If you haven’t been paying attention you may have missed the fact that MOBA’s, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas, have become insanely popular. Games like League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, and Defense of the Ancients pull in massive player bases as well as huge viewership on Twitch. Up to this point it has not been a genre or game type that has managed to get any traction on consoles, but that is about to change. Smite recently launched a closed and open beta on Xbox One, and it seems to be doing very well. There are also titles on the horizon like Gigantic, an Xbox One exclusive, and Battleborn, which hasn’t really promoted itself as a MOBA, but clearly has setup it’s characters and multiplayer around the MOBA format. So why is this game type important?
Enough is enough
For many of us who have spent a lot of time in games like Call of Duty or Battlefield there seems to be something missing. The most common complaint that I hear is the consistent lack of team play and communication. Self-focused players are a problem that will take more than another shooter title launching with a few different game modes. I’ve written about this and have some videos about incentivizing different behaviors in shooters but I think it will take a lot of courage and changes that most big name titles will avoid. I will say, however, as a non-Halo PVP player that the Warzone game mode has me incredibly interested primarily because it’s heavily influenced by a really fun game mode from Unreal Tournament. But even Warzone has a very directional thrust to it which is what makes MOBA’s so attractive to gamers who want something where teammates work together.
The difficulty for any game that develops a new game mode is making it accessible enough, clear enough, and fun enough for mass appeal and engagement. If you come up with a really elaborate game mode that nobody enjoys it won’t matter how creative it is. This is why MOBA’s are important, and especially meaningful for the shooter genre on consoles. They can be accessible, clear, and directional, keeping people engaged and working together toward one goal. Over time this type of influence can rewire how many gamers think about shooters. If they get a taste of the fun and success that can come from good communication and cooperation with other gamers they may see the futility and blandness of using the same careful self-focused strategy to get good kill/death ratio over and over again. MOBA’s have clear trajectories and goals that don’t really allow for lone wolves or campers, so many may find them unappealing on the outset. But their popularity may start to draw people in, especially with the continued lack of innovation within the PVP shooters currently in the market.
If we are honest the two bigger console PVP games, Destiny and Call of Duty, have not injected anything different than what we’ve all become accustomed to. Maps have favored spots for control and spawn management and certain weapons and builds are clearly more effective, so games quickly fall into a predictable rhythm and outcome. Games that require teamwork and cooperation toward a specific goal that isn’t simply defend this position or kill more enemies can create more vibrant and dynamic engagements that are less predictable or repeatable. Titanfall’s game mode, Last Titan Standing, was one where similar strategies and approaches were employed, but the focused attention and teamwork varied, giving the battlefield a huge level of variance in how games played out. Now to be clear, none of the MOBA’s on the horizon that are shooters look to add anything too insane or unique. Both Battleborn and Gigantic look fairly straightforward, but they can start to create a different mindset and outlook with respect to PVP games in general. And the different characters create immediate depth and variance in how each player will experience the game. The characters also mean you can always change it up if you start to feel like it gets repetitive. If these games catch on, it could allow for more elaborate game modes to be added later in DLC or give room for future development as the franchises and communities grow. There is also the exciting For Honor that has the potential to be a good platform for big 1v1 showdowns at the end of matches and it may lend itself very well to the Twitch streaming and eSport landscape. Time will tell, but if we are going to jump into games with teams playing toward an objective, those games should, by their nature, be out of sync with self-focused non-communicative players, and MOBA’s look to offer just that.
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