We PC gamers have been in the minority for quite some time now, just over a decade if my memory serves me. Whilst many, including myself, get all nostalgic for the days when the PC was the gaming king, being the de-facto platform for any developer the last decade hasn’t exactly been terrible as a PC gamer. Indeed many of the AAA titles still made the effort to create a PC release, even if it would only account for single digit percentages of their player base. There’s been rumblings about a PC resurgence for some time now, mostly on the backs of the aging previous console generation, but apart from some highly speculative numbers there hasn’t been much more to support this.
That was until today.
DFC Intelligence, a video game and entertainment research/reporting company, recently released a report stating that PC games had overtaken consoles in terms of revenue. Considering that PC games rarely make it into any top sales charts this does seem somewhat counterintuitive but according to DFC much of this revenue is due to an explosion of interest in the MOBA (DOTA2, League of Legends, etc.) genre. Other than that there’s still a healthy mix of your typical kinds of PC games: MMORPG, FPS, RTS, etc. but the resurgence of PC gaming is almost entirely due to the popularity of MOBA titles. There’s also apparently more overlap between PC and console gamers with the console now being seen more as the secondary system to the PC. All of this bodes well for PC gaming but for long time veterans like myself the PC gaming of today is much different to the one of the past.
Whilst I knew that the MOBA genre had seen a massive amount of growth in recent times, mostly due to League of Legends, I had hardly thought it was enough to push PC revenues past that of consoles. This is mostly likely due to the incredible number of monthly active users that the top 2 MOBAs have with 67 million League of Legends and 6.5 million DOTA2 players respectively. Compare that to say Call of Duty which has 40 million and it’s easy to see why the PC platform would be making a resurgence, especially considering that their free to play nature usually means a reliable revenue stream. Hell I avoid most free to play games like the plague (and even I do play them rarely do I spend any money on them) but DOTA2 has managed to make me part with a decent chunk of cash over the 1600 or so hours I’ve spent with it. I know I’m not unique in this either but it does say something about what the PC platform has become.
Those of us who wished for the second coming of PC were looking for it to become the primary development platform, the one all developers targeted first. Whilst the consolization of PC games has improved significantly (and is likely to get even better now that consoles and PCs share the same underlying architecture) I still think that the trend is unlikely to change any time soon. Whilst the PC as a platform might be bringing in more revenue than consoles it’s primarily limited to a single genre, one that’s already dominated by 2 massive titles. In terms of AAA title development I get the feeling that consoles are still the prime target for developers, at least those who are playing outside of the MOBA space. I’d love to be wrong on this but it really does look like these numbers are skewed by the phenomenon that is League of Legends more than PCs in general.
Still this could be the catalyst required to vault the PC platform back to the top, especially considering how blurry the lines are now between consoles, PCs and even mobile (to some extent). Most of us PC die hards have made our peace with our console brothers but there’s always that lingering desire to want the platform you prefer to be the one on top. Realistically it doesn’t matter as long as you get to play the games you want to play but that competitive spirit that’s instilled in you from the time when you get your first gaming platform is hard to let go.
I was never particularly good at RTS games, mostly because I never dug deep into the mechanics or got involved in higher level strategies that would have enabled me to progress my sills. However I found a lot of joy in the custom maps that many RTS games had and this was especially so for WarCraft 3. Inbetween my bouts of Elemental Tower Defense, Footman Frenzy and X Hero Siege I inevitably came across Defense of the Ancients and like many others became hooked on it. Whilst I still favoured the less directly competitive maps, much preferring the spam fest that other customs offered, the original laid the foundation for my current obsession with DOTA2 a game which has claimed almost 1400 hours of my life so far.
However DOTA2 wasn’t my first reintroduction into the MOBA scene, that honour goes to Heroes of Newerth which I was somewhat intrigued by whilst it was still in beta. I had a small cadre of friends who liked to play it as well but for some reason it just wasn’t enough to keep us interested and eventually fell by the wayside. The same crew and I had tried League of Legends as well but the experience was just too far away from the DOTA we knew and after a couple games our attention was turned elsewhere. If I’m honest though we were mostly excited to hear about Blizzard’s own version of the MOBA genre as that was one of the reasons that WarCraft 3 DOTA was so enjoyable: it had many of the characters we knew and loved.
