Take a break, MOBAs, because you're drowning us | PCGamesN

Take a break, MOBAs, because you're drowning us

Too many MOBAs

“We’re making a MOBA, an ARTS, a ZOMBA, a MOTA, a MOBAFPS,” is something we’re hearing a lot of these days. No IP or theme is safe. There’s one for Lord of the Rings, one with zombies and another with gods. Even EA is getting in on the action, and Blizzard, too. The heavens have opened up and we’re being drowned in MOBAs. 

Dear industry: please, slow down.  

I feel uncomfortable, sitting here and advocating the temporary cessation of a particular genre. But MOBAs are going through a cycle not unlike MMOs, just accelerated.

It led to all the creativity and possibilities inherent in the original concept of an MMO being set aside for a simple list of features that every game must have. And It’s happening at a quicker pace with MOBAs because it’s not a genre that was exactly filled with possibilities to begin with. These aren’t sandboxes or open worlds; they are built - almost all of them - on the same set of rules, with only a little bit of wiggle room between them. 

In all fairness, developers have made the most of that wiggle room. Smite, for example, changes the perspective and puts the focus on action, while the upcoming Battleborn is a MOBAFPS and promises a co-op campaign. 

But even when developers attempt something different, all it does is emphasize how similar all of these games can be. Temporary levels, lanes, creeps, bases and towers - the core of these titles tends to be identical, and they’re all feeding from the same trough, the same audience. 

When you say you like RPGs, that doesn’t mean anything. You could love turn-based fantasy RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin, or maybe you prefer heavy clicking and looting romps like Diablo III, or maybe you only get joy out of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. They’re all RPGs, but are only superficially similar. 

MOBAs lack that diversity. They are generally tailored to one audience, the same audience, and are thus designed to fulfill a very specific set of needs. These games stick to tried and tested designs, while occasionally adding ancillary elements to set them apart from the competition. 

Other niche genres - and MOBAs are definitely niche, even if they are big - don’t have the same costs that are involved in maintaining a MOBA, either. Constant patches, content updates, large customer support facilities, official tournaments - what once could have seemed like a cheap alternative to MMOs is no longer so. Even if development is cheaper, supporting them indefinitely is costly. 

As game development becomes more expensive and competitive, developers become more desperate. With Steam sales and Humble Bundles meaning that people can pick up your game for 75 percent off, less than a year after launch, how the hell do you keep making money? The answer seems to be F2P games with microtransactions, and almost every single MOBA has gone down this route. 

While straightforward purchases and subscriptions stay outside of games, microtransactions do not. It’s a business model that has to be built into the very fabric of the title. So all of these games are fighting for a few dollars here, a couple of pounds there, always upselling. They share mechanics and business models, and I just don’t see how there’s room for more of them, leaving their players empty handed and less likely to invest in the genre again. 

And there’s the eSports thing. Could you imagine a world where every single year, a half-dozen new versions of football appeared? I’m not talking about new sports or dramatic variations like NFL, football and rugby, but small twists on exactly the same sport. 

Cliff Bleszinski, who isn’t making a MOBA (although, being pedantic for a moment, BlueStreak certainly fits the acronym), made a very common sense remark in a recent AMA when he was asked about BlueStreak potentially being an eSport. “[Y]ou can't just make an Esport. It's like trying to force a meme, it doesn't work that way,” Bleszinski said. “You make an AIRTIGHT game first with a ROCK SOLID community and maybe, just maybe, you can make that leap.”

But making a successful eSports game has become such a tantalising prospect for MOBA developers that they’re forcing them in that direction before the game’s even launched. There are eSports tournaments for games that haven’t even launched. It’s like kicking off the World Cup before the grass has been laid or the stadium built. 

It’s only going to become harder for future MOBAs to make waves. That’s not going to stop the torrent, though. With Valve and Riot’s success, the genre is only going to get more bloated until it buckles under its own weight. There’s something cynical about this recent explosion. I don’t doubt for a moment that a lot of developers simply love MOBAs and want to make one themselves. But would they be doing that if it wasn’t for the ability for League of Legends to fill up convention centres and auditoriums? Would EA be publishing one?

There are all these boxes that MOBAs need to tick, and it threatens to limit creativity. But being creative in a genre dominated by two games that everyone has grown extremely comfortable with, that’s a risk as well. 

