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Postmortem: Defense of the Ancients

March 19, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

4. High Barrier to Entry

Between the lack of multiplayer support and matchmaking, the depth of the game content, and the difficulty of distribution and installation - it was very difficult for a new player to get into the game for the first time.

If the user doesn't have Warcraft III installed, they had to first install and patch Warcraft III and The Frozen Throne expansion set to the latest version, then download the map file and place it into the correct folder, and finally get online and try to locate a game.

Due to this unique combination of factors, most players couldn't even access the game unless they knew someone who could "show them the ropes". The widespread success of DotA is entirely due to word of mouth and the social nature of the game.

Once a new player actually installed Warcraft III, downloaded the map file, moved it to the appropriate folder, and successfully joined a game, a whole new set of challenges was presented.

Because there was no game tutorial available to give beginner users some introductory guidance, players simply had to join a game (potentially with people who had been playing for years) and play.

With more than 60 heroes available, it was difficult to know how to use your abilities and which abilities your opponents could use against you. Given the complex item and recipe system, new players didn't know which items to buy and in what order.

Lastly, because new players typically didn't play very well and DotA is a highly competitive team game, more experienced allied players could be very critical of them. This often resulted in new or inexperienced players being goaded into quitting the game entirely -- never to return.

5. Game Length

The average length of a game of DotA was about 60 minutes, but games could last as long as 2 hours or more. This unpredictability made it extremely difficult for players to budget enough time to play an entire session, and just one player leaving or dropping from the game resulted in an unfair advantage for the team with the greater number of players.

The unpredictable length of the game also hindered DotA from advancing as a competitive eSport.

Tournaments are difficult to schedule if a round could last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, and since the game isn't quite as action-packed as a first-person shooter, many people found it confusing to follow or boring to watch.


When all is said and done -- the good, the bad, the ups and downs, the countless hours spent working on a project driven purely by the desire to create a positive experience for some relatively unknown quantity of people spread throughout the world -- one thing is clear: DotA is fun. The years spent by Guinsoo, Eul, IceFrog, and countless anonymous individuals on DotA, have evolved a small map mod into a worldwide phenomenon.

Estimates of currently active players reach as high as 10 million worldwide (the true number is nearly impossible to determine), and in many regions DotA is more popular than CounterStrike, World of Warcraft, and even the game it rose from, Warcraft III. Despite the accolades and phenomenal success of DotA, it's clear that something is still missing.

DotA has an artificial limitation on its potential. There's a limit to what can be accomplished while nested safely under the wing of Warcraft III.

Players of DotA worldwide have been calling for attention from game developers, hoping someone will take the fundamentally unique, deep, and fun gameplay of DotA, and turn it into something more.

In September of 2006, Riot Games was founded with the hopes of making a game based on the core fundamentals of DotA (great core game design, a strong emphasis on regularly updating content, focus on community engagement) with direct answers to the obvious limitations of the platform on which it was built.

League of Legends, Riot's first title, was announced on October 7th 2008. Players can look forward to a game that was influenced largely by following the positives and negatives outlined in this article.

For more on Riot Games, read Gamasutra's previous coverage:

Online Game Studio Riot Games Gets $7m Investment
Q&A: Riot's Merrill On Targeting The 'Midcore' Gamer
DOTA Creator Goes Commercial With League of Legends

Tools Used

World Editor - This tool packaged with Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne was the primary tool used for map development. The World editor consisted of four different components, (Information from Wikipedia):

  • Terrain Editor - The Terrain Editor allows the map-maker to create its own environment and integrate default and custom objects from the Object Editor
  • Object Editor -The Object Editor allows the map-maker to control and modify almost every physical aspect of the game. It contains the raw data behind the units, buildings, and other facets of the game. In total, it allows the modification of existing, and creation of new Units, Items, Destructibles, Doodads, Abilities, Buffs, Effects, and Upgrades.
  • Trigger Editor -World Editor allows the map-maker to script events using triggers. A trigger is defined by a list of events, a list of conditions and a list of actions. Whenever an event occurs and the conditions are satisfied, it triggers the actions. This basic GUI-guided language is then converted to JASS, a proprietary language used by the game. It is also possible to convert a trigger to custom text allowing direct JASS usage
  • Import Manager -The World Editor allows the map-maker to import his own files into a map. Using this feature the user can easily import custom models, sounds, textures into a map to customize it even more. - This website, a modding community for Warcraft III, which is now known as Hive Workshop, was the biggest source for character ability icons.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

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Khin Boon Chang
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Great article. I have been playing DotA since Eul version and I am playing it right now. I can relate to everything you said. No doubt Guinsoo and his team brought DotA to a whole new level and through this article, I can finally fully understand how he did it.

I always look at DotA for success elements, like always. Its a source of motivation for me too, having see it grow from the small fish to its today size.

Great job guys! Thanks for sharing this priceless knowledge. :D

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Matthew Dart
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Great game, and I still play it over all these years. I'm very glad it's getting recognition and that the original map editors are noticed. I can't wait to see what Warcraft 4 will bring.

Bob McIntyre
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DotA's a great game. It's really a shame about people kicking new players and not allowing map downloads, though. It must be frustrating for the development team to do something generous and then watch community members act like such jerks with it. On the other hand, having millions of players probably eases the frustration!

Steven Ngu
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I found this article quite inspiring and makes me want to try work on a SC2 mod whenever that comes out. I used to tweak around in WCIII's world editor to try to do the same thing. But was put off like BN because scheduling around the team along with work/life and the limitations of by WCIII, which by that time, WCIII is already 4 years old.

Anon Ymous
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Guinsoo, Pendragon, I'm disappointed in you. This article was written on March of 2009, yet it seems like the only map version you reference is version 5.84, which was made by Guinsoo years ago. Lack of beta testing? You both should know that IceFrog has a beta team that is constantly playing games with each VERSION of Beta, and there are at least a few dozen beta versions before a map is finally released. World Editor? I would expect both of you to know that IceFrog doesn't use the World Editor to make DotA. Is Blizzard paying you to advertise their World Editor or something? Also, Guinsoo no longer has any control, power, or even presence in the DotA creation process. This article would have been great if it were written like...four years ago, but now? Years later after DotA has evolved so that it barely resembles DotA at the time Guinsoo was in control of creating it? This article is ridiculously inaccurate and outdated, and Gamasutra should be ashamed.

Steve Mescon
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Dear Mr. Anon Ymous,

As stated in the article…

"Utilizing these newly released tools, many spinoffs of the original DotA were created with vastly superior sets of features, including the first versions of Steve "Guinsoo" Feak's Defense of the Ancients: Allstars which is the focus of this postmortem.”

This means that this postmortem was written specifically about Guinsoo's versions of DotA, as stated multiple times. Since neither I nor Guinsoo are Icefrog, and since Icefrog's DotA is still in development, it would have been rather inappropriate for us to write a postmortem on versions of DotA after Guinsoo’s.

Also - credit where credit’s due? Since the vast majority of all DotA content was created in the map editor, (Icefrog’s early versions, and all of Guinsoo’s versions), we thought it quite worthy of mention.

To summarize: Thanks for anonymously replying to an article to tell everyone something we already said in the article itself.

With love,