The MOBA Market Expansion

MOBAs have been rising in popularity over recent years and today's post examines it's growth and things to consider if you are thinking of working on one in the near future.

The Game Industry like all product driven markets is prone to having market trends dictate popular games. During the 00s we had MMOs and FPS titles being popular and numerous developers creating games from them.


The new trend that we're seeing is an increase in the MOBA genre and for today's post we're going to talk about some things you need to be aware of with it.

What is a MOBA?

MOBA stands for multiplayer online battle arena and was first seen as a mod for the popular strategy game Warcraft 3 by Blizzard. Gameplay consisted of players controlling individual heroes who would fight for control of a map.

The first big MOBA was Defense of the Ancients or as it's more commonly known as DOTA. DOTA like other games not made from the AAA market at the time was a hit among the niche fan base, but not known in mainstream circles. The game that did cause the genre to explode would be Riot GamesLeague of Legends. Released in 2009, the number of things that Riot did right with League of Legends could fill up several articles but here is the cliff's notes version of what made it a success.

League of Legends was one of the first Free to Play games aimed at hardcore gamers. By keeping the micro transactions away from the actual gameplay, they avoided all accusations of being pay to win and turned their custom skins into a massive market.

Riot also proved that the free to play market was in fact lucrative and paved the way for companies like Valve to make Team Fortress 2 free to play and a host of other F2P games to be made,

DOTA 2's prize pool was one of the largest for an E-Sports tournament.

Flash forward to today and both DOTA 2 and League of Legends have tournaments going on with the recent DOTA 2 tournament having a cash pool of over 10 million dollars. There are also new games coming or are already on the market, including Infinite Crisis by TurbineBattleborn by GearboxHeroes of the Swarm by Blizzard and a lot more.

Now that we know what a MOBA is and what's been going on with the market, let's talk about why they are so popular.

The Popularity of MOBAs

Hardcore Appeal:

As we mentioned further up, MOBAs have attracted hardcore gamers to the free to play genre which has been a hard task with other genres. The competitive team based design has made it very popular thanks to the complexity and variety of matches.

This popularity has also made MOBAs accepted as games for tournament play along the lines of fighting games and the EVO tournament. With the continuing growth of the E-Sports market, having a game that is not only being played but watched can mean massive exposure for it and your company.

Accepted Monetization:

One of the biggest problems that designers have with marketing their F2P titles to gamers is how to monetize their game in a way that gets them money without upsetting the people playing.

League of Legend's custom skins are the game's main money maker and feature a variety of options for players.

League of Legends kept all the monetization off of the actual gameplay and instead allows consumers to buy boosts and new champions while offering champions free each week.

The real money maker for Riot are the custom skins that vary in terms of cosmetic differences and price. Many people buy these skins either to stand out from the crowd or to simply support Riot for making League of Legends.

Basic Blueprint of Design:

MOBAs like MMOs and FPS before it, featured a standard set of design that any developer could use as a framework for their title. Every MOBA has two teams facing off, specific character classes and maps based around specific points to defend.

GabeNewellOne of the things about the internet is, it's changing what entertainment is and what sports is.It's not just a few people offering an experience for other people. It's really growing out of what everybody does.

So when I have a great game playing Dota, everybody else is benefitting and that goes all the way to people creating content, people running tournaments, and people competing on an international stage -- Gabe Newell, Valve

The rest is up to the designer to alter as they see fit to make their game stand out. For instance, MOBAs like Smite and Super Monday Night Combat were third person based. The differences are in the details such as how both League of Legends and DOTA 2 have attracted different MOBA fans due to their subtle design changes.

Concerns on the Market

Lastly, it's important to point out some concerns with the trend and things to be aware of if you're planning on designing your own MOBA.


During the MMO craze of the 00s, the market was flooded by developers and games all looking to take on World of Warcraft. However with all these games competing in the same space, there just weren’t enough fans to go around.

Due to the commitment needed to play these games, once someone found a MMO they liked, it would take a lot to convince them to move on to something else. And we're seeing the same trend happen today with the MOBAs. While both League of Legends and DOTA 2 have attracted a huge fan base, the other MOBAs are still considered small fries. And with more developers joining the space, the fan base is going to be stretched even thinner.

Not Mainstream Friendly:

If there is one thing that the general public knows about the MOBA genre is that the fan base can be quite vitriol. For a time, League of Legends was known to have the worse online community around.

When you combine competitive team based gameplay with ranking systems, it tends to put everyone on edge. This in turn makes them very unfriendly to new players or a possible mainstream market.

MOBAs can be very complex and not open to new players which can be a turn off for the mainstream market.

Now despite the original community, Riot has made numerous strides to improve their community image and things have gotten better. But this is something to keep in mind for any new developer looking at getting into the MOBA market. It's important to have systems in place for dealing with harassment of any kind and to make sure that your stance is that it will not be tolerated in your game.

MOBA popularity continues to grow thanks to both DOTA 2 and League of Legends and is one of the strongest examples for video games as an E-Sport. However, whether or not this means that a MOBA boom will work or we'll have another MMO styled crash remains to be seen.

(Reprinted from the Xsolla Blog)

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