So Dawngate is going away. Judging by most of the comments I’ve seen, it wasn’t exceptionally bad or exceptionally great. Some people liked it, some people didn’t, but that could be said of any game. Its worst sin was that it was “just another MOBA.”
That’s no small thing to overcome, just as so many games are “just another MMORPG” or “just another FPS.” Seeing as how Dawngate was backed by Electronic Arts, it’s possible that a mega-company like that might have wanted something much, much bigger, something able to butt heads with the likes of League of Legends or Dota 2. Maybe once they thought the game wasn’t shaping up along those lines, they pulled the plug.
Here’s a thing, though: That might have been the only choice EA could have made.
We often make fun of games that try to “copy WoW” or “copy LoL,” because we believe their huge success is some mixture of genius, timing, and luck that could never be duplicated. It’s true that there are a lot of MMORPGs out there that aren’t nearly as big as World of Warcraft but are still plenty successful and well-loved by their players.
There are smaller MOBAs out there, ones that aren’t on par with the big boys. But is aiming for the top, going for that massive e-sport popularity, more of a goal for MOBA devs, especially ones with plus-sized budgets like EA? Do you need the allure of huge fame, top-tier competition, and big-money prizes to even consider making a MOBA?
Certainly, there are casual MOBA players just like there are casual MMORPG players. But while an MMORPG’s marketing campaign might mention great challenges, like top-level PvP matches or tough PvE raids, they exist alongside the other aspects of the game, like crafting, PvE, exploration, and so on. We’ve often heard that something like 10% of MMO players raid, so “being the best” clearly isn’t a goal for the vast majority of players. There’s often plenty to do, even in a smaller MMORPG, which you can enjoy just fine if it doesn’t grab headlines very often.
Meanwhile, what percentage of MOBA players think they can be the best, think they at least have a shot at winning the big prizes? Not everyone, sure, but when you look at the massive popularity of big e-sport events, it’s hard to imagine not at least considering that you have a chance, just like so many people envisioned themselves sitting at the top table at the World Series of Poker once Texas Hold ‘Em became a mainstream TV attraction.
One of the reasons I don’t like MOBAs is because I feel that I’m matched up with four teammates who all think they’re going to be the next e-sport megastar and if I make the slightest mistake, they’re on me like a rabid wombat, screaming at how I’m completely screwing them over – and, by extension, ruining their chances at fame and fortune. Is that just my bad luck in who I get matched up with, or do a disproportionately large number of MOBA players really think that way? And are they encouraged to do so by the game’s developers?
Or, to put it another way, without that goal of big prizes or big fame, how many players will put forth the effort to play hundreds or thousands of (admittedly repetitive) matches, to watch strategy videos, to read about the best builds, and otherwise strive for that top ranking? Unlike the variety of activities available in most RPGs, there’s nothing else to do in a MOBA except battle, so do you need that carrot to keep you going?
You can’t have big prize pools without money. And you can’t have money without lots of players. It’s a bit of a catch-22 for MOBA developers: How do you become big? Get players. How do you get players? Become big. So maybe it takes a huge commitment and an unwavering dedication to both your development and e-sport creation process to push a MOBA out to launch. EA wavered a bit, maybe thinking that they couldn’t match what Riot, Valve, Hi-Rez (SMITE), and Blizzard (Heroes of the Storm) were doing without a sizable and risky investment, and they didn’t think there was any point in producing a MOBA that couldn’t match those other games’ prize pools.
Even if you don’t think you’re “that kind of player,” the kind who’s striving to win the World Championship, would a MOBA without those kind of offerings, without the promise of a big tournament and big prizes, seem less of a game to you? Even if you know you’re not good enough, are you drawn more to a MOBA that has a thriving e-sport presence? Or is a big e-sport tournament now the standard for a MOBA, the same as endgame is for an MMORPG?
That might have been at the heart of EA’s decision to cancel Dawngate: They didn’t just have to make a game, they had to make an experience, and maybe that commitment was just too much for them.