Using MDA to grow a MOBA

Responding to the call for blogs on MOBA, we will use the MDA framework to design a new MOBA.

For those of you unfamiliar with the MDA framework for game design, it is an attempt at formalizing the design process by providing a structure around which you build a game.  The main conceit features cascading dependencies: Mechanics defined by Dynamics defined by Aesthetics.  By defining the experiences and emotional responses (Aesthetics) first, designers have a reference and foundation to maintain consistency as they dive deeper into the game system.  Ideally, the behaviors of the player and game logic (Dynamics) spread organically and define solid components of the game (Mechanics).


We will use this approach to assemble the skeleton of a MOBA, utilizing the MDA paradigm to circumvent and highlight issues with current entries in the genre.  First, MOBAs are broadly defined as:


MOBA - Multiplayer Online Battle Area

  • Team vs team gameplay
  • Individual players control superior "hero" characters
  • Waves of inferior minions infinitely spawn, attacking the enemy.


Pulling from the source material, we look at the defined Aesthetics:


Sensation Game as sense-pleasure

Fantasy Game as make-believe

Narrative Game as drama

Challenge Game as obstacle course

Fellowship Game as social framework

Discovery Game as uncharted territory

Expression Game as self-discovery

Submission Game as pastime


For our MDA MOBA, we pick the following Aesthetics in terms of priority:




[C] Challenge - As an arena-combat game, MOBAs are highly competitive, pitting player skill against player skill.  NPC elements are very minimal; thus, winning generally means your mastery of play was greater than that of your opponents.  Winning is a hard battle well-fought.


[F] Fellowship - MOBA play relies heavily on interaction and coordination between teammates; if communication is such an essential part of the game, then enjoying playing with others shall be an essential part of the game.  Additionally, Fellowship helps to form a community around a gaming scene, which helps lead to its overall success.



Submission - While this somewhat clashes with Challenge, games that offer Submission elements lower the barrier to entry for the less hardcore player and can be habit-forming, both attributes that help to increase the player base.  Even elite players like to take off the competitive edge and play differently for pure enjoyment.


Fantasy - Being a larger-than-life hero acts as an integral part of MOBAs; not capitalizing on such elements would be foolish.  Investing in the lore and continuity of the MOBA's world help to catch player interest and appreciation.



As a first pass, we will take the P1 Aesthetics and draft a set of Dynamics that support those Aesthetics.  To keep us honest, we mark Dynamics that encourage Challenge with [C] and those that encourage Fellowship with [F].


[D0] Teamwork - [F]

  • Doing good things for your team is rewarded
    • Helping allies
    • Hurting enemies
  • Playing well together trumps individual player skill
  • Teammates do not compete with each other
  • Scoreboards reflect contributions, not results
  • Actively helping teammates is positively reinforced


[D1] Adaptivity - [C]

  • Gameplay features dynamic elements to prevent stagnation of strategy
  • Players are able to pursue divergent strategies during gameplay
  • Certain aspects are constant in order to provide a framework for skill


[D2] Competition - [C]

  • No one strategy dominant or apparent
  • Teams should always be able to make a comeback
  • Game should always be "just"
  • Uncertainty in gameplay in order to test improvisational skill


[D3] Reconciliation of varying skill levels - [C][F]


[D4] Community - [F]

  • Reduction of toxic behavior
  • Personalization of characters
  • Bond-forming activities


[D5] Viewership - [F]

  • Accessible for casting
  • Entertaining to watch
  • Robust replays



With Dynamics defined, Mechanics should flow naturally and form a consistent picture of a MOBA that leads to Challenge and Fellowship.  As before, we mark the Mechanics with their representative Dynamic(s).