It was looking like Blizzard DOTA and DOTA2 were going to launch around similar times and indeed once Valve officially announced DOTA2, with the original map maker IceFrog at the helm, news of the work on Blizzard DOTA went silent. Whilst this was partially due to the court battle that Blizzard and Valve became embroiled in afterwards there was little doubt among the community that Blizzard’s original vision for their MOBA title was going to clash heavily with that of Valve and the work we had seen up until that date was to be scrapped. What was less clear however was what they were working on instead as whilst no one doubts the calibre of Blizzard’s work they were going up against 3 already highly polished products, all of which had dedicated communities behind them.
Well it seems that Blizzard has done something completely out of left field, and it looks awesome.
Heroes of the Storm is the final name of Blizzard’s entrance into the MOBA genre (although they’re hesitating to use that term currently) and whilst it shares some base characteristics with other titles it’s really something out of left field. For starters the typical game is slated to last only 20 minutes, something which is a downright rarity in any other MOBA title. Additionally some of the signature mechanics, like individual hero levels and items, don’t exist in the Heroes of the Storm world. It also has different maps, various mechanics for helping a team achieve victory and a talent tree system for heroes that’s unlike any other MOBA I’ve played before. The differences are so vast that I’d recommend you take a look at this post on Wowhead as it goes into the real nitty gritty of what makes it so unique.
From what I’ve seen it looks like Blizzard is aiming Heroes of the Storm primarily at people who aren’t currently MOBA players as it seems like the barrier to entry on this is quite low. Traditionally this is what has turned people off playing such titles as the learning curve is quite steep and quite frankly the communities have never been too welcoming to newer players. Heroes of the Storm on the other hand could be played 3 times in the space of an hour allowing new players to get up to speed much more quickly. At the same time though I think it will appeal to current MOBA players seeking a different experience, whether they’re feeling burn out on their title of choice or just want something different every once in a while.
I’m quite keen to get my hands on it (I’ve signed up for the beta, here) as I think it’ll be quite a bit of fun, especially with my current group of friends who’ve all taken to DOTA2 with fervour. It’s great to hear that it’s going to be a stand alone title rather than a map within StarCraft 2 and I think that will give Blizzard a lot of freedom with developing the idea in the future. Whether or not it can have the same longevity through a competitive scene like all MOBA titles before it thought will remain to be seen but I get the feeling it’ll be something of a LAN favourite for a while to come.
It’s pretty well known that the communities that surround the MOBA genre, whether it be the original DOTA or the newer incarnations such as DOTA2, League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth, are spectacularly hostile. Indeed in the beginning when DOTA was just a custom application many people relied on 3rd party ban services, many of which relied on user generated lists to filter out bad people. Of course these being user generated led to a lovely hate cycle where people would simply ban whoever they felt like. Once you were past that barrier it didn’t get much better with any requests for help or misunderstanding of certain mechanics usually earning you a place on those lists. It was for this reason that many of us just stopped playing the original DOTA, the community around it was just horrifically toxic.
There was hope that the newer entries into the MOBA scene would help to alleviate this somewhat as a fresh platform would give the community a chance to reinvent itself. Unfortunately, at least in my experience on HoN (I only played 3~4 games of LoL), the same toxic community sprouted once again and I found myself wondering why I was bothering. DOTA2 started out the same way with my first few games being marred by similar experiences but there was enough to the game that kept me coming back and something strange started to happen: the people I was playing with were becoming infinitely better. Not just in terms of skill but in terms of being productive players, those with an active interest in helping everyone out and giving solid criticism on improving their play.
Initially most of that was due to me moving up the skill brackets however there was still a noticeable amount of toxicity even at the highest skill levels. What really made the change however was the introduction of communication bans, a soft ban mechanism that prevents a player from communicating directly with their team, limiting them to canned responses and map pings. Whilst the first week or two were marred with issues surrounding the system, although I do bet a few “issues” were people thinking they were in the right for abusing everyone, soon after the quality of my in game experience improved dramatically. It’s even got to the point where I’ve had people apologize for losing their cool when it’s pointed out to them something which has just never happened to me before in an online game.
