Understanding Valve and DotA2 – A perfect match?

I assume everyone has seen it by now but I’ll link you anyway, just in case… Valve announces DotA2.

.

Valve & IceFrog's next project

.

At first this would seem like a bit of a surprise, but there is some background to this. Back in 2009, Valve hired IceFrog (the current designer for DotA-Allstars, the popular modification for Warcraft III), gave him a team and let him develop the DotA concept into the future. At first I think this surprised many people but when you look at the changes IceFrog has made and the support he continually gives to the game, he really is a perfect choice.

.

After arriving and chatting with them, the first thing I noticed was how much of their decision making process was like mine. They shared the same aspirations towards building a long term and sustainable community without having short sighted business goals that end up hurting the quality of the game.

IceFrog on his visit to Valve

.

 

IceFrog is one of the smartest designers we’ve ever met. He’s made so many good decisions over the years in building the product. He virtually never makes a decision that doesn’t have some reasoning behind it and a way to pick apart the logic behind it.

Project Lead Erik Johnson on Game Informer

.

His recent change to the gold system, to promote aggression, reminded me of Valve’s Team Fortress 2 reasoning for their respawn system*. There’s another comment by Valve about using respawn timers to reduce stalemates but I can’t find it right now! Finally, IceFrog’s regular content updates released free of charge are in the ‘Valve spirit’ of things.

But one colleague asked me why Valve would create a DotA 2. Valve games have all been FPS’s (plus an FP Puzzle game with Portal), their whole fanbase is hardcore action shooter fans. I’d never really thought about this, although it would be natural to do so. Why didn’t this come across my mind? Because I think DotA2 and Valve is a perfect match.

.

..

The Valve Product

While Valve’s games have all been first person, forget that and just look at their strong track record in online multiplayer competition. Dating back to CS and Team Fortress, and recently with Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead, Valve know their shit when it comes to balanced, fun and long-term online multiplayer. Does it matter about the player’s perspective? DotA could be called the quintessential online multiplayer experience, it’s extremely popular and has a strong competitive scene. It would be the Counter-Strike of its genre, except there are no other games in its genre (until very recently).

The second thing people come to expect from a Valve product is solid post-purchase supp0rt and content. This is what makes Valve truly unique, especially as a major game studio, and it’s helped them build an extremely loyal fan base. Of course, it can backfire (e.g. the Left 4 Dead 2 boycott fiasco) but overall Valve have built a relationship based on trust and feeding their users chunks of content over time to constantly refresh the experience.

Finally, Valve games are extremely polished and full of character. Games such as Left 4 Dead, Half-Life and Team Fortress 2 do have innovative features but, above and beyond innovation, Valve could probably make Rock Paper Scissors an exciting, awe-inspiring and hilarious experience if they applied their style to it. It’s not the adaptive respawn timers or the crafting systems that make Team Fortress 2 popular, it’s that they’ve taken a very simple and streamlined concept (TFC was technically more complex in many respects) but added so much character and polish to it that just feels great to play. It’s just so much fun.

.

.

Applying Valve’s strengths to DotA

Online Multiplayer Expertise

OK, so now we’ve identified what Valve is good at… lets apply that to DotA and see what comes out.

Valve has a great track record with competitive, awesome multiplayer games. DotA is a competitive, awesome multiplayer game. What it lacks though, is what Valve can offer. Steam is pretty cool, it’s great for finding matches, it has superb friend support and it offers a community constantly integrated into the game. They’ve been playing around with matchmaking since Left 4 Dead, so they can offer that too. Achievements are integrated into the system and, from the gameinformer article, they will be used extensively inside and outside the game…

.

The bulk of innovation in Dota 2, however, is ancillary to the gameplay itself. Valve is upgrading Steamworks (the company’s backend technologies for matchmaking and other gameplay and community-related things) to allow them to create in-game rewards for participating in the Dota 2 community. The idea is to have everything a player does in or out of game tie back into their online identity. Like the improvements to Source, the Steamworks upgrades will be available to third-party developers who choose to use Valve’s tools when Dota 2 launches in 2011.

At a basic level, posting useful feedback or participating in constructive discussions on the forums will contribute to your standing in the community in a visible way. Valve doesn’t have the specifics on how this will work nailed down yet. Will you get points that contribute to a visible ranking, like a Gamerscore? Will your posts need to be recommended by other community members to count for anything? What counts as a constructive discussion? These questions are all being actively explored at the moment. Valve assures us that the designers have a slew of awesome ideas for how to implement rewards in a way that’s visible to the rest of the community, but there are no details to announce yet. “When we talk about this identity that exists inside and outside the game, we don’t think we’re anywhere near it with what exists on Steam right now,” Johnson admits.

