I’m usually sceptical when it comes to a MOBA announcement. I’m not falling into the hype the publisher or studio tries to artificially impose on the viewers of their Youtube trailers. I consider myself to be “on the fence” about them.
Basically, the “game quality law” still applies to this genre. If its good, its gonna be played; if it’s bad, it will be abandoned shortly thereafter; if it’s extremely good, it will become long-lived. That's it.
The problem I have with MOBAs it’s not the mechanical aspect of the genre nature, nor the art style, graphics, platform, or even how much announces there are. It is the purpose it fills inside a publisher/studio plans: to become through eSports a long-time and steady source of income. They are being made in masse due to the huge amount of popularity games like League of Legends, StarCraft and Dota 2 have gained in the last years, mixing some FPS mechanics to appeal to the mass markets, and expect a profit in the medium term while they “beta-test it” lurking for players data to where put the “buy” buttons.
Add that a false sense of passion made by the team, some kind of hype for the open-beta, tell the audience what your game does differently, try to push console version if you can, and there you have it.
This is the recipe for the next MOBA announcement. Well, you can add some “strategy” to it, because, well… what is a MOBA without strategy.
There is too much
Personally I’ve been tracking some announcements from studios and publishers in my free time. It seems that the companies are trying to push MOBAs where they can in a short time-period of development, while others without the time are trying to push their games into the eSports scene, failing to do so in some way.
About that, I remember sometime ago when in a E3 publishers tried to push some “eSportsence” to games like Shootmania Storm, Call of Duty and, lately, Rainbow Six: Siege.
eSports are not “conventional sports”. It's basically a well-established league of games which people prefer to play as a competitive game, with higher stakes, great sums of money involved, and a sense of professionalism, instead of a casual hobby with more responsibilities than the average match. That’s it, at least, for me, works as a concept of eSport. Where they conceived as an eSport in less than a year? For Defence of the Ancients, the genre where League of Legends and Dota 2 are directly based, took more than a decade to establish as the perfect eSports game. Trying to do the same in less than 12 months is just to be silly and have a laugh.
Those games established as competitive games are: League of Legends, Counter Strike, StarCraft II, and Dota 2. The amount of tactics, economy, precise control and timing is immense in these games. Learning curves are steep enough only see rewarding playability only when high investment of time are made, but in these games every match unique and entertaining in some way or another.
But the crowd can only support MOBA so much. Since some time now, the genre has been proliferating with some big investments:
- Battleborn (Gearbox, 2K Games) [PC, PS4, XO]
- Gigantic (Motiga, Microsoft) [PC, XO]
- Supernova (Primal Game Studio, Bandai Namco) [PC]
- Warhammer 40k: Dark Nexus Arena (Whitebox Interactive, Games Workshop) [PC]
- Master x Master (NCSoft) [PC, Korea only]
- Arena of Fate (Crytek) [PC]
And that’s is adding up to games already on the wild like Smite, Heroes of the Storm, Golden Rush, Overwatch, Magicka: Wizard Wars, Panzar, Prime World, Sins of a Dark Age, Strife, Super MNC, just to name a few. Some have been around more than a year, others are gonna be available “soon”.
I don’t think that this kind of competition is bad per-se. I mean, in a market dominated by few this list only adds pressure to these Top 5 games, ensuring they don’t become stalemate in terms of economy, community and playability. If that happens, one of these games will gladly fight for its place. Add to that the possibility that a very bad decision made by the studio or publisher could disrupt the community or fan-base, enough to shift the fan-base focus to another similar game. If you don’t believe that just ask to S2 Games how the gladly fucked up Heroes of Newerth, leaving the community ready to go to games like League of Legends, Smite and Dota 2. Even Strife, their new “next-gen MOBA” mean to replace it isn’t getting lot of attention, moving less than 1% of what Dota 2 can in terms of player-base.
But too much is too much
It seems that 2017 will be a year where only few games will remain, thus being 2016 a critical year where this list will try to snatch and secure a player base. You can’t be in beta too long and have months without important content to a game genre that bases is fertility, balance, and longevity on variety. But that is only one corner to cover; transforming the player base into a community has to be one of the most important jobs for them; if they want people to care about the game and spends dollars on it, that is. There is no chance for a guy who plays time-to-time to give it a few bucks when he knows he can become uninterested after few weeks, with no community nor friends, or worse, knowing the administration is fucking up the game or going the one-time-cash-grab route. Titanfall and Evolve comes to mind.
Eventually the MOBAs bubble will explode like the FPS did not long time ago, leaving only AAA juggernauts or annualised-franchises on a tired market striving for relevance every time to time, leaving space for other “first person” genres to have an opportunity (especially when it is not November), like Survival Horror, First Person Driven Narrative, and probably the more famous at this time, Crafting & Looting games like DayZ, Minecraft and ARK: Survival Evolved.
I expect Dota 2 and League of Legends to become the base of games for here onwards, but probably in 10 years the eSports scene will shift their attention to other games if they don’t become the next “soccer”. Who knows if in the future, VR will become the norm and we will be playing the next MOBA with your hands instead of a joystick, or keyboard. In the meantime, I’ll grab my popcorn and see who wins and who fucks up.