It was then interesting to read about Microsoft’s new reputation system that they’ll be introducing with the Xbox One. Essentially there’s 3 levels of reputation: “good players” which compromise most of the gaming community, “needs attention” a kind of warning zone that tells you that you’re not the saint your mother says you are and finally “avoid me” which is pretty self explanatory. It’s driven by an underlying score that centers on community feedback so a group of jerks can’t instantly drop you to avoid me nor can you simply avoid a game for a couple months and have it reset on you. Additionally there’s a kind of credibility score attached to each player so those who report well are given more weight than those who report anyone and everyone who looks at them the wrong way.
Considering my experience with the similar system in DOTA2 I have pretty high hopes for the Xbox One’s reputation system to go a fair way to improving the online experience on Xbox Live. Sure it won’t be perfect, no system ever is, but you’d be surprised how quickly people will change their behavior when they get hit with something that marks them as being a negative impact on the community. There will always be those who enjoy nothing more than making everyone else’s online life miserable but at least they’ll quickly descend into an area where they can play with like minded individuals. That avoid me hell, akin to low priority in DOTA2, is a place that no one likes to be in for long and many are happy to pay the price of being a nice person in order to get out of it.
If you’ll allow me to get a little hipster for a second you’ll be pleased to find out that I’ve been into the whole Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) scene since it first found its roots way back in Warcraft 3. Back then it was just another custom map that I played along with all the other customs I enjoyed, mostly because I suffered from some extreme ladder anxiety. Since then I’ve played my way through all of the DOTA clones that came out (Heroes of Newerth, Leaggue of Legends and even that ill fated experiment from GPG, Demigod) but none of them captured me quite as much as the seemingly official successor, DOTA 2, has.
Defense of the Ancients 2 should be familiar to anyone who played the original DOTA or one of the many games that followed it. In a team of 5 you compete as single heros, choosing from a wide selection who all have unique abilities and uses, pushing up one of three lanes with a bunch of NPC creeps at your side. The ultimate goal is the enemies ancient, a very well defended building that will take the concerted effort of all team members to reach and finally, destroy. There are of course many nuances to what would, on the surface, seem to be a simple game and it’s these subtleties which make the game so engrossing.
When compared to its predecessor that was limited by the graphics engine of WarCraft 3 DOTA2 stands out as a definite improvement. It’s not a graphical marvel, much like many of the MOBA genre, instead favoring heavily stylized graphics much like Blizzard does for many of their games. The recent updates to DOTA2 have seen some significant improvements over the first few initial releases both in terms of in-game graphics and the surrounding UI elements. Valve appears to be heavily committed to ensuring DOTA2’s success and the graphical improvements are just the tip of the iceberg in this regard.
Back in the old days of the original DOTA the worst aspect of it was finding a game and then hoping that no one would drop out prematurely. There were many 3rd party solutions to this problem, most of which were semi-effective but were open to abuse and misuse, but none of them could solve the problem of playing a game with similarly skilled players. DOTA2, like nearly every other MOBA title, brings in a matchmaking system that will pair you up with other players and also brings with it the ability to rejoin a game should your client crash or your connection drop out.
Unfortunately since DOTA2 is still in beta the matchmaking system is not yet entirely working as I believe it’s intended to. It does make the process of finding, joining and completing a game much more streamlined but it is blissfully unaware of how skilled a potential player is. What this means is that the games have a tendency to swing wildly in one teams favour and unlike other games where this leads to a quick demise (thus freeing you up toplay again) DOTA instead is a drawn out process and should you decide to leave prematurely you’ll be hit with a dreaded “abandoned” mark next to your record. This is not an insurmountable probelm though and I’m sure that future revision of DOTA2 will address this issue.