If this was just about getting points for posting comments, though, we wouldn’t waste your time by telling you about it. Dota 2 goes much farther than that. Everything from unlocking new skins for your favorite hero to getting a unique title for writing a strategy guide is on the table. Valve has ambitious plans (for which, again, there are no specifics to share) to host everything themselves and provide the best framework for the community to interact with each other. The idea is to reduce the social friction inherent in having to dig around a bunch of different fansites and wikis to find what you’re looking for.

From GameInformer’s article

.

.

Does that not get you excited?

If these plans go ahead (the game is still in early stages), it’s the perfect upgrade to the current system of DotA. Right now, DotA has a great community who give valuable feedback, suggestions and write helpful guides for new users. DotA already has the features that Valve is planning to implement, but they are not integrated throughout the online and offline DotA experience. Currently, if you write a good guide, you’ll get praise, hits and a reputation as an awesome guy on the PlayDotA forums. Valve is planning to materialize these into in-game unlocks and achievements, it’s the logical next step. This will improve the DotA community even more, encouraging them to talk and discuss even more than they do right now. You’d IceFrog would have enough feedback but I guess he wants more!

Of course, the main reasoning behind all this is because DotA is notoriously user unfriendly. I commented on this on one of my first ever posts;

.

I recently started playing Defense of the Ancients (DotA). DotA has 97 individual heroes with 4 different abilities. There are 118 items which are created by combining each other using ‘recipes’. This is a lot to learn, and this is just what you can see. Basics that you have to know include orb-placement priority (whether the item you bought overrides another’s effect), that you should only last-hit and not push the creeps forward too far (unless you want to push) and the roles of each character. I’m pretty good at games, but DotA is just crazy. You cannot pick-up-and-play DotA, it’s not possible. I’ve been reading guides, forums and playing regularly for about 6-7 months and I’m still scared to play online for fear of being completely schooled, verbally abused and then having to sit on my ass doing nothing as the huge respawn times count down. To play even slightly effectively I’ve had to memorize item builds, skill builds and strategies. It has been a massive time investment. But guess what? It was worth it. I love games as complicated as DotA because I see the potential fun in reaching THAT level as being worth the time studying the game.

Does Depth Require Complexity?

.

This is the primary goal of DotA2… to remove opinions like this, without hurting the game. The planned changes for the community, including the Coaching and Interactive Guide features, could possibly do that. We’ll have to wait and see.

.

.

Post-Purchase Support

Another great match between Valve and DotA. Remember when IceFrog said Valve focus on “building a long term and sustainable community without having short sighted business goals that end up hurting the quality of the game.He’s referring stuff like Team Fortress 2’s completely free content updates. I suppose he’s not a fan of Activision. DotA was built on free updates and this isn’t going to change any time soon. While there might (and probably will) end up being a charge for the game, updates aren’t going to cost a penny. That I’d bet my house on.

.

Character and Polish

What excited me most about this announcement was that Valve was going to make DotA. Valve is going to make DotA!!!!

Imagine how much better the game is going to feel with Valve’s graphical style, and functional graphics;

.

The visual style is remarkable for retaining the somewhat cartoony feel that the Warcraft III version of DotA-Allstars is built around, while going in a few different directions. “I think there are functional aspects to the art that are pretty significant to the players,” Johnson muses. The environment, particularly in the forests that fill in the map between the three lanes that the NPC armies follow, uses a desaturated color scheme to give the colorful heroes and abilities some visual pop. The sizable art team is putting a lot of work into making the shapes and animations of each hero distinct to the point that players will be able to instantly identify any hero they see and quickly gauge the threat level of any situation.

GameInformer

.

And what I’m most excited about… Valve’s sound team getting their hands on this game;

.

The game will also feature a ton of custom voice work. You’ll get amusing lines from heroes as they deny the enemy team last hits on creeps, and champions who have backstory connections will trade quips when nearby.

GameInformer

.

One of TF2’s greatest strengths is it’s unparalleled voicework. Characters react to various events, other players and areas on the map. Imagine the amount of potential there is for cool voicework in a game with around 100 characters? This is what I cannot wait for!

Here’s a funny example of some Valve’s voicework used in a different context;

.

..

As you can tell, I’m pretty excited about this game. I’ve yet to play League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth (LoL has just installed), I’ll try to give them a look over the next few weeks. League of Legends did pretty much clear out at GDC Online, winning 5 awards.

Things are looking promising for the future of DotA gaming but I really think that, with the Valve touch, DotA 2 will take it to the next level and finally get DotA maybe some of the mainstream recognition (and users) it deserves.

.

.

Sam

*I forgot to add that one to my post a while back about the TF2 Blog


Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: