When League of Legends entered the gaming scene around 2009 and 2010, a lot of new players were entering the “Moba” world for the first time, even if older games like HON, and the original itself, a Warcraft 3 custom game mode “Defense of the Ancients” were before it.
At this time, already, we saw a good number of competitors between these huge offerings and each game offered some different complexities and reasons for players to engage in each different game. The genre was so new at the time things like balance, game structures, and matchmaking were priorities. Dota was the older brother, and when it was put on Steam by Valve, it offered players a large free hero pool, whereas LoL has more of a cartoony simplicity that attracted players with a different payment model.
Now in 2017, we see more genres come to life which might be more “trendy” than MOBAs in 2017. These genres include the “Hero Shooter” popularized earlier by TF2 and revitalized by Blizzard’s Overwatch, and Hi-Rez’s Paladins. Another genre is the TCG genre, which new entries like “Gwent,” “Duelyst,” and “Elder Scrolls Legends.” In a lot of ways, it seems like the MOBA craze has died down a bit, or thathas the desire for the game genre stagnated.
But, according to Twitch and the esports leagues around the world–MOBAs are still doing very well. MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota still reign king with huge viewerships partly due to large streamer communities but also due to the free to play nature of these games as well as consistent updates, but even newer entries like Smite and most recently Heroes of the Storm hold significant attention in the esports world and gaming communities. For example, just this last weekend of April, Heroes of the Storm 2.0 released with a live stream passing over 170,000 viewers. Frustratingly enough (both because I’m tired of the game, but also because I have trouble finding partners to play new multiplayer games) I also know that a good portion of my friends who were playing League of Legends in 2010 are still playing the game.
But I am of the mind that any new MOBA entering the market has to do SOME things right off the bat. In addition, older MOBAs NEED to implement things to stay ahead of the curve. But which ones are going to do it first, and which ones are already innovating? With games like Heroes of the Storm innovating in some ways, and completely failing in others, I’ve become quite frustrated but also intrigued by the growth of the MOBA genre. After playing League since 2009, and Heroes of the Storm for 2 years, I think I’m entitled to some form of an opinion.
So here are six things that I think new MOBAs and old MOBAs could implement to keep the genre fresh and evolving to remain interesting and fun for new and old players alike.
#1 Use In-Game Voice Chat
DOTA 2 is one of the only MOBAs on the market that has integrated voice chat, When it comes down to it, not having voice chat in an online multiplayer game just seems archaic by now in 2017. League of Legends, Smite, Heroes of the Storm, even Paragon ( realtively new MOBA offering that is even on PS4)–all some of the biggest MOBAs out there, all don’t have voice chat. Of course, it’s not because they have just “forgot” to implement it. Atleast, I hope not.
In my mind, it’s incredibly easy to create a “mute” system within these types of games and the positives far outway the negatives. The MOBA game genre has always been a game type that requires lots of communication through pings, and text chat, but why not more voice chat? It seems like the game is designed around communication, so why cripple players and their ability to do so?
When you’re in the game, it’s a continual decision making battle with your team, and not having voice chat just makes things harder. Should you go for Dragon? Should you split push a lane early on to get an early tower? Should you steal a jungle buff? A lot of game designers argue that voice chat could create a more toxic environment, but I am of the mind that removing the safety layer of text, a lot of gamers are less toxic.
Listening to “Into the Nexus” I heard Garrett Weinzierl explain that one of the only ways he could win in Overwatch was to “make friends” with his allies through voice chat camaderie. That element doesn’t exist in most MOBAs. Speaking of, Overwatch is a newer enter to the Hero shooter genre designed by Blizzard and it seems to be doing “fine”, and I think it has enough game design similarities that it’s counterpart, Heroes of the Storm should have it as well. It’s obviously not a design or programming constraint. So why doesn’t it?
If a new MOBA comes out, or an old MOBA wants to innovate, it needs to put in voluntary voice chat. Heck, even the mobile MOBA “Mobile Legends” has voice chat. That’s just embarassing.
#2 Put in Leaver Protection
League of Legends finally implemented some leaver protection after being around for years, and DOTA 2 also has it. If someone leaves in the first 5 minutes of the game, you can leave yourself or forfeit without taking a “loss” for your ranking. So if a new MOBA wants to come around and be “good”, it’ll have to have this system.
Games like Heroes of the Storm and the new Paragon MOBA-FPS still don’t have it, and it’s mind-boggling. Sure there are ways to “abuse” the system, but the positives far outweigh the cons and losing a ranked game due to a leaver just makes the entire ranking system of the game fall apart.
This section doesn’t need much explanation. You either put it in and save player’s hard earned time, as well as lots of frustration, or you don’t–simple as that.
#3 Create Interesting Hero Mechanics
If a new MOBA wants to take the world by storm, or an old one wants to become even better, it’ll need some new and creative hero mechanics.We need to see the boundaries being pushed further and further. This is one reason why the game “Paragon” bores me a bit. None of the characters are that fun to play–even if the game looks gorgeous, and has a cool control style.