If it keeps on going, the incessant spawning of new titles, diversification seems like the only option. But how will that work? How do you make something that’s still obviously a MOBA, but bring in new players who wouldn’t otherwise dabble in that genre. Change too many things and it might not be a MOBA; don’t change enough, and it will still be competing with the rest of them for the same audience.

I don’t see a good end to this. MOBAs are not a passing fad, but this trend of everyone and their mum making them isn’t doing the genre any favours. Dota 2 and LoL can weather the deluge, but can the same be said for the games just getting their footing? Probably not. Maintaining a stable player-base is absolutely the most important things to any multiplayer game, and unless we start cloning players, there are going to be some mighty empty servers. 

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unwanted avatar13th |UKCS| avatarGangret avatarJezcentral avatarFraser Brown avatarAever avatar
unwanted Avatar
3 Years ago

Always happens in games. Something makes a bunch of money and people move quickly to copy the formula, all while not realizing that they are too damn late to the party. That and there is no "formula". It's luck and timing. Look at all the "WoW killers". All of the CoD clones.

Then DOTA 2 had a $932,528,020,582,052 (numbers may be off a little) tournament and everyone want a piece of the pie. DOTA and LoL already has most of it so everyone else are fighting over crumbs.

13th |UKCS| Avatar
3 Years ago

I don't mind MOBA games but I do feel that there needs to be a bit of a break in them. I did enjoy LoL for a time and enjoyed it, same with Smite, gave it a go and liked what I saw. But the developers really need to slow down with making MOBA games to contend with LoL and Dota 2. That or make their one stand out from the crowd and give us something different than just another run of the mill MOBA game

Gangret Avatar
3 Years ago

I rather agree with you Fraser Brown.

As said Unwanted, this kind of thing always happen in the gaming industry and this isn't surprising. But to my mind, there's a problem with the MOBA genre : MOBAs which try to be a clone of LoL or DOTA (LoL rather) try maybe too much.

Developers add mechanics to set oneself apart from the bigger MOBAs, but in reality these mechanics changes practically nothing to the gameplay, and the core mechanics are usually not better than these MOBAs.

The other thing which is "strange" is that most of these MOBAs don't try to create a different atmosphere or a different art direction. It seems logic because they want to be clones, but LoL and DOTA built their community and you can't steal them this community by creating a clone with the same art direction and the same gameplay mechanics (and which is worse than these predecessors).

For the moment, the MOBA which try to be different by their gameplay, mechanics or their art direction are:

-SMITE (Gameplay is drastically different, and this gameplay seems to work)

-Sins of a Dark Age (even in beta, the gameplay works pretty well and the Quests mechanic change drastically the situation of a game)

-Deadbreed (in beta, gothic atmosphere, items bought are displayed on the character, dungeons which allow your team to make extra cash but your defense are vulnerable, the sentinels which are your "ancient" and which attack the opponents, the daybreed - nightbreed and halfbreed groups : bonus according to the day time and the night time, special sentinels for nightbreed and daybreed, a hero's ultimate only works against nightbreed... )

Jezcentral Avatar
3 Years ago

Fraser: "With Steam sales and Humble Bundles meaning that people can pick up your game for 75 percent off, less than a year after launch, how the hell do you keep making money?"

Is this genuinely a problem? Is the "long tail" being cut off by Steam sales?

Anyway, I'm left cold by MOBAs, so this doesn't really affect me, but at least the genre (or at least its biggest examples), from what I can tell, seems to lend itself to cosmetic items, rather than pay-to-win.

Fraser Brown Avatar
3 Years ago

I think it can be a problem. It does encourage people to wait for sales that would have once seemed exceptional, and some developers and publishers are no railing against the trend, like Cliff Harris (Democracy) and Slitherine Group.

Certainly, how to remain profitable is a concern for any business, and in the case of MOBAs, it seems everyone has decided that F2P is the answer. Given the change in how we value games, I honestly can't say that it isn't. Though I do believe it becomes an issue when an entire genre follows exactly the same business model and the games offer few reasons to invest money in more than one.

Aever Avatar
3 Years ago

Well, when the two giants of the genre are F2P, it would be pure suicide to take another route (B2P or sub). Even Blizzard didn't dare to put a price tag on their game. That tells a lot.

As for sales affecting developers, I don't think we can know for sure what effect they have. I mean, yeah, people will wait for a sale, unless it's a major, super hyped, AAA title. I know I do. But on the other hand, more people will buy your game when it's on sale .. so more customers at a lower price or fewer customers at full price. I guess the way the balance tilts depends on each game.