We PC gamers have been in the minority for quite some time now, just over a decade if my memory serves me. Whilst many, including myself, get all nostalgic for the days when the PC was the gaming king, being the de-facto platform for any developer the last decade hasn’t exactly been terrible as a PC gamer. Indeed many of the AAA titles still made the effort to create a PC release, even if it would only account for single digit percentages of their player base. There’s been rumblings about a PC resurgence for some time now, mostly on the backs of the aging previous console generation, but apart from some highly speculative numbers there hasn’t been much more to support this.
That was until today.
DFC Intelligence, a video game and entertainment research/reporting company, recently released a report stating that PC games had overtaken consoles in terms of revenue. Considering that PC games rarely make it into any top sales charts this does seem somewhat counterintuitive but according to DFC much of this revenue is due to an explosion of interest in the MOBA (DOTA2, League of Legends, etc.) genre. Other than that there’s still a healthy mix of your typical kinds of PC games: MMORPG, FPS, RTS, etc. but the resurgence of PC gaming is almost entirely due to the popularity of MOBA titles. There’s also apparently more overlap between PC and console gamers with the console now being seen more as the secondary system to the PC. All of this bodes well for PC gaming but for long time veterans like myself the PC gaming of today is much different to the one of the past.
Whilst I knew that the MOBA genre had seen a massive amount of growth in recent times, mostly due to League of Legends, I had hardly thought it was enough to push PC revenues past that of consoles. This is mostly likely due to the incredible number of monthly active users that the top 2 MOBAs have with 67 million League of Legends and 6.5 million DOTA2 players respectively. Compare that to say Call of Duty which has 40 million and it’s easy to see why the PC platform would be making a resurgence, especially considering that their free to play nature usually means a reliable revenue stream. Hell I avoid most free to play games like the plague (and even I do play them rarely do I spend any money on them) but DOTA2 has managed to make me part with a decent chunk of cash over the 1600 or so hours I’ve spent with it. I know I’m not unique in this either but it does say something about what the PC platform has become.
Those of us who wished for the second coming of PC were looking for it to become the primary development platform, the one all developers targeted first. Whilst the consolization of PC games has improved significantly (and is likely to get even better now that consoles and PCs share the same underlying architecture) I still think that the trend is unlikely to change any time soon. Whilst the PC as a platform might be bringing in more revenue than consoles it’s primarily limited to a single genre, one that’s already dominated by 2 massive titles. In terms of AAA title development I get the feeling that consoles are still the prime target for developers, at least those who are playing outside of the MOBA space. I’d love to be wrong on this but it really does look like these numbers are skewed by the phenomenon that is League of Legends more than PCs in general.
Still this could be the catalyst required to vault the PC platform back to the top, especially considering how blurry the lines are now between consoles, PCs and even mobile (to some extent). Most of us PC die hards have made our peace with our console brothers but there’s always that lingering desire to want the platform you prefer to be the one on top. Realistically it doesn’t matter as long as you get to play the games you want to play but that competitive spirit that’s instilled in you from the time when you get your first gaming platform is hard to let go.
I was never particularly good at RTS games, mostly because I never dug deep into the mechanics or got involved in higher level strategies that would have enabled me to progress my sills. However I found a lot of joy in the custom maps that many RTS games had and this was especially so for WarCraft 3. Inbetween my bouts of Elemental Tower Defense, Footman Frenzy and X Hero Siege I inevitably came across Defense of the Ancients and like many others became hooked on it. Whilst I still favoured the less directly competitive maps, much preferring the spam fest that other customs offered, the original laid the foundation for my current obsession with DOTA2 a game which has claimed almost 1400 hours of my life so far.
However DOTA2 wasn’t my first reintroduction into the MOBA scene, that honour goes to Heroes of Newerth which I was somewhat intrigued by whilst it was still in beta. I had a small cadre of friends who liked to play it as well but for some reason it just wasn’t enough to keep us interested and eventually fell by the wayside. The same crew and I had tried League of Legends as well but the experience was just too far away from the DOTA we knew and after a couple games our attention was turned elsewhere. If I’m honest though we were mostly excited to hear about Blizzard’s own version of the MOBA genre as that was one of the reasons that WarCraft 3 DOTA was so enjoyable: it had many of the characters we knew and loved.
It was looking like Blizzard DOTA and DOTA2 were going to launch around similar times and indeed once Valve officially announced DOTA2, with the original map maker IceFrog at the helm, news of the work on Blizzard DOTA went silent. Whilst this was partially due to the court battle that Blizzard and Valve became embroiled in afterwards there was little doubt among the community that Blizzard’s original vision for their MOBA title was going to clash heavily with that of Valve and the work we had seen up until that date was to be scrapped. What was less clear however was what they were working on instead as whilst no one doubts the calibre of Blizzard’s work they were going up against 3 already highly polished products, all of which had dedicated communities behind them.
