Can A New MOBA Compete in an Oversaturated Genre?

lol-vs-dota-mobas-collide-by-vitor-aizenThe International might be taking place right now and it is the biggest eSports tournament in history but it’s far from alone in the MOBA genre. While it’s big, Dota 2 only boasts 9 million monthly players to League of Legends’ 67 million people playing each month. While they’re two of the most popular games in the world, they’re far from the only MOBAs on the block.

Alongside League and Dota is an ever-expanding group of competitors in the MOBA sector. In the last year or so alone, we’ve seen alphas, betas and full releases of Smite, Dawngate, Heroes of the Storm, Infinite Crisis, Dead Island: Epidemic and more. That’s not included the recently announced MOBAs from Gearbox, Crytek and CD Projekt.

With so many MOBAs entering the market against dominating category leaders, do any of these new entries stand a chance and what, if anything, can they do to compete?

Since market saturation is an economic term that not everyone might be familiar with, I think a textbook definition is in order. Fortunately, Investopedia has a good one for this instance:

When the amount of product provided in a market has been maximized in the current state of the marketplace. At the point of saturation, further growth can only be achieved through product improvements, market share gains or a rise in overall consumer demand.

The current MOBA market is absolutely jam-packed with entries. Right now, there are at least eight noteworthy MOBAs for people to play with the total number of games in the genre tallying up to over a dozen. As such, if you want to play a MOBA right now, there’s no shortage of options for you. The market is only going to get more saturated as companies keep coming out with more games.

While there’s no law or even a social norm that says that you can only play one MOBA, if you want to be competitive while playing a MOBA, there’s a fair time investment that is required to get to a high level. While some skills are transferable, there are little differences between the games, whether it’s some of the mechanics, the meta, characters, items or maps. Playing MOBAs can make you better at MOBAs in general but it probably won’t push you into the upper echelon of players of a specific game.

dawngate-beta-screenshot-06-shopThe problem with lacking skills for a specific game is that MOBA communities have a reputation for, to put it politely, not being the kindest to players who aren’t playing at pro levels right out of the box. In my impressions post of Dawngate, I mentioned how toxic that community seemed at the start of that game’s open beta. One Dawngate fansite writer also tracked me down on Twitter to flame me. If you go around the internet, you’ll hear similar stories about every MOBA player community.

The point I’m trying to make is that getting people to jump MOBAs mid-stream is difficult. There’s a time (and likely monetary) investment in the first game and a similar, if not greater, investment will be required in the new game to get to the same level as the first.

So how does a new entry into an oversaturated market where people are entrenched in their current product? Of the three ways to grow in an oversaturated market, only one is under the control of a developer. To make an impact as a new player, the secret is all differentiation. People won’t switch for more of the same. There has to be a reason to switch.

With differentiation comes a selling point and a potential competitive advantage. Let’s look at the plan for Battleborn. While people rolled their eyes at the idea of another MOBA (or maybe it was at another Gearbox game after Aliens: Colonial Marines), it’s actually a pretty smart concept. Battleborn trades on the popularity of first-person shooters and MOBAs by combining the genres. This can get FPS fans into the MOBA genre and convert other MOBA players who love FPSs. It’s the differentiation that could make this game a success.

Conversely, I find Dawngate and Infinite Crisis to be very similar to League of Legends. Dawngate fans will tell you that it’s about “breaking” standard MOBA meta but that’s not a selling point for people new to MOBAs and only works on established players if they’re tired of “standard” meta. Of course, if you’re tired of League’s meta, you probably would have switched to Dota 2 which seems to have a much more flexible meta than League’s two solo lanes, duo bottom lane and a jungler. And I can’t find any discernible difference between LOL and IC apart from characters.

heroes-of-the-storm-blackheart-map-screenshot-01Heroes of the Storm looks like it could fall into that same similar to League with different characters trap that Infinite Crisis does but the emphasis on team fights, completing the unique objectives on each map and a large map pool takes emphasis off of the laning phase that makes MOBA matches drag on for up to an hour. The result is shorter matches with more action and a variety of things to do because of the different maps which would seem to keep gameplay fresh. This differentiation could help it succeed where other MOBAs will fail.

Besides differentiation, there is still the ability to create demand and I think this is where Hi-Rez Studios is going with Smite. Okay, it has the third-person shooter style camera and low cooldowns as unique features but Hi-Rez is also fostering an eSports community. Nothing boosts the attention a game gets like competitive action and Hi-Rez launched with tournaments and pro leagues featuring prominent teams in the eSports community. It’s instant credibility for the game and the prospect of eSports money gets people riled up. Exciting competitive games also draws eyeballs which gets people interested in the game. It’s not a way to build a community that we see often but if you can’t spend to make your game different, you can spend money to get people into a game through eSports.

There are still opportunities for developers to enter the MOBA space with a new game and succeed. However, they will quickly crash and burn out of the genre is they are just a Dota or League clone with different characters and graphics. Just being a MOBA will cause any new release to be immediately forgotten about. Even though it looks like there’s a lot of time and money to be spent on MOBAs by gamers, they’re smart enough to not waste their time and money on blatant cash grabs.

If Crytek and CD Project can’t find a way to differentiate their game from the current standard bearers in the genre, I’d pick Battleborn as the recently announced MOBA with the best chance to succeed.

Banner by Vitor Aizen.

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About Steve Murray

Steve is the founder and editor of The Lowdown Blog and et geekera. On The Lowdown Blog, he often writes about motorsports, hockey, politics and pop culture. Over on et geekera, Steve writes about geek interests and lifestyle. Steve is on Twitter at @TheSteveMurray.

Posted on July 14, 2014, in Games, Long Read and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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