The MOBA Scramble: Surviving Decline

If you saw Startale’s podcast which I frequent, you’ll have heard me talk about the “MOBA Decline” and how the genre has plateau’d. I feel this could use some background and why I feel this way, albeit some of this will be less raw and heavy facts and more so looking about to infer meaning.

King of the Ring

For just under a decade, MOBAs have been the most enormous and possibly profitable genre bubble to hit video games. League’s explosive success in 2009 followed by the arrival of DOTA2 and more caused a scramble to get into the MOBA industry. It harkens back to the days of World of Warcraft where the MMO caused the entire genre to explode, albeit nobody expected it to last forever. Just as the MMO slowly phased away, so too would MOBAs eventually die out.

Now, to their credit, MOBAs are a part of the free-to-play explosion that has rocked gaming harder than any scandal could. League of Legends still makes money hand-over-first despite being almost a decade old. In fact, the only game that comes close to it is…WoW. A game released in 2004. Granted, WoW has a subscription fee but the sheer money coming in still speaks volumes. Along with that, DOTA2 is still the most played Steam game of the year and regularly smashes the prize pool record from each previous international.

You’d assume that there is nowhere but up, right?

The Scramble

Well, not quite.

If I had to put it to a single thing, I’d say the advent of the “hero shooter” (A FPS game with MOBA-esque mechanics like abilities and ultimates) has caused the biggest alarm for this genre. A genre that erases some of the biggest complaints people have about MOBAs such as long match times, steep learning curves and painfully annoying “It’s everyones fault but my own” mentalities. Sure, some of these still exist in hero shooters, but not to any degree they do in MOBA-style games.

It’s difficult to gain actual data but compare Google Trends for how often League and DOTA have been searched for. Since their peak around 2013, the games have slowly been looked for less and less. Sure, there are major tournament spikes, but people have either found their game or avoided the genre. New blood isn’t really coming into these games and they hold a static playerbase save for the occasional investigative “taste test” of the genre. Interesting enough, when I looked at DOTA2’s Playercount, the number spiked to nearly 14 million unique players. Yet according to Steam Charts (While they don’t tell the whole story), the average player count has dropped since December’s big announcement. What was December’s big announcement?

A Triage Situation

I’ll be blunt: Both games are attempting to triage the situation in their own unique way. While you could argue they’re just trying to keep both games “fresh”, reading between the lines shows more factual information that neither company would truly care to admit.

On League’s side, they’ve basically been making good on promises they made years ago: Replays and Practice Tools have come out alongside a new client, as well as increased bans for pro play.

For DOTA2, the 7.0 update includes a far-cleaner HUD, visual updates for heroes who have desperately needed it, and new gameplay updates that speak more of more casual games than of DOTA2.

When you step back, the intentions are quite clear. League is pushing updates to entice their more hardcore fanbase while DOTA is making a push for the more casual fanbase. Both games are attempting to draw in fresh faces as well as re-incentivize those who may not have wanted to play the game.

But most of all, these updates come off the back of one major thing: Overwatch. Blizzard’s hero shooter has blasted all expectations and has become a worldwide phenomenon. For how long, nobody can say, but it’s more than a coincidence that this game explodes onto the scene and suddenly two industry titans suddenly make sweeping changes to appease the other side of the fence.

Death Knell?

For those who fear for the game you love: Relax. These aren’t going anywhere. MOBAs are far too large to up and die. It’s arguable that they won’t even truly die, just not be number one anymore. Building on this, it’s possible League/DOTA will forever exist as esports. Games we watch rather than play. They still pull in enormous numbers and both games are still considered the pinnacle of esport play along with Counter Strike.

But Overwatch was a wake-up call. They won’t be number one forever. You can’t get by with just what you have as your game gets older. There will be challengers to your playerbase and throne…and that has sparked a massive change-of-pace in both games. MOBAs still have plenty of life in them and we’re not going to see them rot away too fast…but the question is how long they’ll be at the top as time goes on.

And that? I have no idea of.

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How Roleplay Helps You Write

When it comes to learning to write, I find there’s no better place than the roleplay community in MMOs. Be it World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2 or any sort of massive congregation of people all playing a single video game, you can bet that there will be a large group of people hanging out at the tavern. How exactly does roleplay make you a better writer though? Well, there’s a little more to it than simply saying it gives you experience writing.

Roleplay and Language

This is likely the most no-brainer of the group but roleplay will quickly and surely hone your grammar and spelling skills when it comes to writing things. When I first started at the young age of twelve or so, my spelling and grammar were a mess. It’s to be expected however. I had never touched anything even remotely like roleplay and my previous writings were done on pen-and-paper with only the look over of my parents.

Not only will you learn through osmosis and interacting with others but you’ll quickly get critique about your writing be it verbal or non-verbal. Maybe your edgy demon hunter with the most tragic backstory filled with death, murder and spelling errors doesn’t get any play? Conversely, maybe your earnest-yet-bumbling dwarven shaman sees all manner of interaction and is routinely praised by others.

Roleplayers are a community and, like any community, you learn as you go. Sure nobody is going to start as a roleplayer in their prime but it’s something that everyone will pick up as they continue to roleplay. Don’t be intimidated! Even that verbose engineer started as someone putting emotes in their text.

