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Sunday, September 1, 2013

PAX Prime: Season of the MOBA

As I commented in my post yesterday and observed again at Day 3 of PAX, this next year is going to be the year of the MOBA. Riot Games had a huge showing, with a tournament running alongside the convention. Meanwhile, I counted at least four new MOBAs being promoted, not counting SMITE which had a small presence with Twitch.TV and DOTA2 which was not in attendance (I was surprised to see no sign of Valve).

That said, I felt a strange sense of deja vu as I looked around. It's like we've gone 6 or so years back in time to the World of Warcraft peak. Remember that time when every year a new slew of MMOs was coming out that was going to unseat the 10 million subscriber pound Gorilla? Age of Conan, Old Republic, Champions Online, Everquest 2....the list seems to go on into infinity, and each one tried to bring something new and interesting to the MMO genre...some of them had some great ideas, but they were fighting a powerful incumbent. To pull players away they had to be better, break social connections, promise new and better was an impossible task. Perhaps some companies made this work; releasing a game that they knew would die but they cashed out quickly (or a few higher-ups did...cough cough).

Now the process appears to be repeating itself, only the names have changed. League of Legends is a 35 million (or some crazy number) user game. Certainly its free-to-play nature allows people to play other games, but LoL has made it their goal to keep people. To pull players away you have to have them move their friends and leave behind all the skins and runes they've bought. Once more, a slew of games are trying to unseat this gorilla by offering new features and innovations to the genre. Who's challenging LoL?

Dawngate (Developed by Waystone Games, Published by EA)
One of the more interesting ones; it's main innovations involve moving to a two lane system which has a wider jungle around it, the ability to reclaim "lost" lanes, and having resources be collected by owning certain locations similar to an RTS. From what I have seen of their "Shapers" (the characters you play) they don't do anything overly groundbreaking. Dawngate's main attraction will be these modifications and its heavy story influence.

Strife (S2 Games)
From the creators of Heroes of Newerth; a game noted for its welcoming community and approachability...oh right. Still, Strife is S2's attempt to fix some of those issues by building systems into the game to promote such positive behavior. I will let them explain more, but their main focus seems to be limiting negative communication opportunities and making team-building easier. Strife has one big problem though, that I really do think will hurt it...artistically, it looks EXACTLY like LoL to the point where at first glance I thought it was LoL and it required inspection to confirm otherwise. They use almost identical art styles.

Guardians of Middle Earth (Developed by Monolith Productions, Published by Warner Bros Interactive)
Though I only got to see a few minutes of gameplay, this one does not appear to be doing much to shake up the genre (though I could be wrong). The main attraction here is the Lord of the Rings tie-in, and because it is being published by Warner Bros it is able to incorporate images from the movies. It also appears to be focusing on console play.
Two MOBAs, one publisher
Infinite Crisis (Developed by Turbine, Published by Warner Bros Interactive)
The Marvel version of Guardians of Middle Earth, Infinite Crisis similarly mainly gets its allure from the characters it can draw from, which appears to be the entire Marvel multiverse. The map I saw appeared to only have two lanes and was more of a cityscape, but I am not sure if this particular game is making any huge strides towards shifting the genre.
Sorry for quality, the screen and my phone didn't agree
So those are the big ones I saw, though another I came across lately was Decimal, created by a small, indie developer which I wish I had the funding to support. Still, I can't help but wonder if the majority of these devs are essentially setting themselves up for failure by taking on League of Legends rather than going after markets that are not quite so cornered.

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