Thursday, August 27, 2009

MOBAs: Newb-Unfriendliness Typified

I can’t talk specifically about what MOBA I’ve been playing, but I have been playing one that Mot really likes and I like a bit as well. The gameplay is engaging and requires constant attention. There are several layers of strategy involved, and inadequacy at one level can cause a loss when playing competently. From what I’ve read and seen, this game is representative of MOBAs in general, so I will comment on the genre instead of the game specifically.

My initial impression of MOBAs was largely skewed because the game forces newbies to play against people with vastly superior skill at random. The matchmaking engine for the MOBA we played, in particular, used an ELO rating system that matches up teams with similar aggregate ELO ratings (exactly how the aggregation happens is unknown to me). Mot is a good player and I’m a brand new newbie, so naturally we are pitted against good players when we choose to play together. This leads to my prompt destruction and eventual frustration as players who know the game inside and out pick me apart for mistakes I didn’t even know I could make.

And when I made mistakes, it cost my whole team the advantage. I basically was forced to throw games in our opponents favor just because I was new, and this was frustrating my unwitting teammates. I expected some backlash, but people were either understanding or silent in most games. There was a minor taunting episode once that didn’t affect me much. Being a burden on others and not having much fun in the process left me unwilling to play the game again.

Why should I play a game where I will cause other people to not have much fun for half-hour increments? A newbie playing a MOBA is a lose-lose deal. The newb gets a dose of harassment and taunting from angry teammates, and those teammates are forced to deal with an ineffective team member and come near wasting a half-hour of their life.

I played a few more games before I wrote this post and they solidified my observations. I played well in two games and enjoyed myself, scoring two wins and contributing to the victories as much as I could. The third game, though, left me wanting to never load the client again. The other team was well-coordinated and played very well throughout the contest. I could hold my own in a lane for the first stage of the game, but the other team got together early and destroyed us repeatedly in small engagements and sometimes in a large blob. I don’t know enough about the game to combat a fluid blobbing strategy, and my teammates were reviling me. I asked them to actually help me instead of making fun of me, and they proceeded to be negative and make the whole experience a miserable one for everyone.

Afterwards, I went to the forums and did some more reading about the game to try to better my play. I’m confronted with advice to learn what every hero can do. There are 28 heroes, five of which you’ll play against in a given game. That means in six matches, ideally, you’d encounter every hero in the game at least once. Some champions are far more popular than others, though, and you only tend to learn an opponent well if you lane against them for a while and see what they can do. This means that it may take 20 to 30 matches to lane against each hero and have a passable level of knowledge about your opponents. At 30 minutes per match, that’s 10 hours of being a newbie—ten hours of dragging your team down as you try to learn the game. Combine that with trying different champions and the tendency for the MOBAs to be extremely unforgiving.

It seems like MOBAs are rigged so negative and frustrating situations have to happen to new players. I doubt there’s a lot of growth potential in the genre with such a miserable newbie experience. It’s a shame, because the game mechanics are unique and fun when you are playing against opponents at your skill level.


motstandet said...

Learning any new genre is going to be difficult. It is unfortunate that one of the greatest parts of MOBAs is also a detriment. Players on your team can get pretty verbal when you carry so much responsibility.

It also doesn't help that MOBAs come from one of the most unfriendly online gaming communities: People playing DotA see trash talk as part of the package, even if they are playing a different MOBA.

timedout said...

Try playing Heroes of Newerth. Goddamn thing is worse. You can't even join a game if your record is new, or your rating is low.

Games like these do not tailor themselves to new players, and are exclusionary. Just another reason I've stopped playing multiplayer games, where I have to go through a painful "hazing" process before I can enjoy the action.

As far as game design goes, this is all fine, assuming you are trying for deep strategic play, but if your goal is mass appeal then you are definitely shooting yourself in the foot.

One easy way around this issue, of course, is to have a 1v1 mode. Though in a game like Heroes of Newerth the game mechanics won't really work with only 2 players. Truely, games are sometimes just too much, especially for those of us who only want to play for an hour or two.

Melf_Himself said...

Even before the NDA dropped it was pretty obvious which game you were playing ^^

I think these sorts of games really need a single player option for learning the game - I'm surprised that LoL doesn't? Demigod does it and I wasn't left with that "utter noob" feeling much at all (there is still of course some transition going from fighting against stupid AI to fighting against real people).

Good matchmaking is key to a good PvP experience, just the same as difficulty is in a PvE game. If you want to play with your friend who has a different skill level, or if the population is low, you will end up facing people who are of widely different skill.

The former problem can be overcome by allowing games with your friends against the AI who cheat to an adjustable degree; the latter problem requires a wide enough pool of players to draw from. That in turn necessitates good net code and a slow-ish game design so that players can play with others who are on the other side of the world - unless you know for a fact that your game is going to be so popular that everyone will always be able to find a game (eg TF2).

motstandet said...

This is the reason NDAs are in place. Evizaer formed his opinion and displayed it on the blog. Now others see his opinion of an unfinished game and attribute features, or lack of features, to the released game.

LoL will have a tutorial. It is being working on and should be in the beta in one of the upcoming patches. I've also heard talks of a "newbie island" where new players only play with new players.

You can create "practice games" in LoL and fill the slots with bots. The problem is that there is so much variation in how humans play DotA and LoL that bots simply cannot keep up. You really have to play with people if you want to succeed in this genre.

evizaer said...

Want me to take this post down?

I think most of the complaints are legitimate against any MOBA. There is a problem here, regardless of a single-player mode. There are not AIs good enough to allow a new player to train up to a competitive level without having to pull down their team in games with actual human players.

motstandet said...

It's your prerogative.

I think the newbie island tutorial is going to help immensely and be a great success. Perhaps you can edit the post to mention that a feature like this is forthcoming?