MOBAs. MOBAs everywhere!
Every developer and their mums appears to be obsessed with MOBAs at the moment. After a humble Warcraft III mod became big business, the success of League Of Legends, DotA 2 and SMITE has inspired innumerable studios to jump on board with a lane-claiming Twitch-streaming gank-tastic contender of their own. From Dead Island to Magicka, The Witcher to Arena Of Fate, developers large and small want a slice of that big juicy pie.
And yet, to torture that metaphor to an inch of its life, the pie may be enormous but there really aren't many slices to go around. Indeed, I'm convinced that Riot and Valve may have already scoffed most of it, while Blizzard's waiting to chow down on the remainder.
On the face of things, creating a successful new MOBA should be a cinch. Players generally know what to expect, so just make some lanes, a few champions, then soft-launch and let Twitch take care of the rest. Unlike in-depth strategy games or MMORPGs, the limited skill palette and accessible gameplay should let loads of players drop in and simultaneously play a few in tandem, paying out for heroes and items as they go. Easy peasy.
Unfortunately that's bollocks.
MOBAs may be easy to play on a very basic level, but they require an enormous time investment from players before they can measure up to anything vaguely resembling a competitive standard. You'll need to spend an inordinate amount of both effort, practice and time just to master a single champion, not least because anything less than perfect mastery of your chosen hero will lead to letting your entire team down and likely starting a horrific shame spiral as the venomous chat window flares up. In practice, it's usually very difficult to regularly play more than one MOBA at any one time, as you've constantly got to hone your skills while keeping abreast of the new champions and any balance tweaks that require a complete strategy rethink. Not to mention committing your rotation to muscle memory.
Here's the thing: gamers are already playing that one MOBA now. League Of Legends and DotA 2 are enormous, intimidating, deep, free and utterly superb at what they do. They've got huge competitions and thriving communities behind them, who are now dedicated to their game of choice and often play either title to the exclusion of much else, having made plenty of regular friends and alliances along the way. Much like an MMORPG, you may occasionally have a dalliance with something new, but unless your friends move over en masse you'll eventually fall back into your favourite stable orbit.
Arguably it's futile to jump on the bandwagon now, even without also considering the enormous amount of balancing and painstaking design required to make a MOBA successful in the long-run. The genre isn't just over-saturated, rather it's actually difficult to consider as a genre in my personal opinion, rather it's a handful of massive games inspired by the original IceFrog mod and a host of clones that, sadly, may never aspire to be much more than a modest distraction.
We already have DotA 2, LoL and SMITE. Surely we don't need or even want any more.
Or do we?
On a more positive note, I absolutely don't feel that all of these 'me-too' efforts are doomed to fail. Not by a long shot! Some of the bigger projects will do exceptionally well indeed off the back of their brand and competency of their developers, Heroes Of The Storm and The Witcher: Battle Arena chief among them. When it comes right down to it, we want to play good games and will support titles that earn our respect through graceful monetisation and balanced design. Make a good game and we'll play the heck out of it.
However, for me, it's the hybrids that really stand to make a killing, adding new gameplay ideas to the formula rather than just changing some assets.Much as SMITE brings a new dimension to the traditional MOBA experience with its more intimate perspective and accessible shooter-esque gameplay, Gearbox' Battleborn plans to make cooperative gunplay the focus, Wizard Wars feels fresh and unique thanks to its spells and more organic territory control, while Bethesda's BattleCry is a very different kind of big-team multiplayer game. By blending aspects of different genres into the experience, there's scope to create something totally new while still providing the same fierce rivalry and intense teamwork players want from the sub-genre.
Make an insipid 'me too' clone cobbled together with a few assets from your current IP, however, and we'll barely bother to laugh at it before forgetting it ever existed. This latest MOBA craze is likely exactly that, a craze, but when the dust settles and the chaff blows away we'll still have plenty of big games, a few surprise hits, several fully-fledged eSports and some revolutionary hybrids to play for years to come, with countless failures all but forgotten.
Ultimately, though, what I think doesn't matter one iota. Do you need more MOBAs in your life or is the current craze already annoying you? Let us know in the comments!