The day there is an Adventure Time MOBA, you know that the market is over saturated. This genre, which really hit its stride at the start of this decade, seems to be following the MMO gold rush of the late 2000s to the letter. Just like the catastrophic MMO rush, it will only make the big boys even bigger and leave more studios bleeding cash.
The major difference with the MOBA rush, is that compared to studios trying to be the ‘next WoW killer’, it is all about who can steal those cast offs who didn’t quite click with League of Legends and Dota 2. The only problem with this is many of the games which are trying to muscle in on this market, are either too reliant on the 3 lane, 5 player formula which has been refined to a tee by the two major players that the game seems like a poor imitation, or they venture too far from the formula and end up losing the key strides in design which have already been made.
Take for example, the recently announced Battleborn which is a MOBA coming from Gearbox Software. From the marketing spiel which it has put out, it basically sounds like SMITE (a MOBA which has found a nice niche between the two titans of the genre) but with a different art style. While it promises to be ‘an experience unlike anything you’ve played’, I bet you that the game will have the MOBA staples of four skills mapped to Q,W,E,R, same 3 lane system, a similar metagame when compared to other MOBAS and it will no doubt suffer from the toxic community MOBAs usually struggle with.
You see, a MOBA like SMITE has gained some popularity as it has achieved the balancing act of being familiar enough to MOBA veterans, with mechanics like last hitting, jungle monsters and taking down towers but it differentiates itself through the fact it is played from a third person perspective, rather than a top down one. Again, it’s enough of a change to feel different but it still keeps the core MOBA mechanics which have been so refined that it allows old MOBA players to apply the knowledge they’ve learnt in previous games, whilst giving new players the opportunity to learn these mechanics and have them be applicable to Dota and LoL, should they wish to try them.
Unless Battleborn radically changes up the MOBA formula, it’ll be another game trampled by the big two.
This is where newer MOBAs like Dawngate or Heroes of the Storm fall down. They either take an element of the metagame like the jungle and radically change it, ending up with something which isn’t as well designed or as balanced or they complete cut a mechanic, like last hitting and items in Heroes of the Storm, which reduces the complexity of the game which makes MOBAs so engrossing. The game then feels either too simplistic for veteran players, or not as engaging for a newer player. Sure, the game might feel initially easier than other MOBAs, but it won’t have the lasting appeal or depth of customisation for removing a key component like item builds.
Moreover, many of these games refuse to change up the aesthetic aspects of MOBAs. Apart from MOBAs which use pre-existing characters like Heroes of the Storm or Infinite Crisis, most of the heroes that are created fall into the same designs which are repeated over and over. There is always an elf woman with a bow, a big knight with an overly large weapon, a cute animal champion or some generic killer robot. While these character archetypes are a problem with fantasy and sci fi games in general, you don’t make your MOBA feel any different to others in the genre by treading the same ground when it comes to character design. Your players are going to play with these characters for hours on end, at least make them look somewhat interesting and varied.
The problem is that like with the MMO race, both League and Dota are too popular now to lose mass amounts of fans. The major money and innovation has been made and to be honest, if anyone is going to get into a MOBA nowadays, they’ll just go to the one which is either the most popular game in the world or the one with the biggest championship prize pool. The likelihood of new players sticking around with the MOBA whose only major draw is that it lacks mechanics from the two big boys, or that it has the Flash in it, is not very high. Do not end up chasing the MOBA rainbow, as you’ll end up drowning in a pot of fake currency and jungle mechanics.