Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 23, 2014

Blizzard will go outright war into the MOBA scene

Blizzard is such a clever company. It’s rare to see a game company perform so well, so consistently, for so long. The reason due to this has to be the business guys at the top. They not only tend to be on top of technology and consumer trends, they know how to correct problems. Whatever legitimate or message forum nonsense blame Jay Wilson had with Diablo 3, the reason why he was gone is that his presence was hurting the brand. There are other decisions the company’s business side has made that have impressed me over the years, no need to go into specifics.

One thing that is clear to me is that Blizzard is set to go into outright war into the MOBA scene. Blizzard has had more to do with the creation of the fundamental gameplay of the MOBA than anyone else. It was Blizzard’s game mechanics and art that is the basis of DOTA and Aeon of Strife. They were made with Blizzard’s editors. I’ve been through the JASS code of DOTA and there really isn’t anything that is unique to DOTA. Most of the JASS is just tricking an already existing spell (which Blizzard made). All the heroes of DOTA were Blizzard heroes and characters. This isn’t like Tower Defense which adopted a very different mechanic than was in the base game. DOTA was like the first five minutes of a Warcraft 3 game surpassing an hour.

What no one is pointing out is how pissed off Blizzard is with the current MOBA scene. You know how game companies go batshit crazy over used game sales thinking all that money should go to them? Consider Blizzard’s current relation to the MOBA scene. The MOBA was made on THEIR games, using THEIR art, THEIR game mechanics, and through THEIR editors. We saw Blizzard sue the Valve Corporation over DOTA. You don’t think the business guys at the top in Blizzard aren’t pissed? You really think Heroes of the Storm is just a ‘hobby’ where Blizzard is trying to go ‘Blue Ocean’ and make ‘casual’ and ‘different’ game? Oh, ho ho ho, my friend. I see an enraged Blizzard set to intentionally create an earthquake in the MOBA area.

First off, Heroes of the Storm isn’t a ‘hobby’. It has the full RTS team on it. They aren’t making Warcraft 4. They are making Heroes. Heroes of the Storm has more priority over Warcraft 4 within Blizzard. The ‘hobby’ was Hearthstone. As I understand it, Hearthstone was Blizzard’s experiment of making a game with only a few people like back in the old days. I also hear that Hearthstone had many, many problems during its development cycle. The point is that if Heroes of the Storm was seen by Blizzard as a ‘hobby’, it would still be a map in the Starcraft 2 game instead of being given its own franchise. It is now Blizzard Franchise # 5 after Warcraft, Diablo, Starcraft, and Hearthstone.

I also think too much is being made of Heroes being ‘da casual’ in order to create growth. If you’ve played RTS games as long as I have, you would know that team gameplay is a very big reason why people play RTS games. I had to reprogram Command and Conquer to play team multiplayer games over the Internet which made me get a letter from an unhappy Westwood Studios. (Note that in the sequels and services offered afterward began to focus on team multiplayer.) Remember that Red Alert came with TWO discs which allowed two different computers to play multiplayer against each other. Also remember that Warcraft 2 and Starcraft allowed ‘spawning’ which fed right into team based multiplayer. With Warcraft 2, we had to go to Kali in order to play Internet multiplayer. Instead of writing angry letters at us, Blizzard followed the players’ lead asking us to patch 1.2 of Warcraft 2 with them and placing Kali on the Warcraft 2 disc. The MOBA growth is largely coming from the team based gameplay that fueled the RTS and MMORPG genre for so long. From Blizzard’s perspective, the current MOBA scene is a threat not only to Blizzard’s RTS games but to World of Warcraft as well. These online team multiplayer games are going against each other. Instead of seeing MOBA as a genre or MMORPG as a genre or RTS as a genre, focus on the job those genres do. One of the most important jobs they do is team multiplayer.

And team multiplayer is really where Starcraft 2 was crap. I have always played RTS games as team multiplayer. Sure, I can play 1 vs 1. But you know what? I get bored. Games end up with me just doing something a little faster or doing a better strategy than my opponent. There is no personality. With team based multiplayer, I deal with personalities instead of just strategies and mechanics. I had stopped playing Starcraft 1 a long while back, but apparently it evolved where 1 vs 1 was ‘the thing’ in Starcraft. Therefore, Starcraft 2 was designed entirely around 1 vs 1. The 3v3 or 4v4 are seen as a joke mode in Starcraft 2, and Blizzard doesn’t take balancing team multiplayer seriously.

