How Dota 2 Exposes The Shortcomings Of The Video Game Industry

How Dota 2 Exposes The Shortcomings Of The Video Game Industry

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.

Dota 2: An Electric Valhalla, Pt. 1 [RPS]


    • Yeah, its like they’re all missing the whole… number 2 at the end and that dota isn’t a sequal; its just a graphical update.

      • It’s also an engine update, allowing much easier development of new skills than using substitutes, work grounds and so on.

      • Better interface… But they could have at least added some more maps, maybe make 4 maps with different themes instead of one.

        • Same heroes, same items, same stats, same gameplay mechanics, same map, same same same. Only thing different is the engine (allowing you to reconnect ect) and graphics. What experience can I get with DotA2 that I can’t already get with DoTA1 or even HoN ?

          • Uh huh, and why are graphical, engine, ui, and game features all being better, while keeping the core game the same always a bad thing?
            What is the difference between Dota2 being an upgrade of everything over War3 Dota, and for example a HD version of FFVII that everyone has been clamouring for for years now?

  • If those comments were made a decade ago about DotA, I would agree (or AoS but that’s like talking about Dune 2 when talking about the explosion of competitive RTS games thanks to SC: Brood War).

    DotA2 is the result of a major commercial studio taking an existing formula and doing it extraordinarily well.

    The amazing thing about DotA2 is Valve’s approach to it as an eSport.

    Dammit, I’ve come off all hipster and “I knew about this before it was cool”. Finding something that sparks interest like this is amazing and I’m happy that Quintin Smith feels that way. He’s just a little late to the party, it doesn’t make his interest less valid.

    • Yeah it has same heroes, stats etc but if you play dota 1 vs dota 2, it really is different. The ENGINE itself makes the game play differently.

  • So Smith thinks that DOTA 2 is the “most popular” MOBA.
    It’d be nice to actually see some stats and sources to back that up. A cursory glance shows current players at 23,374 and peak today at 36,451 players. In November 2011 – more than 6 months ago – LoL boasted a 32 million playerbase – with a peak of 1.3 million per day, and a total daily turnaround of 4.2 million. If that’s the measure of popularity, then DOTA 2 has a long way to go.

    Sounds to me like Smith’s not accustomed to playing videogames, and has taken his first bite at a competitive multiplayer game. I can understand that he might think video games are the future.

        • You only get invites atm if your pc is either a total beast or a complete piece of crap. They are optimizing it. People with run of the mill pcs do not get invites to the beta.

      • Yet the writer states that it is the most popular game on Steam (it’s not) and about to become the most popular PC game (it’s not).

        Perhaps more interesting is the fact that Skyrim is ranked as the 4th most played game in the last 24 hours – a solely single player game amidst a sea of multiplayer titles. Given that Steam is pushing new community pages, it’s inclusion in the top ten shows not only that single player games are still popular, but they can also have thriving communities, even if those people can never play “together”.

        Or how about the fact that Counter Strike makes the list three times (CS, CS:S, CS:GO) compared to a single CoD game (MW3)? Surely that sends a similar message – that a mod can outperform something produced by a multi-million dollar profit.

      • If you think DOTA is going to fare better when it’s released, you’ll be disappointed.

        Without going too much in depth, here’s the dot-point list as to why DOTA won’t be as widely played as LoL:

        – LoL is more accessible to MOBA newbies. It doesn’t matter whether you love LoL or hate it, that’s just fact.
        – 32 million players. 32 MILLION. Most game companies wish they had a TWENTIETH of that number playing their games. Even if DOTA drags a few people away, it’s going to be a drop in the bucket.
        – Despite DOTA being the progenitor, LoL has established itself as *the* MOBA to play. If someone wants to try the genre, they don’t say ‘try DOTA’. They say ‘try LoL’. Essentially, LoL has become to MOBAs what WoW is to MMOs. It’s that snowball effect of success, popularity and word-of-mouth that will drive it forward.

  • I don’t think it will overtake League of Legends… Same concept with an entrenched fanbase and now creating a huge eSports presence.

  • Right on the money about game design in general. A lot of the so called genres that have emerged were mostly due to the shortcomings of the technology available, but recently it’s been the shortcomings of the game designers.
    FPS are easier to make than 3rd person games with melee. Linear games are easier to make than open world games.

    What makes the Dota design brilliant is it captures the fun parts of rts, rpg, and multiplayer, with epic annihilation gameplay. Not ridiculous gamey capture the flag formats. Every multiplayer game should be designed with the dota format in mind. Replayable epic games that give you alot of options and a balanced and interesting environment map.

  • TBH what Made the original DotA so much fun was the fact you could play it for hours then switch to a Tower defence game or a RTS without leaving the same game.. Oh WC3 you were so great 🙂

  • I found it to be to dark and at times hard to see what is going on. LoL is much easier to keep track of and counter or flash or run ect. It just didn’t capture me as different, at least not in a fun way.

  • The good Modders always seem to make better use of the game engines than the devs. I hope one day, devs focus more on making user friendly engine kits and let the community modders come up with the game designs. The more ideas and prototypes the better.

    • Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.

      Basically, it’s one of the names given to the genre that DotA now sits in. I think it was coined by Riot when they released League of Legends so that they didn’t have to keep saying that they were releasing a DotA-clone because their key point at the beginning was that it was different from DotA.

    • Also to follow on what Trjn has said. Valve has been calling Dota recently an ARTS, which is Action Real Time Strategy.

  • This article would make so much more sense to me, as an avid DotA, HoN and LoL player, as well as a much wider range of games in general, if it were about DotA, not DotA 2. DotA was innovative – DotA 2 is not. Its taking an established game that is probably close to 10 years old and giving it a standalone platform outside of warcraft3. DotA was extremely innovative, and you’re right, it absolutely could not have come out of a bigger game development studio. DotA2 is the same game that has now been around for close to a decade with updated graphics and support systems – all of which have been available in the form of LoL, a game which has continued to innovate and evolve ever since it was released, now with over 100 distinct champions, a quasi-RPG system and new game maps and modes. You come off as hollow to someone who understands and plays these types of games.

  • Out of all the MOABs LoL feels the most different and I don’t mean in a good way. HoN has been my staple MOAB since it first went into beta, but recently after a few updates I can see DOTA2 taking its place.

    I know people are claiming DOTA2 isn’t innovative but look at everything else it is providing other than the gameplay, and you can see theakor eSport potential of this game.

  • “It’s no joke to say it’ll become the biggest thing on the PC.” I think this comment would have been better aimed at League of Legends ETA -2 years… Also, I have played basically all of the attempts at this genre… its League or nothing… srry Dota2… no dice

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