2. Focus on PVP Combat
In the earliest version of DotA, much of the moment-to-moment gameplay experience was not battling enemy heroes, but instead supporting the computer-controlled creeps on your team. One of the first things Guinsoo did when he began heavily developing DotA was to observe which elements of gameplay provided the most fun and replayable experiences.
It quickly became obvious that the fun and replayable part of the game didn't necessarily lie in the successful completion of the main objective, but rather the player-versus-player combat.
Because of this observation, Guinsoo quickly began to shift the gameplay focus away from its' previous PVE oriented strategy by enhancing the PVP elements of gameplay.
Supporting friendly creeps was still a viable strategy, but killing enemy heroes became increasingly satisfactory and rewarding. Updates to the game which were designed to promote player-vs-player combat include:
It was also necessary to focus on PVP combat in order to advance DotA in the competitive e-Sports world. DotA has been included in many worldwide events, including Blizzcon, Asian World Cyber Games, Cyberathlete Amateur League, CyberEvolution League, Electronic Sports World Cup, and more.
3. A Strong Community
One of the biggest challenges facing the early DotA community was its size. Battle.net was a big pond, and at the time, DotA was just a little fish. To help alleviate this, Guinsoo created an official channel for DotA players to congregate; a place where they could discuss the most recent map changes and find other people to play with.
This initial groundwork helped create a vibrant community of early adopters, which is essential to the success of any viral product. This extremely vocal group of advocates recruited players to the game and to the community, allowing DotA to effectively circumvent any traditional marketing that would be required to make a multiplayer game successful.
Near the end of Guinsoo's time as the DotA Allstars map editor, the official community www.dota-allstars.com was launched by me (Steve "Pendragon" Mescon). This new website and message board allowed users from around the world to gather and discuss the map, post feature suggestions for future versions, share replays, and identify with a community of like-minded players.
The community website was launched in attempt to provide a strong sense of cohesiveness to the community as a whole, and it really served to help people start to identify themselves as people who played DotA as a game, instead of playing it as a sub-experience of Warcraft III. This shift in mindset also greatly contributed to its viral success.
4. Warcraft III Engine & Map Tools
Being a game mod, one of the key advantages DotA had over full-fledged games is the tools packaged with Warcraft III. This set of extremely robust tools allowed for rapid development and iteration of content.
Guinsoo and his team didn't have to worry about creating models, textures, tilesets, etc., as everything they needed was built into the toolset. This boon allowed the team to focus on what they did best -- gameplay.
5. Small Development & Testing Team
In order for DotA to be successful, it was necessary to leverage volunteers in a significant way. The entire staff, including Guinsoo, was a volunteer. This afforded the team some interesting advantages that many companies (gaming or not) would definitely envy.
As the team manager, Guinsoo has no trouble motivating volunteers to spend time working on something they were really passionate about. Everyone wanted the game to be popular and successful for no other reason than that they wanted to work on a popular and successful game. This project was clearly not "just a paycheck" to anyone on the team.
There were also no business requirements, no deadlines to worry about, no business model to be mindful of, no marketing team, producers, or executives who had to be kept in the loop. This allowed the team to focus purely on gameplay, without having the overhead of project management, daily standup meetings, sprint planning meetings, and so forth.
Having such a small team with only one leader also meant that iterative process could happen at a much quicker pace. Rapid iteration and content releases is one of the cornerstones of the success of DotA.
After the discovery of a bug in the morning, a patch could be released by the afternoon, simply by uploading a new file to the distribution website. Once posted there, new versions quickly propagated to the playerbase. A new piece of content or a new feature could be implemented and distributed overnight.
The entire development process being controlled by a small group of people also meant that the design team usually maintained a completely unified vision.
All development was done by a group of friends, and the traditional company politics that we all know and love would rarely come into play. This also meant that releases could be tightly controlled without the risk of leaks.