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MOBA developers need to stop chasing leaders of the genre

The dangers of MOBA clones

Developers of multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games need to stop chasing the leading titles of the genre and start having original visions and goals, according to a panel of MOBA game developers at PAX.

Speaking at a panel at PAX Prime in Seattle today, developers from Turbine, S2 Games, HiRez and Waystone Games warned that new MOBAs that simply copy already successful titles and just re-skin them are likely to fail because they don't offer the community anything new. With the recent rise in popularity of MOBA games, more and more developers are keen to jump on the bandwagon and cash in on growing MOBA communities. According to the developers on the panel, unless these MOBAs can offer something significantly different, it will be very difficult for them to succeed.

"I think there's a real danger in chasing something that's extremely popular," said Dave Cerra, lead producer at Waystone Games. "Chasing League of Legends doesn't work. We're not in this industry to re-skin games."

Cerra said that the MOBA genre reminds him of the mid-90s when many first-person shooters were chasing id Software's Doom and, rather than carving a place for themselves in the market, they were known as being Doom clones. He said the same is happening with many MOBA games.

Todd Harris of HiRez said MOBA games are now entering a third phase of development, which requires originality and experimentation. The first phase, he said, was the community making mods of the original MOBAs. The second phase was professional developers taking those games and tweaking and innovating on them a bit, delivering good products and services. The game genre is now in its third phase, and this involves "developers experimenting with mechanics."

According to Harris, it is no longer enough for developers to try to one-up existing MOBAs by having more maps and more characters. Having more of the same thing is just a varnish, and this isn't enough to draw in players.

"We're in a phase where you're going to see an explosion of titles — some will be like the leaders with a varnish, and those won't thrive. But those that do something different that interests the community will."