This is also why the ‘E-Sport’ Starcraft 2 players look so confused and bored with Heroes. They have no ‘mechanics’ to master. There is no way for them to be ‘the star’ of the game. While current MOBAs have more in common with RTS in that there are four or five heroes playing as separate entities though allied as a team, Heroes seems more like World of Warcraft in that people are not separate entities but provide roles that is unified entirely as a team. If you’ve ever been a Raid Leader in WoW, you know that it is more about dealing with people’s personalities and getting people to ‘not stand in fire’ and do what they are supposed to do than mechanics and personal strategy. You don’t really see E-Sport people play MMORPGs outside of the ‘level as fast as possible’ type mode. What I’m trying to point out is that there are many RTS players who are bored and confused with Starcraft 2’s focus on 1v1 multiplayer because they prefer to play team based multiplayer. “That is the casual way to play RTS. The only real way to play is 1v1.” That is crap. And the growth of the MOBA scene shows us why it is crap. If 1v1 is so awesome to play, then why are team based multiplayer so popular including having people watch via Twitch or E-Sports?

While Heroes will attract people who aren’t interested in the current MOBAs, we have forgotten that large pool of RTS team multiplayer fans that were ignored with Starcraft 2.

While making a game more accessible grows the market of the game, it also cuts the knees from its competitors. No one imagined World of Warcraft being as popular as it became. Everquest dominated the scene. For a while, World of Warcraft and Everquest were rivals. I remember Everquest even putting in a pizza delivery into the game where you could order pizza from the game. World of Warcraft pulled ahead because new players preferred the less bullshit that WoW cleared away. WoW simply was more accessible. When we look at the MOBA scene, it isn’t so much as Heroes pulling away DOTA or LoL players as it is gobbling up all future growth.

If I was the Valve Corporation or Riot, I’d be shitting in my pants at the moment. Blizzard’s track record speaks for itself. Blizzard doesn’t make many games, but the games it does make ends up dominating the genre it is in. The only exception I can think of was during the earlier RTS days where Blizzard had to share with Westwood Studios and Ensemble. But both Westwood and Ensemble are dead. The vast graveyard of MMORPG competitors to WoW or RTS competitors to Warcraft and Starcraft show just how strong Blizzard’s sticky power is. Starcraft 2 is the current top RTS game. World of Warcraft dominates the MMORPG scene. Diablo 3, which has sold around 15 million copies, dominates the Action RPG genre despite Torchlight 2, despite Path of Exile, and despite Diablo 3’s problems. Hearthstone dominates the video game trading card scene. The idea that Heroes of the Storm is only intended to be a ‘hobby’ or ‘cute casual game like Farmville for MOBAs’ is someone who isn’t paying attention to Blizzard’s history.

I assure you that the Valve Corporation and Riot games are very, very worried. The more you think about, it’s pretty easy to see how difficult it will be for them to compete.

DOTA 2 players tend to like ‘non-change’. Most DOTA 2 players started playing DOTA with Warcraft 3 when they were young and just think that is the ‘normal’. Anything different would be ‘abnormal’. How exactly can DOTA 2 change? It can’t really change the map or anything without their fanbase going rabid. DOTA 2 can’t change the ‘last hitting’ or ten minutes of lane farming without the DOTA fanbase going apeshit. Worse, the DOTA 2 heroes are nothing more than renamed and reskinned Warcraft 3 heroes. Would you rather have a ‘wisp’ or an ‘io’?

LoL has more room to adapt. But the big thing that hurts LoL, in my opinion, is just how graphically dated LoL looks. In addition, LoL already has its system and people invested in certain game mechanics. LoL can’t do widespread changes, thought it can add more.

Every MOBA player is aware of Blizzard and the Blizzard universes. After all, many MOBA players were Warcraft 3 owners. Those that go back to Aeon of Strife were Starcraft owners. Blizzard using their franchise’s heroes is something the other MOBAs can’t really compete. You can tell Blizzard isn’t interested in using Heroes to promote their other franchises. If that were the case, Tyrael would look like the shitty version he is in Diablo 3. Instead, Tyrael looks like the awesome version he was in Diablo 2. We don’t see cleansed Kerrigan or feral Zerg Kerrigan, we see the Kerrigan of Brood War.

