There's no question that Defense Of The Ancients (Dota) is big. It's a big deal. It's also an immensely complicated game that has evolved over years of intense play, modding and sprawling evolution. It's not very much like any other game out there. And for that reason, it could be argued that Dota 2 lays bare just how unimaginative most video games these days are.
Resident expert in these proceedings: Quintin Smith of Rock, Paper Shotgun, a journalist, board-game enthusiast, and deft wordsmith who has recently spent a hefty chunk of his life deeply submerged in the world of Dota 2. He's been playing the beta before Valve releases the game in its final, free-to-play incarnation on Steam. His verdict? "It's no joke to say it'll become the biggest thing on the PC."
In fact, Smith thinks that Dota 2 is so fresh, so bracingly different in its design that it could never be the product of a major game studio. The game started as a mod and grew in hundreds of unexpected, uncontrollable ways, similar to his current examples of Minecraft and DayZ. But unlike those games, he says that Dota 2 is unlike anything that could be purposefully cooked up by a game development studio. Developers simply don't think the same way that a huge group of gamer/modders do — and as a result, they'll never make a game like Dota 2.
But unlike Minecraft and Day Z, Dota's design could never have surfaced from a commercial games development studio. Mostly, game development studios adhere to genre conventions, and we consider ourselves lucky when they work with no care for genre at all. But what they categorically do not do is go against people's instincts. Nobody's going to make a multiplayer game with one map, that takes an hour to play, that looks like an RTS but will fuck you if you try and play it like one.
Which is to say, it looks like Dota 2′s about to become the most popular game on PC. And it couldn't have come from a professional games studio. That speaks of a strange inadequacy within commercial game design. But that's not actually the depressing part.
He then goes one further, pointing out that despite the fact that a number of different studios are working on "Moba-Like" games, it's possible that none of them will outdo the original. That, Smith says, is perhaps the most dispiriting thing of all:
As you read these words, a dozen professional studios around the world are racing to emulate Dota's success. What's going to be truly depressing is if of all the contenders in the brand-new moba genre, Valve's curator-like porting of Dota 2 into the Source engine remains the most popular one. Not only could our games industry not have had this idea, they can't even improve on it.
All of this is to say that yes, mainstream game development is responsible for many wonderful things. But it may never channel the sheer complexity and scope of a community-driven, mod-based game like Dota 2. And hey, that's probably alright.