It's abundantly clear that multiplayer online battle arena category is hot, especially in two MMOG markets I try to watch as closely as possible because of how rapidly they're growing and their further potential, China and Russia / CIS. MOBAs aren't MMOGs, even by relatively loose standards. However, they do overlap enough to have been on my radar for several years now.
Here in North America, it seems as if the popularity of MOBAs hasn't kept pace. Defense of the Ancients, a Warcraft III mod that debuted in 2003, gave rise to a number of variants. The main one, originally called DotA Allstars and now usually referred to as just DotA, still has a fairly sizable and quite fervent following. Another title you may know of is League of Legends, which I've mentioned in a couple of previous columns. Released in 2009, it was enough to give its developer, Riot Games, a valuation of around $475 million when it was acquired several months ago by Chinese publisher Tencent. For me, this figure doesn't come anywhere close to correlating with the game's visibility in this part of the world, suggesting that it was based on a perspective with considerably more of an international weighting.
I'm interested to see if the regionality (I made that word up) will change as Valve's DotA 2 approaches release. For what it's worth, while some are saying it will be available by year-end, I'm guessing next year. In any case, I can't help but wonder how much significance to put on the fact that the title's first public showing took place outside this continent, at the recent Gamescom show in Germany, with a tournament that offered a cool $1.6 million in prizes, including a nice round $1 million to the winners. It may also be noteworthy that of the 16 teams invited to take part, four were from China. Russia / CIS had two (the victors came from the Ukraine), Europe six, and the rest of the eastern hemisphere four. From North America... none.
While Valve has yet to announce its business model for DotA 2, I'll be surprised if it isn't free to play in much of the world. I'm rather curious to see if the company will decide on some form of pay to play or buy to play for particular regions such as North America and Western Europe, or adopt F2P everywhere. For what it's worth, my gut feel is leaning slightly toward the latter direction.
BioWare Mythic moving into F2P
Another intriguing piece of information that came out of Gamescom was the announcement of Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes, which will be a scenario-based arena combat game involving three teams of six. Details are still in short supply, but it will clearly fall under parent EA's "Play4Free" banner. As for the play, it will apparently have hero characters that can be "swapped on the fly". How this will actually work and how DotA-like it will be remains to be seen. We should know more quite soon since the target release date is said to be this year.
One thing has been announced that particularly piques my curiosity. The download will reportedly be no more than about a gig. Since I'd expect anyone who's a fairly serious gamer to be accustomed to this much and more, I wonder if this reflects the desire to reach a broader audience. In a possibly related vein, I see a stylized look in the visuals that have been released. Might it have been chosen to facilitate keeping the size down so as not to put off potential players who are less than hardcore?
More gamers buying more virtual goods
Earlier this month, VISA division PlaySpan released selected findings from a study conducted by market researcher VGMarket. While the sample wasn't large at over 1,000, it was entirely comprised of US gamers. Accordingly, the key results got somewhat more of my attention than if they'd been drawn from the public at large. Notably, nearly one in three has bought virtual content using real money, and of those, 57 percent buy something at least once every month.
Male MMO players reported spending an average of $77 per year buying from publishers, while females came in a little higher at $86. The difference was much more pronounced for purchasing from third parties, at $74 and $111 respectively. While these figures are derived from only part of the total sample, they still make me think. It wasn't so long ago that MMOG companies were pleased when their titles had more than a small minority of female players. Should they have been aiming for a lot more all along? And is this a direction that we'll see and feel much more in the future?