Well it seems that Blizzard has done something completely out of left field, and it looks awesome.
Heroes of the Storm is the final name of Blizzard’s entrance into the MOBA genre (although they’re hesitating to use that term currently) and whilst it shares some base characteristics with other titles it’s really something out of left field. For starters the typical game is slated to last only 20 minutes, something which is a downright rarity in any other MOBA title. Additionally some of the signature mechanics, like individual hero levels and items, don’t exist in the Heroes of the Storm world. It also has different maps, various mechanics for helping a team achieve victory and a talent tree system for heroes that’s unlike any other MOBA I’ve played before. The differences are so vast that I’d recommend you take a look at this post on Wowhead as it goes into the real nitty gritty of what makes it so unique.
From what I’ve seen it looks like Blizzard is aiming Heroes of the Storm primarily at people who aren’t currently MOBA players as it seems like the barrier to entry on this is quite low. Traditionally this is what has turned people off playing such titles as the learning curve is quite steep and quite frankly the communities have never been too welcoming to newer players. Heroes of the Storm on the other hand could be played 3 times in the space of an hour allowing new players to get up to speed much more quickly. At the same time though I think it will appeal to current MOBA players seeking a different experience, whether they’re feeling burn out on their title of choice or just want something different every once in a while.
I’m quite keen to get my hands on it (I’ve signed up for the beta, here) as I think it’ll be quite a bit of fun, especially with my current group of friends who’ve all taken to DOTA2 with fervour. It’s great to hear that it’s going to be a stand alone title rather than a map within StarCraft 2 and I think that will give Blizzard a lot of freedom with developing the idea in the future. Whether or not it can have the same longevity through a competitive scene like all MOBA titles before it thought will remain to be seen but I get the feeling it’ll be something of a LAN favourite for a while to come.
It’s pretty well known that the communities that surround the MOBA genre, whether it be the original DOTA or the newer incarnations such as DOTA2, League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth, are spectacularly hostile. Indeed in the beginning when DOTA was just a custom application many people relied on 3rd party ban services, many of which relied on user generated lists to filter out bad people. Of course these being user generated led to a lovely hate cycle where people would simply ban whoever they felt like. Once you were past that barrier it didn’t get much better with any requests for help or misunderstanding of certain mechanics usually earning you a place on those lists. It was for this reason that many of us just stopped playing the original DOTA, the community around it was just horrifically toxic.
There was hope that the newer entries into the MOBA scene would help to alleviate this somewhat as a fresh platform would give the community a chance to reinvent itself. Unfortunately, at least in my experience on HoN (I only played 3~4 games of LoL), the same toxic community sprouted once again and I found myself wondering why I was bothering. DOTA2 started out the same way with my first few games being marred by similar experiences but there was enough to the game that kept me coming back and something strange started to happen: the people I was playing with were becoming infinitely better. Not just in terms of skill but in terms of being productive players, those with an active interest in helping everyone out and giving solid criticism on improving their play.
Initially most of that was due to me moving up the skill brackets however there was still a noticeable amount of toxicity even at the highest skill levels. What really made the change however was the introduction of communication bans, a soft ban mechanism that prevents a player from communicating directly with their team, limiting them to canned responses and map pings. Whilst the first week or two were marred with issues surrounding the system, although I do bet a few “issues” were people thinking they were in the right for abusing everyone, soon after the quality of my in game experience improved dramatically. It’s even got to the point where I’ve had people apologize for losing their cool when it’s pointed out to them something which has just never happened to me before in an online game.
It was then interesting to read about Microsoft’s new reputation system that they’ll be introducing with the Xbox One. Essentially there’s 3 levels of reputation: “good players” which compromise most of the gaming community, “needs attention” a kind of warning zone that tells you that you’re not the saint your mother says you are and finally “avoid me” which is pretty self explanatory. It’s driven by an underlying score that centers on community feedback so a group of jerks can’t instantly drop you to avoid me nor can you simply avoid a game for a couple months and have it reset on you. Additionally there’s a kind of credibility score attached to each player so those who report well are given more weight than those who report anyone and everyone who looks at them the wrong way.
Considering my experience with the similar system in DOTA2 I have pretty high hopes for the Xbox One’s reputation system to go a fair way to improving the online experience on Xbox Live. Sure it won’t be perfect, no system ever is, but you’d be surprised how quickly people will change their behavior when they get hit with something that marks them as being a negative impact on the community. There will always be those who enjoy nothing more than making everyone else’s online life miserable but at least they’ll quickly descend into an area where they can play with like minded individuals. That avoid me hell, akin to low priority in DOTA2, is a place that no one likes to be in for long and many are happy to pay the price of being a nice person in order to get out of it.