Roleplay and Storytelling

On a less obvious note, roleplay will teach you basic storytelling. Sure, it’s not to the caliber of something like the Odyssey or the Iliad but you’ll learn to pace yourself. Storytelling requires all manner of parts, from softer and quiet moments to character developing moments to tragic events and somber realizations. If you spend all your time roleplaying with your girlfriend about how much you love each other, nothing gets accomplished now does it?

You might argue that this is obvious even in storytelling but it becomes exacerbated when it comes to roleplaying with another person. You notice patterns, you notice repeats and you’ll notice when things don’t seem to move. Static characters are something most-often avoided and these small things will add up over time.

Roleplay is great at teaching you the basics of character building and making coherent stories, as well as showing you faults and errors in your own writing that others can help you fix or correct. Speaking of others in roleplay…

Roleplay and Community

Unlike writing your own work or writing in a completely unique world, roleplay will teach you how to work with others and the finer points of creating writing in an existing world. This is especially useful if you want to write for video games, as nine-out-of-ten times you’ll be working with a setting you yourself didn’t create and characters that you either didn’t create or had worked with others to create.

Other roleplayers aren’t readers. They’re not passive critics who will read what you wrote. They, for all purposes, will be part of your story for the majority of it. This means that you’ve got to pay finer care to your audience and those around you. Sure, every writer writes for themselves on some level, but that doesn’t mean you’re exempt from criticism. If you suddenly start railroading (forcing others on a track) another person’s character? You WILL get a slap on the wrist from that person!

On the same note, writing in a world you didn’t make is far different than making your own work. You have to adhere to rules, you have to be careful about new inclusions and most of all? You have to be wary about the things and creations you put out there. Does that mean you shouldn’t make new things? Of course not. But it’ll be easier for someone to believe you’re another foot soldier than Logan Thackery’s son who is even stronger than he is.

Roleplay Overall

These are just some small, general things that roleplay will help without being big enough for a whole point:

  • Aesthetic design of your character.
  • Creating storyhooks from things you have. (Such as a hunter’s pet!)
  • Matching character tone with other roleplayers.
  • How to approach and interact with others.
  • Dealing with “dead end” stories.
  • Correct drama vs. Incorrect drama.

I wouldn’t say roleplay is for everyone. After all, roleplay servers can often come off as elitist and annoying. Yet it’s important to give it a try at least once. Being able to play as your character and discovering the story behind what you assumed to be a simple one-off nobody can be far more enlightening to yourself than you’d initially give it credit for.

Just be sure to use the right name. Nobody is going to take Hunters4Jesus78 of Stormwind as a serious person.

Do I Play Roguelikes Wrong?

Enter The Gungeon was one of the games I picked up during the Steam winter sale. And I enjoy it! The problem, however, comes from how I play the game. Roguelikes or Roguelites, however you classify them, are all about throwing your head at a brick wall so many times that you eventually get past. In recent times, things seem to have shifted to be less about progression, more about…er, progression.

Building An Arsenal

isaac
Me realizing I didn’t get the new upgrade to make my run easier.

With new roguelike games, one of the biggest hooks is the idea of progression outside of each run. While you won’t get far in every single run, perhaps you finally earn enough currency to buy a new item for the gungeon? Perhaps you’ve dumped enough coins to get that new class in Rogue Legacy? Maybe you finally killed that one tough boss and died right after, getting you the new weapon that’ll make some Isaac runs easier?

Roguelikes were always about minuscule progression. Getting good to the point where you can finally get past one brick wall and start throwing yourself at another. Yet to me it feels like the progression outside of each run isn’t specifically about honing my skills. Rather it feels like I’m trying hard to get a secondary goal done to make my next run easier by design, not by skill.

I realized this during my Gungeon run when I couldn’t buy more items from the in-game shop with the secondary currency. I was worried I had hit a point where I couldn’t improve the gungeon by proxy, NOT by my own talents and skills.

Throwing Spaghetti at a Wall

ftl
“Good luck with this run.”

That said, this seems to be where roguelike games have evolved. Take for example one of the early ones, FTL. FTL didn’t have much in the way of outside progression. You could unlock more ships and designs, sure, but these never completely buffed your gameplay. They just offered a new way to play. It was ok but it wasn’t the hit game that Binding of Isaac would be.

Comparatively Binding of Isaac was still a roguelike. Yet achievements and more could unlock stronger weapons, buffing the variance but overall being a net-positive gain. Nobody is going to argue that “+1 Heart” is anywhere near as good as “All your tears are targeted bombs”. It was a hit because there was ALWAYS a sense of progression, even if you instantly died the moment you stepped down the cellar door.

Enter the Gungeon and Rogue Legacy both seem to have taken cues from the former but not entirely. Gungeon guns are strict upgrades, some are just…ok. Different but not directly better. There are some things that’ll give you direct upgrades such as fixing the elevator but not to the degree that some upgrades in Isaac will. Rogue Legacy also gives you flat stat bonuses but not so much in the idea that you’re getting a raw buff. It’s minuscule and probably hard to notice.

I’m not sure if this kills the spirit of the roguelike. If this persistent system of upgrades is making me play the game wrong, worrying less about my skill and worrying more about the side buff to fill out my arsenal. While I’m by no means awful, I still can’t help but wonder if this system of the sidegrade and the empty armory is making me care more about what happens after the run, not during.