Let’s Agree: MOBAs

We tried to avoid talking about this one- we thought it would go away, we thought it didn’t need addressing. It was a problem that would solve itself. We were wrong. Tons of companies, out of ideas and running out of time, are latching blindly on to the latest big thing in games- MOBAs- and turning their random franchises in creep-fighting, lane-guarding, lord-managing monstrosities. We’ve had enough. It’s time to Agree.

infinitecrisisWhat is the biggest problem with new developers getting into the MOBA genre?

Colin:

The biggest problem is that you’re swandiving into a minefield. Valve and Riot Games have claimed territory with Dota 2 and League of Legends, respectively, and they are sharks, man. They are extremely profitable, extremely talented teams with huge structures of support that will eat you alive. You cannot think you’re going to jump in there as a newcomer to the genre and not be murdered. It’s just suicidal.

This is not a genre that has a lot of flexibility. It is almost bottled lightning- a strange combination of genres that works only because the exact ratios combine to form something special. It’s like baking- you have to follow the recipe. If you decide it needs extra baking soda, the whole thing is going to fall apart. So the only thing you can do is follow the path that Dota 2 and LoL already blazed, and therefore are doing way way better than you will be able to do at launch.

It’s the old WoW problem- why does anyone think they’re going to beat WoW by imitating WoW? WoW has had years to refine itself from what it started as. Dota 2 and League have both been building on their features for some time as well. You’re not going to beat them at their own game. Don’t try.

Ben:

I’m not convinced that there is a “better” way to make a game exactly like League of Legends or DOTA 2 for the same reason that you don’t see a “better” version of soccer or football. When these massive games are elevated to the status of a sport, they’re untouchable! Simply applying a fresh coat of paint and throwing in a few gimmicks won’t be enough to draw fans away from the sport they already know and love.

MMOs also suffered from a massive elephant in the room, but at least it was easy to grab stragglers that were tired of World of Warcraft or wanted a brand-new set of quests and adventures. Games like EVE and Guild Wars have found their own corner of the market by charting their own course within the same genre. When you try to apply the same plan to a sport, you end up with the XFL. No one wants another XFL.

deadislandepidemic

Which new MOBA looks the most… ill advised to you?

Ben:

Throwing a bunch of superheroes and their alternate universe counterparts into the same arena sounds like a promising idea, but Infinite Crisis appears to be squandering its potential. The “Earth-One” versions of iconic DC characters resemble bad fan mash-ups (is there anyone truly eager to play as a Steampunk Batman or Fallout Wonder Woman?). Instead of the colorful variety of champions of all shapes and sizes that League of Legends and DOTA 2 are known for, you have 3-4 variants of characters like Superman. Infinite Crisis also trades green jungles for drab Metropolitan concrete, further dulling any sense of excitement.

Comic book characters can handle gritty and silly variations in equal measure, but this MOBA shouldn’t take itself so seriously. When wildly different worlds collide for 30 to 60 minutes of pure chaos, it should be bombastic and colorful, presented with a wry grin and an eye for camp! It only takes 5 minutes of watching Infinite Crisis before I want to take a nap, and for a genre that lives or dies by its ability to rake in enthusiastic viewers, that’s practically a death sentence.

Colin:

God, I wish Infinite Crisis was as bad as it gets. If you ask me, though, Dead Island: Epidemic runs away with the gold on this one. Dead Island is not a game I especially cared for, but those that did cite its character progression, open world, and first person combat as its biggest selling points. So of course the logical move is to create a MOBA that doesn’t utilize any of that. Zombie games are hard enough to tell apart without stripping your franchise of the only things that made anyone like it in the first place.

Using a three team system and making it more about area control than attacking an enemy’s base seems smart at first, until you remember the whole baking thing: this genre is a very specific combination of characteristics that quickly falls apart when you start screwing with the framework. It’s possible they will both bottle lightning and strike gold at the exact same time with this design, but it seems far more likely that they’re gonna blow up their studio with these missteps like a meth lab gone bad.

guardiansofme

Obviously, these are companies grasping at straws as to what to do with their IPs. What instead should they do with their franchises?

Colin:

This question is tricky, because it of course depends on the franchise- different franchises have different strengths, and thus should be developed in different ways. But that, already, is an answer- look at their strengths. If the creators of the Dead Island MOBA thought Dead Island’s strength was fighting against AI, they are crazy. If the team behind Infinite Crisis thought the strength of the DC Universe was a bunch of dopey character designs… okay, bad example. But not THESE dopey character designs.

The point is, they’re making these games with no regard to whether or not it plays towards their franchise’s strengths. If you have to use a shoehorn to make it fit, it probably doesn’t really fit, guys. Rethink, reassess, and try again. You’re just making us all embarrassed.

Ben:

Anything! Seriously, the door for experimentation is wide open. Take Sam B. from Dead Island and swap his spiked baseball bat for a microphone, raising morale with rhymes. Put the player at the helm of the Justice League, calling the shots and making sure every hero makes it back to the Hall in one piece. Instead of making yet another Middle-Earth game that traces the major events of the movies or books, follow the life of a dwarf or elf in excruciating detail.

These ideas are undoubtedly risky, maybe even prone to failure, but they’re better than spending millions of dollars on a lost cause. Why not take a chance and try something new before flushing your funds down a MOBA hole? Besides, you might just strike gold, and if there’s one thing better than aping a tried-and-true formula for a profit, it’s striking gold on an unclaimed idea that truly makes a mint.