The lights are on
There's a new four-letter word in the industry that has some
players denouncing developers and publishers and avoiding games like they've
been afflicted with some kind of leprous plague. Like other maligned buzzwords
before it, if you're dismissing a game out of hand because of a single term,
you're only hurting yourself.
Let me tell you about a new game. It's a team-based
cooperative and competitive first-person shooter – you like those, right? It
comes from a developer that has innovated
in the genre before, and the game has a ton of playable characters, each
with their own unique weapons, abilities, and different play styles. The game
features an added layer of A.I.-controlled bots that goes beyond what Titanfall
did and affects the overall flow of the game's tug-of-war matches. It's also
got a rapid leveling system that resets after each match, so everyone starts on
the same playing field and can experiment with different builds instead of
being locked into a lengthy progression path. Sounds like a game that's got
some interesting ideas, right?
Now say the word "MOBA," and watch how quickly the
disposition of your fellow gamers turns from interest to disgust. You don't
even have to say that the game is a MOBA, but merely incorporates some MOBA
elements into the first-person shooter genre, and suddenly – magically – the
game is just another mindless cash-grab clone of other games. Another League of
That's how some gamers reacted to our reveal
of Battleborn, and I wish I could say it's the first time a new IP on our
cover has been met with unfounded cynicism, but Evolve was similarly
dismissed by a vocal group of complainers for its smaller-than-average player
count – before going on to win numerous Best
Of Show awards and enrapturing fans all week at last
month's E3. Running the gauntlet of hypercritical gamers has become the price
developers pay for trying something new, but even so I've been surprised by the
pessimism Battleborn has faced because of a single word, in part because what we played feels so different from what people assume the game to be.
I get the skepticism when it comes to MOBAs; like many
gamers, the term floods my mind with thoughts of insular and hostile
communities, single-map games, and clicking on enemies ad nauseum. What I don't
understand is the aversion to any elements found in MOBAs that might make
another genre more interesting. What is it that's so frightening? The wide
range of gameplay variety that a large cast of playable characters offers? The "games-as-a-service"
model that has developers continually tweaking, adding to, and improving their
game based on community feedback? God forbid if some day a developer decides to make a
triple-A quality, free-to-play shooter that doesn't exploit its player base...
But the potential of those elements doesn't matter to the
vocal subset of the gaming community that has more fun complaining about games
than actually playing them, and "MOBA" is just the latest buzzword to make their hair bristle. Before "MOBA" it was "free-to-play;" before "free-to-play," it was
"mobile," and "social," and the dreaded "casual." Each of those trends has
produced more than its share of bile, to be sure, but that doesn't mean you
should revel in the subsequent toxicity or ignore the developers and games that
good things with those ideas.
There's nothing wrong with knowing what you like and what
you don't, and for many gamers (myself included), MOBAs may fall into the latter category.
However, that's not an excuse to couch your aversions in unwarranted criticism.
It's an unnecessary shifting of responsibility from your own personal taste to blaming
someone else for your indifference; I know I don't like fighting games, but I
don't think any less of gamers who do, and I don't blame NetherRealm for making
Kombat for fans of the series. More importantly, if a developer were to incorporate
an element of fighting games into a genre I do like, I'd be interested in hearing
more about it before I jump to any conclusions or start sharpening my knives. I
learned a long time ago that in order to discover a new favorite game, you must first be willing to play it.
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.