What’s next for MOBAs?


Tomorrow is a big day in the gaming world. Tomorrow, more than a million people will have made a decision to either renew or cancel their subscription to SWTOR. I say it’s a big day because Star Wars was heralded by many as the “next generation of MMOs.” In my experience, it’s little more than single-player RPG wrapped around a near exact clone of a seven-year-old game. Nearly everyone I know who was interested in the game at one point either cancelled at pre-order or have cancelled in the first month. I think a lot of that can be attributed to the lack of innovation — people just know the current MMO scene too well for even a kickass license like Star Wars to save a game.

How does this relate to the MOBA/ARTS genre? MOBAs are about to be in the same position SWTOR is currently in. There are several highly successful models in the genre, but for something to be successful in the next few years, I think it will really have to innovate. I’ve been looking forward to DotA 2 for a long time, but I know the map and most of the heroes so well that I still find myself bored with the experience. Blasphemy, I know, but I like a little variety and sometimes the hero list just isn’t enough.

For a while I thought Dominion might be the answer, but a few months after that map launched it started to drop off the radar. Obviously I don’t have usage stats, but I know they aren’t what Riot would like them to be. I still enjoy Dominion on occasion, but it just wasn’t enough.

One thing I would really like to see is game mode variety. The original DotA had some truly fantastic variations (my personal favorite was -dmarem). I would love to have different options for games with similar developmental arcs to a Classic Summoner’s Rift or DotA match with some different game mechanics.

What do you see for the future of the genre? Will we be stuck with a branching DotA-clone, LoL-clone future or is the next big MOBA development something else entirely?


MOBA competitors are gunning for LoL

This isn’t exactly fresh news, but I do think it’s interesting to see some of the tactics employed to unseat League of Legends as king of the MOBA world. As you probably heard, Heroes of Newerth went free-to-play over the weekend. The rollout included some interesting ads on various gaming sites. One such ad encourages players to “stop laughing” and “get serious.” I can only imagine that’s a dig at the LoL acronym everyone is using for League of Legends.

The more serious threat is obviously Valve and DotA 2. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the game would be unveiled at Gamescom – there had been rumors about the tournament for weeks – but the prize purse for the tournament shocked me. For those who aren’t up to speed, Valve is flying the top 16 DotA teams to Germany to compete for a $1 million prize purse. Yes, again, a million bucks. That’s not buy-a-new-computer-and-pay-for-college-supplies money. That is life-changing money, money that could support a professional gaming career into the forseeable future. The benefit to Valve for making that commitment is obvious – they want every competitive team to come play DotA 2.

Will it work? Absolutely. I cannot imagine any of the top teams in competitive strategy games not taking a crack at DotA 2 with that kind of prize purse available. As for HoN, well, I think the game has enough barriers to entry that players entrenched in other games are unlikely to leave.


The things we take for granted

League of Legends champions.

Riot senior producer Travis George put up a post on the forums yesterday evening asking what Riot had been doing well lately and for suggestions for improvements. It was a really nice way to ask for feedback, one that I think can easily be as valuable to a company as criticism can be. It can be tough to know, especially with a community as large as League of Legends. I’ve been trying to round out my MOBA knowledge lately, spending time with the few games that are out there and a couple different beta products. It’s been a great reminder of the many things that League of Legends does so well.

For one thing, it is definitely the most responsive game. That sounds like a strange thing to get excited about, but play a game in which the controls and UI feel sluggish and you’ll know what I mean. Even basic things, like altering the cursor sprite so that I know a spell is queued up, don’t show in several other games. The only game that holds a candle to LoL in terms of responsiveness (from the MOBA world) is HoN, but even that feels a little slow at times.

League of Legends is also hands down the easiest to understand by just watching the screen. I truly believe the downfall of many modern games is that they try to hard to look cool or edgy and just end up looking ridiculous. Demigod might be the only game that really made modern graphics look good (seriously, how cool was Rook), but even that game was a bit hard to grasp by watching the battlefield. I think any RTS player could easily sort out what is happening in a LoL match without much effort. I’m not sure the same can be said for several other MOBA franchises.

This last one is a matter of personal taste, but I like that the League of Legends UI attempts to teach the player the game. That little line from turret to target is a perfect example of a teaching mechanic in game. The player gets immediate feedback when he steps in range of the turret. It’s clear who/what the turret is targeting. It’s also clear when it changes targets, allowing players to analyze what action caused the change. I totally take it for granted, but playing games that don’t have those features makes me want to pull out what’s left of my hair.

I could go on for a while, but I would probably be violating an NDA or two with some comparisons, and that’s just not my style. The point here is that there is a lot of excellent design behind League of Legends that I probably don’t mention enough.


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