[M0] Teammates "Link" when near each other and give each other bonuses [D0]

  • "Death ball" is a First-Order Optimal Strategy
  • Tension and skill relies on when to Death ball and when to split up

[M1] Solo queue vs team queue separation of rank [D0][D2][D3]

  • With mechanical focus on teamwork, partied players have large advantage

[M2] Players signal commands to other quickly and efficiently via hotkey shortcuts [D0]

[M3] Acquired resources get evenly distributed between team members [D0]

[M4] Players have a generic character to whom they add abilities [D1][D4]

[M5] Players create their own champion through a character-building engine [D4]

  • Addition of RPG elements
  • Able to accessorize and customize more through leveling up

[M6] Champions are blank slates to which players can apply abilities each match [D1][D4]

  • Begin matches with a public knowledge "hand" of abilities
  • Unlock more abilities by leveling up
  • Unlock more abilities by defeating enemies with those abilities

[M7] Throughout a match the players can apply more abilities [D1]

  • Players begin a match with N selectable and public abilities
  • Players choose the order they get abilities
  • Players get a total of M abilities during a match, where M < N
  • Abilities unlock at set points (unrelated to kills)

[M8] Abilities fall under the following categories: [D1][D3]

  • Offense
  • Control
  • Support
  • Utility

[M9] Abilities can have different states and triggers [D2]

  • Static
  • Passive
  • Activated
  • Recovery

[M10] In high level tournaments, teams draft abilities [D1][D2]

[M11] Each game takes place in a generated map [D1]

  • The basic structure of a map remains constant every game
  • Select attributes of a map are procedurally generated
  • Static enemy types and locations are procedurally generated
  • Resource locations and types are procedurally generated

[M12] Players with positive reviews (i.e. Upvotes) get bonus points post-game [D4]

[M13] No in-game method of trash-talking opponents, only "GG" and sportsmanship [D4]

[M14] Killing enemy creeps gives your entire team resources [D0]

[M15] Killing enemy players gives no resources [D0][D3]

  • It's not about KD, it's about winning
  • Eliminating an opponent is its own reward

[M16] Healing allies generates resources for your team [D0]

[M17] There are resource points throughout the map [D2][D3]

  • Neutral monsters
  • Loot caches
    • Static ones - replenish periodically
    • Dynamic ones - constantly grow

[M18] Players have to return to home base to spend resources

[M19] Players can use a lobby to meet and play relevant mini-games between matches [D4]


This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a decent first pass and paints a picture of our game.  Ideas are cheap, implementation is expensive - no framework will magically create the next big hit, especially in a genre becoming super-saturated.


Personally, I'm relatively disassociated with MOBAs - I like myself a good game of Awesomenauts, but LoL and DOTA don't really appeal to me.  Does this MDA-generated with a pseudo-class based system and user-made heroes have a similar peer out there?  Does it really do anything unique?


Open Questions and Next Steps

This was a relatively simple endeavor - a mountain of problems and decisions still need answering before I would even consider this game's design "ready" to be more than a concept.

  • 2D vs 3D
  • Towers
  • Level construction and design
  • Ability specifics and balancing
  • Are the Aesthetics represented in the Dynamics?
  • Are the Dynamics represented in the Mechanics? (Hint: at least one Dynamic isn't)
  • Do the Dynamics offer enough depth for their complexity?
  • What is the theme and flavor of the game?
  • Do the Dynamics account for each player archetype? (e.g. The Master, The Innovator, The Enjoyer)
  • Scope, Team Size, Deadlines, expenses
  • Details, details, details
  • Iterate!


Was this helpful or interesting?  Let me know through here or twitter.  More articles to come, especially around my secret pet project nearing completion of pre-alpha.  

Latest Jobs

Double Fine Productions

Hybrid, San Francisco CA, USA
Senior Systems Programmer

Purdue University

West Lafayette, IN, USA
Clinical Assistant Professor in Game Development

Digital Extremes

Lead AI Programmer
More Jobs   


Explore the
Advertise with
Follow us

Game Developer Job Board

Game Developer


Explore the

Game Developer Job Board

Browse open positions across the game industry or recruit new talent for your studio

Advertise with

Game Developer

Engage game professionals and drive sales using an array of Game Developer media solutions to meet your objectives.

Learn More
Follow us


Follow us @gamedevdotcom to stay up-to-date with the latest news & insider information about events & more