Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Is a MOBA Crash Coming?

Are MOBA's in 2014-2015 heading for the kind of crash we saw in subscription WoW-like MMO's post 2009?  

I ask the question looking at the increasingly crowded slate of major and minor MOBA's of various flavors.  I'll probably play Blizzard's upcoming MOBA when it comes out.  Like WoW and Hearthstone before it, the game does not appear to have many revolutionary ideas, but it has some no-brainer quality of life improvements (e.g. try new champions in a closed practice environment for free) that you'd expect from Blizzard.  I may or may not ever get around to trying Turbine's DC Universe MOBA.  I almost certainly won't get around to trying the half a dozen other MOBA's in various stages of beta. 

All of which gets me thinking of the flood of MMO's that imitated WoW's basic design - support solo play and attempt to retain subscriptions with something for everyone.  Rather than grow the market with further success, the last five years have seen titles based on the WoW formula cannibalize each other.  The resulting drop in revenue has forced recent titles to downsize their staffs and ambitions at best, or close down at worst. 

The golden age of the subscription MMO's in the early 2000's was a virtual frontier in which every title enjoyed its own private captive audience.  Each title had something unique - soloing in WoW, RVR in DAOC, playing music in SWG cantinas, space piracy in EVE - that you could not get elsewhere, and even if you could find an adequate substitute you probably couldn't talk all of your friends into coming along for a change of game.  Thus, each title could count on its reliable subscription revenue to invest into further development of the game. 

We have this belief that choice and competition are good, and that the alternative is the parody video about the proposed Comcast merger.  The downside to an era with more choice is that the LACK of choice is what made the subscription model viable in MMO's and the subscription was what made the development of those MMO's financially possible.  In an era where your new title is competing with half a dozen games with similar budgets that have also had the benefit of years of polish and added content, new titles are getting cut off before they can get off the ground, as people choose to leave. 

Modern MOBA's aren't identical to subscription MMO's - in particular, the business model is much more suited to non-subscription payments than retrofitted monthly fee MMO's ever will manage.  League of Legends probably has the critical mass after five years to continue.  I'm just wondering if we're going to be looking at a bunch of failed MOBA's in a few years. 


  1. I think we'll see a lot of failed MOBAs -- there are more than the market can bear, and many of them are of dubious quality at best.

    Also, even Blizzard's business model seems backwards after playing Dota 2 where you can play EVERY hero for free, forever. Being limited to a rotation of free heroes or being forced to buy individual heroes that are interesting seems very confining to me.

    Lastly, each new MOBA isn't really bringing much to the table. Turbine's DC MOBA has the DC IP, but they're not being very creative with it (how many flavors of batman do they need, there's an entire universe of DC heroes and they're using the same handful over and over!), the UI is horrible, and it feels clunky, soo . . yay?

    I think most MOBA players will find a game of choice and stick with that. League of Legends has the majority share right now, and I don't see any of the upcoming games prying anyone loose from there.

  2. Those of us who grew up in Britain in the 1970s have a somewhat nuanced view of "choice". Having that point of comparison lets us see the disadvantages quite as clearly as the undeniable advantages. I have to say that when I talk to people who think that spending several hours every month checking that they have the best available deal on their gas supplier so that they can save a the equivalent of a few hours' pay over the course of a year I do find myself wondering why they think it's worth it.

    On balance I prefer the wide range of MMOs available now to the smaller number we had ten years ago, even if that comes at the cost of stability. It's not a strong preference though. If 90% of MMOs closed down tomorrow and I had to make do with what was left for the next ten years I think I'd manage okay.

    As for MOBAs, I have yet to play one. I might break my duck with Infinity Crisis, seeing I'm such a long-time DC fan. I think you're right that a lot of the upcoming ones will fail. It's a bigger market than MMOs but it also strikes me as one much less prone to curiosity and tourism. Whether LoL players will feel the need to try out all the alternatives I somehow doubt.


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