently released The Elder Scrolls: Online is rumoured to be headed to free-to-play soon. Only Guild Wars has survived, staggeringly. And the thing is, hosting charges for servers do exist so games that cater to multiplayer audiences need to have some form of income.
This is where games such as League of Legends and Dota 2 have done it ingeniously. Mind you, the advent of the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena is something that a lot of actual DotA players have seen coming for years, in quite the same way that comic book readers are now turning up all over the place going, “See, you guys? I told you this shit was cool!” Not that anybody actually cares who was there first, even though they totally should.
League of Legends and Dota 2 manage to be almost entirely free to play, with their own spins on generating revenue. LoL offers players a roster of champions to choose from per day, while allowing them to either unlock through playing or simply buy out the ability to play a particular favoured hero. Dota meanwhile offers players a whole range of accessories for heroes as well as announcer packs, loading screens, user interfaces and even weather effects. Using The Compendium — basically a collector’s item in-game that unlocks a bunch of stuff upon purchase and then unlocks further stuff the more you invest either money or play-to-unlock compendium points — Valve managed to raise well over $10 million for The International 4, which is taking place right now.
To put that into perspective, the total prize pool for the FIFA fucking Football World Cup that recently ended, was $34 million. That’s right, a game that has effectively been around for around ten years now but only recently hit the international eSports spotlight making it something of a new entry in the eyes of the world, has managed to raise a third of the prize money that was available for the world’s biggest sporting tournament; and our one doesn’t just happen once every four years.
I recently read an article on a local site about why the #TI4 prize pool could be bad for eSports and while every single one of the points raised were outright ridiculous, with very little in the way of proper research or substantiation, there actually was a point that went entirely missed: Other developers will want to get in on that money and the result is an oversaturation of the MOBA market.
It makes sense given how Call of Duty clones exist and are somewhat successful, to copy the MOBA formula and hope to chip away some fans… it just makes a lot less sense when you think of exactly how a developer can hope to do that when everybody is already playing either LoL or Dota. Even Heroes of Newerth couldn’t survive; it only ever became popular in the first place because there wasn’t already a Dota 2 around back then, and not everyone wanted to play a years-old game in Warcraft III anymore. But then we must also consider that there are server charges because a MOBA is an online experience; now it makes even less sense because you’re putting out something to compete with a game that everyone can already play, and for free, and you’re telling them to try out your product instead. But you can’t really charge for it, and you need to have players before you can pander to them, so how exactly is any profit made at all?
Unless a new MOBA goes the route of LoL and Dota 2 in making a sport out of the game itself; LoL has ‘seasons’ while Dota 2 has The International, there’s just no way I can see a profit being made here.
To their credit, at least some MOBA offerings have unique spins and are confident in doing their own thing; consider the ultimately lacklustre but still admirable Awesomenauts, or indeed the DC Comics inspired Infinite Crisis, which is literally a MOBA featuring DC Comics characters including a vampiric Batman. Other games? Not nearly as captivating or original. So how can they exist?
As far as creating something out of nothing, it seems that Blizzard and Valve are the joint rulers of the niche world. They gave us Hearthstone and made us love card games again; Left 4 Dead and made co-op zombie-killing with friends cool; Portal and made puzzle games fun again; even created genuinely exciting RTS games with the recent StarCraft additions. Hell, no pun intended, Blizzard even saved face with the recently released Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. But they’re the only two developers I can think of who are capable of such feats, and even Blizzard’s upcoming MOBA is looking questionable at best.
The rest? I mean, why are they even bothering when everybody and their unborn babies already know that their MOBA offerings will fail? Who is the deluded decision maker at all these development houses convincing the team that they can get a piece of the Dota/LoL pie? Better yet, do you, beloved reader, think they stand anything even remotely resembling a chance? I’d sincerely like to speak to someone who feels that more MOBAs would be a good thing, apart from the fact that there would be more ‘free’ games around, although just how free they are remains to be seen. Share your thoughts in the comments.