The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) gaming genre is one of the most exciting around today on PC, but it’s fast becoming oversaturated.
We all know what happens when too many games in one genre arrive at the same time. The cream rises to the top, players choose the best handful and the rest struggle, or collapse.
In my opinion this influx of MOBA games – there are currently more than ten in development, and tons already available now – will do no good for PC gaming. Developers’ time could be much better spent coming up with fresh new ideas rather than different takes on the same game.
Sure, with most MOBAs being free-to-play and download online, with a limited number of maps, they aren’t as expensive to build as games in other genres, so provide seemingly less risk to publishers who are looking at other ways to make money in today’s fiercely competitive game industry.
Plus, they offer consumers a cheaper alternative to monthly subscription-based MMOs and have contributed massively to the global esports community.
But League of Legends and Dota 2 – the most dominant MOBA games – have been well established for years now, while others like Heroes of Newerth, 2D battle arena game Awesomenauts and mobile MOBA Heroes of Order & Chaos continue to prove popular.
To give you an idea of how many MOBA games are incoming, here’s a brief list of unreleased titles or those which are in beta form: Dead Island: Epidemic (Deep Silver), Blizzard All-Stars (Blizzard), Total War: Arena (Sega), Infinite Crisis (Warner Bros), Guardians of Middle-Earth (Warner Bros), Dawngate (EA), Strike (S2 Games), Awesomenauts: Starstorm (Ronimo/dtp), Prime World (Nival), Magicka: Wizard Wars (Paradox), Sins of a Dark Age (Ironclad Games) and more.
How many of these are genuinely going to take market share away from the Dotas and LoLs out there? How many will just bomb? These upcoming MOBAs could all just be a big waste of time – for developers (who could be using resources on other ideas) and gamers (who will be missing out on other potential new titles).
To me the MOBA is drastically different to other popular game genres. It’s nothing like a console shooter, RPG or action game, where developers can add in new features, worlds, fresh gameplay mechanics, unique characters and storylines to differentiate themselves from their rivals.
Let’s face it: MOBAs are basically all the same. Perhaps not in terms of quality, but core gameplay. You choose your character, customise your equipment and work with a team of other players online to take out the enemy base. This restricts innovation.
Some MOBAs have ditched the top-down isometric viewpoint – like Smite, which offers a third-person camera angle more akin to PVP combat in MMO World of Warcraft – while others have traded the typical fantasy setting for sci-fi, superheroes or even horror (such as zombies in Dead Island: Epidemic).
Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy MOBA games, the genre should evolve and change can be good. I welcome quality new titles and ideas, but there are far too many MOBAs on the horizon which fail to offer anything substantial enough to draw loyal players away from the favoured, top MOBA games already on the market.
It seems many licences are jumping on the MOBA bandwagon too – there are official Lord of the Rings and DC Comics titles coming out (Guardians of Middle-Earth and Infinite Crisis respectively), while Total War and Blizzard are already big PC gaming brands that are entering the mobile online battle arena.
But is it too late? The genre isn’t even new anymore. Warcraft III’s Defense of the Ancients mod launched back in 2003 (and it’s incredible that ten years on Blizzard still hasn’t launched its own MOBA Blizzard All-Stars, but that’s another story).
MMO MONEY, MMO PROBLEMS
We should learn from the MMO sector. Look at what happened to that genre after World of Warcraft came on the scene in 2004 to much success – rivals fell away, the genre turned to free-to-play but is no longer as lucrative as it once was. Today World of Warcraft is still the market-leader, despite subscribers recently falling to 7.7m down from a peak of 12m. Why? Because it’s still the best MMO on the market, in my opinion. If a MOBA thinks it can truly rival League of Legends or Dota 2, go for it, but gamers will spot a stinker a mile off.
MOBAs also require a huge time investment from players, especially if they want to be any good. There are always new things to learn and accomplish – will gamers be willing to go through that learning experience over and over again just to try a new MOBA that has a different style or licence?
I’m not sure they will.