The core gameplay of DOTA2 is for the most part unchanged from back in the days of the original DOTA. You still get your pick from a very wide selection of heros (I believe most of the AllStars team are in there), the items have the same names and you still go through each of the main game phases (laneing, pushing, ganking) as the game progresses. There have been some improvements to take away some of the more esoteric aspects of DOTA2 and for the most part they’re quite welcome.
Gone are the days where crafting items required either in depth knowledge of what made what or squinting at the recipe text, instead you can click on the ultimate item you want to craft and see what items go in to make it. Additionally there’s a list of suggested items for you hero which, whilst not being entirely appropriate for every situation, will help to ease players into the game as they learn some of the more intricate aspects of iteming a character correctly. It’s still rather easy to draw the ire of players who think they know everything there is to know about certain characters (I’ll touch more on the community later) but at least you won’t be completely useless if you stick to the item choices the game presents for you.
Know which hero to pick is just as important as knowing how to item them and thankfully there are some improvements to the hero choosing system that should make do so a little easier for everyone. Whilst the hero picking has always made delineations between int/str/agi based heros you can now also filter for things like what kind of role the character fills like support, ganker or initiator. For public games though it seems everyone wants to play a carry (mostly because they’re the most fun) and there’s little heed paid to good group composition but this is not a fault of the game per se, but there is potential there for sexing up the lesser played types so that pub compositions don’t end up as carry on carry battles.
It’s probably due to the years of play testing that the original DOTA received but the heroes of DOTA2 are fairly well balanced with no outright broken or overpowered heroes dominating the metagame. There are of course heros that appear to be broken in certain situations (I had the pleasure of seeing Outworld Destroyer killing my entire team in the space of 10 seconds) but in reality it’s the player behind that character making them appear broken. This bodes well for the eSports scene that Valve is fostering around DOTA2 and they’re going to need to keep up this level of commitment if they want a chance of dethroning the current king, League of Legends.
The eSports focused improvements in DOTA2 are setting the bar for new game developers who have their eye on developing an eSports scene for their current and future products. The main login screen has a list of the top 3 spectated games and with a single click you can jump in and watch them with a 2 minute delay. This can be done while you’r waiting to join a game yourself and once your game is ready to play you’re just another click away from joining in on the action. It’s a fantastic way for both newcomers and veterans of the genre to get involved in the eSports scene, but that’s just he start of it.
Replays can be accessed directly from a player’s profile or downloaded from the Internet. Game casters can embed audio directly into the replay allowing users to watch the replay in game with the caster’s commentary.They can also watch the caster’s view of the game, use a free camera or using the built in smart camera that will automatically focus on the place where the most action is happening. It’s a vast improvement over how nearly all other games do their replays and Valve really has to be commended for the work they’ve done here.
For all the improvements however there’s one thing that DOTA2 can’t seem to get away from and that’s its elitist, almost poisonous community that is very hostile to new players. Whilst the scsreenshot above is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek example of the behavior that besots the DOTA2 community it still holds true that whilst many concessions have been made to make the game more palatable for newcomers the DOTA2 community still struggles with bringing in new players to the fold. League of Legends on the other hand crack this code very early on and the following success is a testament to how making the game more inviting for new users is the ultimate way to drive the game forward. I don’t have an answer as to how to fix this (and whilst I say LoL cracked the code I’m not 100% sure their solution is portable to DOTA2) and it will be very interesting to see how DOTA2 develops in the shaodw of the current MOBA king.
DOTA2 managed to engage me in a way that only one other game has managed to do recently and I belive there’s something to that. Maybe it’s a bit of nostalgia or possibly my inner eSports fan wanting to dive deep into another competitive scene but DOTA2 has really upped the MOBA experience that I first got hooked on all those years ago and failed to rekindle with all the other titles in this genre. I’d tell you to go out and buy it now but it’s still currently in beta so if you can get your hands on a key I’d definitely recommend doing so and if you’re new to this kind of game just ignore the haters, you won’t have to deal with them for long.
Defense of the Ancients 2 is currently in beta on PC. Approximately 60 hours of total game play were undertaken prior to this review with a record of 32 wins to 36 losses.