Epic Games has announced the closure of its MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) title Paragon, after nurturing it for two years in beta. The company will be releasing the game’s assets, mooted to be worth around $12 million, free to any developer utilising Epic’s Unreal Engine.
Part of the reason for this closure is that Epic Games will want to dedicate more of its live-service capability toward battle-royale phenomenon Fortnite, which is on course to be one of 2018’s crowning titles in the west, in terms of both player uptake and pop-cultural penetration.
MOBA is a sub-genre of competitive multiplayer-online gaming popularised by 2009 title League Of Legends, owned by Tencent as of 2011. Its performance helped pave validation for esports outside of Asia, and prompted the success of follow-on MOBA games such as Valve’s DOTA 2. But while this scene has been home to unprecedented spikes of success, it’s also a hyper-competitive battleground littered with some high-profile victims.
EA and Zynga are two major companies that attempted to enter the MOBA space, but whose titles couldn’t meet the towering entry-bar. Warner’s Turbine, a veteran of the online-gaming space, chose to close its DC Comics MOBA Infinite Crisis before it left beta.
As we reported around that time ago, here are some points on why League Of Legends’ success was much more difficult to participate in than was first obvious:
Inflated content expectations. MOBA games are expected to offer expansive rosters of characters to choose from, so much so that League Of Legends has even moved to reboot some of its fiction in order to combat creative stagnation and keep pace with the game’s ongoing ambitions. Regular rotation of updates and other content iterations (i.e. ‘Seasons’) are also the norm. Quality-wise, these characters are expected to have a depth of ability design that interplays in compelling, intricate fashion with complex, fast-paced team-combat action. A high skill ceiling gives the game a substantial lifespan, but also causes expectations to spiral upward. These design costs are enormous, if invisible from a certain distance.
Deflated monetisation tolerance. In freemium terms, monetisation of League Of Legends and DOTA 2 is a peripheral (rather than core) aspect of the experience. Players have access to the full gameplay canvas, but their choice of characters is limited, with a select roster available for free, on rotation. Other forms of monetisation concern customisation, rather than direct play consequences, or promotional tie-ins with esports events. Thus, ARPU is lower compared to other major freemium titles (eg. Cross-Fire, or World Of Tanks), and for any new entrants to the MOBA marketplace, aggressive monetisation will be heavily frowned upon by the player base.
Extended beta periods. Infinite Crisis’ beta lasted nearly two years, and EA’s Dawngate was in beta for some 18 months. The need for ongoing investment in a competitive MOBA title is intense, and so if strong ROI isn’t circulating from the off, many larger publishers cannot justify further risks. Of course, with Epic releasing the assets for Paragon, this doesn’t mean it couldn’t find a lease on life as a boutique MOBA run by a small independent team.
We expect to be hitting a similar raft of issues with the battle-royale sub-genre, by the end of this year. After this phase of proliferation of extreme visibility for titles like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, we’re likely to start seeing some failed high-profile attempts to enter the sub-genre, with success tied to much more than the addition of some innovative gameplay features. We’ll cover this matter in another analyst insight in the coming weeks.