Now I love a good MOBA just as much, or probably more, than the next person, but there are times when a market can become too saturated with a specific genre of game. Currently, it seems like every major publisher wants to get their hands on a MOBA and for good reason. In terms of sheer development costs, MOBAs are probably one of the cheaper multiplayer games to put together, and they have proven very successful at making a select few companies very rich. There’s also the draw of the eSports scene, which is dominated by MOBAs in Asia and Europe. The biggest problem, however, is that there’s too much competition with games that are too similar and all on the same platform.
LICENSE TO PRINT MONEY
Although I’m not a developer and only have an estimate as to how much it costs to build a game from the ground up, I can imagine that a MOBA would be one of the cheaper online genres to create. Limiting a game to a single map, no persistent world, no real story and very limited voice acting is a great way to save money. Furthermore, once the game is actually built the cost to maintain a MOBA is significantly less than an MMORPG. There aren’t true expansions to construct, massive server fees for keeping living worlds online, or major new content patches to create. Clearly new characters have to be implemented once a month or so and balance has to be constantly tweaked, but realistically a MOBA has minimal maintenance until it reaches behemoth proportions.
All things considered, MOBAs are generally a cheap genre to create, but they can bring in insane amounts of revenue. League of Legends brought in more than $624 million in microtransactions during 2013, and Dota 2 made nearly $80 million. That’s more than half of what all pay-to-play MMOs made in the United States for that entire year. All console games combined only created $933 million in revenue, which means League of Legends alone was worth more than half of every console game created in 2013. Obviously every MOBA isn’t going to be as successful as League of Legends or Dota 2, but considering League of Legends only cost $15 million to create that’s a decent profit.
TOO MUCH OF THE SAME
The problem with the MOBA genre isn’t that there are too many games, but that there are too many similar games. We have League of Legends, Dota 2, Heroes of Newerth, Strife, Heroes of the Storm, SMITE, Infinite Crisis, and many more. A few of these have done unique things, such as the third-person view in SMITE, but there are also blatant similarities between many of them. There are only so many different ways to push through three lanes and a few turrets. It’s definitely fun to try out the different types of heroes that each game has to offer, but the novelty can run out pretty quickly. After playing nearly every MOBA that’s been released in the last few years, almost all of them feel like a copy of either League of Legends or Dota 2.
There are a few exceptions, however, and developers need to pick up on the cues from the ones that are doing it right. A great example right now is Supernova. The game is still currently going through alpha testing, but overall it feels well-polished and creates a positive game environment. It has a Dota 2 style experience but with one major exception: players create their own minion waves. This RTS element is a huge contrast to many others in the genre and I feel that it’s enough to set Supernova apart from the crowd. As I mentioned before, SMITE is also another good example because it’s completely different from every other MOBA out there with its third-person targeting and emphases on skill shots. It plays as much like an action game as it does a MOBA. There are plenty of great ideas out there, but copying what’s already done and adding a few different characters isn’t one of them.
While there might be too many MOBAs on PC, there aren’t nearly enough on other platforms. Recently, one of the biggest areas for expansion in the gaming industry has been the mobile market, but there are still a very few number of MOBAs available. With more than $3 billion in sales for 2013, the mobile sector isn’t one that should be overlooked by anyone. Both Vainglory and Heroes of SoulCraft, for iOS and Android respectively, were well-designed with mobile devices in mind. There’s also Heroes of Order and Chaos and The Witcher Battle Arena that are available on both Android and iOS. However, Heroes of Order and Chaos isn’t necessarily friendly to gamers on the go with its complexity and long game length while The Witcher Battle Arena is lacking in depth.
Even though the mobile market only has a handful of MOBAs available, there are even fewer on home consoles. Currently, the PlayStation 4 has Invokers Tournament with a couple more on the way, Awakening of Heroes and Trans-Galactic Tournament, but options are going to be very limited for some time. On the other hand, Xbox One has SMITE, and Gigantic is set to eventually release as well. However, with all console and mobile games combined there are still significantly less than on the PC.
The problem isn’t that the MOBA market has become stagnant or even that there are too many games being produced, but instead that there’s a severe lack of diversification in regards to both mediums and gameplay. There are simply too many of the same types of MOBAs on PC and too few on consoles and mobile devices. More direction needs to be shifted to the neglected platforms while developers simply need to become more creative when building new PC games. This isn’t the easiest thing to do when it looks like there’s a cash cow on your lawn, but it’s better for everyone when a unique gaming experience is created instead of a clone of something that’s already working.Related: Column, Dota 2, Gigantic, Heroes of Newerth, Heroes of the Storm, Infinite Crisis, League of Legends, MOBA, MOBA Monday, SMITE, Strife, The Witcher Battle Arena, Vainglory