That’s one reason why a lot of players are flocking to Heroes of the Storm from games like League of Legends. Even though League of Legends has the advantage of champion numbers , the company has a hard time keeping them interesting for players year after year. This is why so many of the champions are getting redesigned. But even after redesigns, older games still have design constraints like game balance which makes it harder to developers to push the game forward.
In HOTS, two players can play one character in the “Cho’Gall,” and one player can control three characters at once with “The Lost Vikings.” Other characters like “Abathur” control the battlefield by helping team mates with map control and offensive buffs. One reason this is plausible is that there are different maps and the game has a “talent system” instead of items.
It’s also why the cool game “Infinite Crisis” kind of went down in flames. It had a cool design style, interesting maps, and cool hero lore, but most of the champions felt like “rote” copies of League characters.
#4 Generous Skin and Cosmetic System
I think one of the biggest reasons to play a game is the feeling of “good will” and fairness that the game provides. I don’t think it’s enough of a reason anymore to play a game because it’s “free.” The game has to have a generous and rewarding progression system. This is one reason why the Witcher 3 is universally acclaimed. It’s the perfect example of a developer giving TONS of content for a good value. It’s also another reason why games like Halo 5 and COD Infinite Warfare haven’t done as well since they have “gamified” cosmetic progression and thus content in horrible fashions.
League of Legends recently revamped their own with a new shard-type system that gives you a few skins a month, whereas HOTS has completely revamped their system to a “loot box” system that gives players a lot of chances at free cosmetic progression.
Players get connected to these games by the value they spend or have in the game, and skins cement a player to a game. It’s one reason games like World of Warcraft have such “stickiness.” Once someone amasses a large cosmetic progression, it’s hard to get them away from the game.
So for a new/old MOBA to convert players, it has to be generous and have a good system in place to reward players to playing the game by giving them chances at new skins. I don’t think playing the game for free and just paying $10 for a skin can cut it anymore.
#5 Create Short Match Times
I’ve of the mind that 40-60 min games are too long now. Whether due to MOBA fatigue, or just being tired of the toxic environment that grows in these long games, players don’t want to play such long games anymore. When you have a long MOBA game, that design problems become more apparent. There’s more toxicity, more AFKs, more snowballing, more hero imbalances. I think the shorter, the better–but it’s important to find the right length of time to make a game have a sense of progression and power growth, and still feel rewarding.
#6 Finally Put in an Anti-Toxicity System / Karma System
No MOBA out right now has a working Karma system. Sure most MOBAs have some way to prevent players from queueing up again after leaving, but toxicity has been hard to punish. It’s hard to punish players for going 0-11 since game companies don’t want players to leave the game for being unskilled.
So how does a game fix this problem? I’m not sure, but if a MOBA were to implement some karma system, it could be HUGE. A mobile game “Mobile Legends” actually has a small form of one. It’s interesting since you start with 100 karma, and if you leave a game, or get reported or something, you lose a few points every time, and if you get too low, you could have your account restricted.
I think a more robust system could be very cool. For example, if a MOBA designs a way to detect a player’s “successful impact” on the game, if a player isn’t impacting the game at all, whether due to being AFK, feeding, or just trolling, the player could lose a few karma points. Conversely, if a player does very well due to a high KDA, high minion kill count, or the like–they could perhaps gain karma points, or lose very few ranked points.
One of the biggest problems about the MOBA genre is also it’s greatest strength. The games are fun to play because they require team work, but they are also horribly unfun when teamwork doesn’t happen. If a MOBA finds a way to reward solo achievement and reward good player skill, while simultaneously punishing players who drag a team down (perhaps the lowest performing players on the team drop more ranked points), we could see a huge paradigm shift in not only player mentality in the MOBA genre but also an evolution in MMR ranking since so many players feel MMR in these games revolve around “luck and ELO hell”.
#7 Create Fun New Maps and Objectives
For a new MOBA to take the world by storm, it has to have fun new map types and objectives. I’ll mention it again, but the new game “Games of Glory” is interesting since it uses point control mechanics in the maps. I’ve seen it before in League of Legend’s long-gone Dominion mode actually, but it’s fun and different.
HOTS is perhaps the king in this department due to many different map types and modes, and it’s one reason the game is fun to play over competitors due to the extended map learning curve and variety of strategies that stay fresh and evolving depending on new map releases.
#8 Use Cross-Platform Play to Get a Wide Audience
I just played a new game yesterday called “Games of Glory, ” and to me, it’s one of the first “true MOBA-type” cross-platform games. Sure, there’s Paragon, but that’s been around forever and feels more like a FPS game due to the viewing angle. There’s also Smite, but Smite players are limited to their console, whereas Games of Glory works with PS4/PC players at the same time. Sure the game is almost more twin-stick shooter than RPG-type MOBA, but the game’s tight control mechanics feel just as good on PC as they do console.
For me, it felt like playing Diablo 3 the first time on PS4–as if the game was designed to be there. As a small note, I think Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm would be great for consoles since there’s no minion last hitting, and they’ve already showed they are capable of porting games like Overwatch and Diablo to console.
So What do You Think?
What do you think MOBAs need to do to stay fun and interesting to play? Let me know in the comments below!