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In-Depth: 'Action-RTS' Developers See  Dota 2  As Profile-Raiser For Genre

In-Depth: 'Action-RTS' Developers See Dota 2 As Profile-Raiser For Genre

October 14, 2010 | By Kris Graft

October 14, 2010 | By Kris Graft
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["Action-RTS" developers including Riot, Stunlock, S2 Games and Gas Powered tell Gamasutra additional exposure for the "under-known" genre can only help the category grow -- but can it expand beyond the hardcore?]

If you ask today's average gamer if he or she has ever heard of or played DotA, chances are you'd get a "no."

But with the announcement of Dota 2 this week, high-profile game maker and digital distributor Valve Software is officially entering the "action-RTS" genre.

While it's unclear what kind of impact Dota 2 will have on the genre, also referred to as Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA), developers speaking to Gamasutra generally were optimistic that Valve could bring more exposure to a category known for its niche -- but loyal -- hardcore contingency.

"We are excited about the possibility of a company as successful and respected as Valve getting into the action-RTS genre," said Marc DeForest, CEO of Heroes of Newerth developer S2 Games.

"[Valve] will bring additional awareness to the greatest 'under-known' game type in PC gaming," he added. "Our title ... has been extremely successful and has done so under the radar. We feel there is nothing but room for growth with [the] additional exposure that will be brought by Valve and their commercial push of Dota 2."

DeForest's reference to the action-RTS genre as "under-known" is true enough. While the genre collectively has millions of players across games like Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends, Bloodline Champions, Demigod and the original Warcraft 3 mod Defense of the Ancients, the games primarily attract a loyal, hardcore contingent that is not mainstream by any stretch. And the communities around these games can seem quite impenetrable to new players, which doesn't help the genre expand.

The learning curve for these games can also be notoriously steep, a hurdle that developers try to address with tutorials and in-game tips. Valve's Dota 2, in development with former DotA Allstars custodian "IceFrog," is going so far as to implementing a coaching system that will let veterans view a new player's screen and give them real-time tips via chat or voice communication.

Chris Taylor, CEO of Gas Powered Games, developer of the early DotA-inspired game Demigod, said, "I think [Dota 2's announcement] is good news. It's a great genre, and I definitely think it will strengthen the demand for this kind of experience."

But he added, "I can't say for sure if this kind of game will reach out past the core audience, but it might." If Dota 2 takes off, the prospects of a Demigod sequel will improve, he said.

"Without a doubt success in this area would increase the likelihood for a Demigod sequel... there has already been an elevated demand with the big push for more online games this past year," he said.

Tau Petersson is CEO of Swedish game developer Stunlock, makers of the MOBA game Bloodline Champions, which is currently in beta. Publisher Funcom signed the XNA-developed game this year, even though Petersson has barely left college.

Petersson said her own studio "is looking forward to see what IceFrog will have in store for us this time. A lot of the guys at the office used to play DotA before game development started to take up all of their time, so I'm sure Dota 2 will run warm at the office at release."

Petersson added, "I do believe that having Valve being part of the MOBA scene definitely will make more gamers aware of the genre, and hopefully make it expand and let more gamers enjoy the types of games we make."

One of the higher-profile MOBA game makers is Riot Games, developer of the popular, virtual item-supported League of Legends. In a Gamasutra interview last week, president Marc Merrill conceded that the game is relatively inaccessible to new players -- the company is actually holding off on any extensive marketing campaign until it can resolve the steep learning curve, he said.

With Dota 2 on the way, Riot director of marketing Chris Enock said the team is "excited to see a high caliber developer like Valve joining the popular genre we have worked in and grown for years."

But there are still reservations at Riot regarding Valve's trademarking of "DotA," an abbreviation that Riot argues belongs to the mod community that built up the genre over the years. Riot countered Valve's trademark by filing for the full "Defense of the Ancients" mark.

Asked about Valve's confirmed use of the term "Dota," Enock said, "We stand by [Riot director of community relations and DotA Allstars developer] Steve 'Pendragon' Mescon's position that DotA belongs to the community. Since the game and its popularity are the direct results of dozens of developers around the globe working together, DotA should not be controlled or owned by any single person or company."


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