In fact, we probably shouldn’t be surprised in general that there are so many MOBAs in development, in beta, or have already launched. On some level, everyone wants to mimic League of Legends’ massive success, just like MMO devs tried to copy World of Warcraft’s formula for years. But simple economics and risk/reward analysis might also figure into things.
Consider this: A typical MMORPG has vast tracts of land (insert boob joke here), PvE, PvP, crafting, mounts, thousands of items, AI for hundreds of different monsters, lots of text, or voice acting in more modern games, and so on and so on.
Compare that to a typical MOBA, which is much more minimal in its raw components. A small number of maps – maybe only one or two – only one type of gameplay, virtually no PvE or AI, minimal itemization… Sure, new (and old) MOBAs are going to have balance issues between characters, and that’ll take a lot of time and effort to sort out, but that’s not any different than what any MMO faces.
Put simply, making a MOBA requires significantly less expense and time for what can, theoretically, still be a World of Warcraft-like payday. If you don’t have a huge hit, you can still turn a profit with a relatively small player base.
Even Riot didn’t anticipate League of Legends’ explosive success. President Marc Merrill said that their “initial target was 20,000 concurrent users.” They planned small, with a likely minimal budget, and when they hit it big there were growing pains to contend with, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome with time and a whole lot of sudden money.
Consider the opposite position of having a big budget, planning big, needing a game to be big – only to have it be small and cause your entire company to collapse. I’ll take the growing pains any day.
And if it fails to live up to expectations – not something any developer wants, but something every one should plan for – then you’ve invested a lot less time, money, and manpower. It’s a lot easier, one would think, to recover from a failed MOBA than it is to recover from a failed MMO.
True, we probably have too many MOBAs coming out this year, and the market is probably going to become oversaturated with subpar efforts. But before you condemn your favorite company for “selling out” to the MOBA crowd, at least understand why they’re doing it. If it was your money, would you want to go for the lower-risk, quickly developed MOBA or the higher-risk, longer-to-develop MMO? If it was your company and your $millions at stake, what would you do?
By Jason Winter