What is most interesting about Heroes is that we can see it being a springboard for Blizzard to introduce New Stuff. MOBA scene feels very stale.

Since the MOBA scene is very large, expect to hear much viral marketing. It’s clear the Valve Corporation does engage in a ton of viral marketing. I highly doubt the shrines and prayers to ‘Gabe’ came by the players themselves (‘Gabe’ doesn’t even make games, he is literally the personification of the ‘fat cat businessman’). I’m not sure about Riot. And Blizzard, themselves, plays in this little game as well. When I see a Twitch stream of Heroes, I ask myself, “Are the streamers playing it because it is fun or because Blizzard asked them to play?” These things go through my head (I’m very cynical).

When I see someone saying so much against the Heroes alpha, I ask myself, “Why is he protesting so much?” It is just an alpha, after all. Where was this guy back when it was called Blizzard DOTA? Blizzard DOTA wasn’t a threat then. It was using the same exact paradigm that MOBAs had used, and it wouldn’t compete for the same reason why new MOBAs can’t compete due to the years of existing content in LoL and DOTA 2. It is like a new MMORPG competing against World of Warcraft. It isn’t going to happen. But by using a different paradigm, all that massive content no longer matters because it is content of an old paradigm. Who cares how many items the MOBA has if there is a MOBA that doesn’t use items at all.

I did fall for the belief that Blizzard was doing a ‘Blue Ocean’ approach with Heroes. I think Blizzard is going full out war here. I also think people believe Blizzard is ‘transparent’ in that they know all about Heroes because of the alpha are being fools. The alpha is only what Blizzard wants tested at the moment. My gut feeling is that there are tons of components to this game being made done. I am expecting Blizzard to do some E-Sport viewing thing with it, for example. There are tons more heroes out there probably already done. But they aren’t going to flood the alpha with all those heroes. They might also be hiding heroes they suspect could be stolen by competitors. No one is going to take the iconic Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo characters because they can’t. No one is going to take the siege tank hero because that is unique only to Starcraft. They probably also have many more maps done but aren’t ready for public testing. The alpha shouldn’t be seen as measurement of Blizzard’s ambition with this title. I think the alpha’s purpose was to test out more general concepts such as the leveling up mode and buying things from the store.

As I understand how Blizzard works, alphas test general concepts. Alphas also overpower everything to absurdity. The Blizzard model is to overpower things to make everything feel VERY POWERFUL and then tweak it down. The game is broken on purpose in alphas. The general concept is that Blizzard seems interested in getting what the general feel for the game is, how it all comes to together. The reason why they want to nail this is that this must be done before the content is added. Blizzard tends to save the content for the last.

The alpha of Warcraft 3 just had your meat and potatoes units of Humans and Orcs going against each other. Alpha of Diablo 3 had the Skeleton King I believe. As much as they are missing content, I think Heroes is in that same relationship. Heroes alpha is missing all the content. Aside from a gazillion more heroes that are missing, we’re missing all the maps. They’re going to do a talent overhaul so the talents we see aren’t the full content.

Keep in mind that the people in the top positions of Blizzard today were the same ones who were competing against Sega and Nintendo during the 16-bit generation. From a competitive standpoint, DOTA 2 and LoL are nothing compared to Mario and Sonic in the 16-bit generation.

Blizzard Alphas in the Past

People kept saying that Heroes alpha looked too polished to be an alpha. I think that is because Blizzard’s art and sound studios are on steroids compared to other companies. When they do art or sound with their little finger, it is the equivalent of a released game for other game companies.

But what we can see is that Blizzard alphas in the past showcase and test general concepts. There is much change to the final product.

The above is the ALPHA for Warcraft 3. Just look at it! I think the video is from 1999.

The above is the BETA for Warcraft 3. Undead and Night Elf still aren’t working yet. While the game may ‘seem’ polished, it is still nowhere near the final product of what Warcraft 3 was when it launched.

Look at the Starcraft 2 alpha! Terrible! Very interesting to watch though.

Based on this, we have to ask ourselves what is the alpha for Heroes of the Storm? We know talents are getting revamped. We know there will be many, many more heroes and maps added. I think it may be too early to say much about Heroes at this point, both FOR or AGAINST. All we know is that Blizzard wants to evolve Heroes in a different direction than where DOTA 2 and LoL went. This is going to be a very interesting game to watch develop if the previous alphas of Blizzard are any indicator.



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