What is a MOBA, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, and what sets it apart from the RTS, RPG, FPS, and MMORPG genres? This article examines what elements from each game type come together to create this revolutionary game genre.
What Is a MOBA?
People fling around the term MOBA when referring to a genre of games popularized by the ever-popular Defense of the Ancients Warcraft 3 mod. But the genre has been around longer and spans far more games than DOTA. Exactly what defines a game to place it into the “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena” category? Debates about this subject are held daily, but there are a few main points almost everyone can agree on.
In a typical MOBA, the player controls only one unit or hero character much like a MMORPG or RPG. It may have some sort of summoning skill to break this rule and offer control to another unit or two but in general the player is only in control of his or her one heroic unit. These hero characters can level up, gain new abilities and skills, and deck themselves out with new gear typically obtained through store purchases but also sometimes found off neutral monsters or bosses. Like a MMOPRG character development is a large part of the game, but designed to evaporate after one game – so you go through your levels much faster than say, World of Warcraft and cap out in about 40 minutes, and start the next game back at level1.
Many Elements from Many Games
The core of a MOBA is centered directly around player vs player team based combat. 1v2's, 3v3's, ganking, pvp action makes up roughly 90% of the game interaction. Teams are typically 5v5. Whether or nor this was an offshoot of the limitations on player numbers you could have in a Starcraft or Warcraft 3 Battle.net game will probably be a subject of interest for many years to come, but regardless of how it came about, the current standard for a MOBA is two teams of five. Many MOBAS all the way back to Aeon of Strife include a traditional base destruction design – the goal is to get your team's heroes past the other team's defense and destroy their unit generating structures and finally their “castle” or game-winning structure.
In a standard MOBA you are going to have both “waves” of AI controlled creatures and also AI controlled neutral spawns. The creatures generally give a monetary incentive when killed by a hero, so it becomes important to get the “last hit” on a monster to help build your funds up quickly to purchase better equipment. These AI elements are directly related to the PvP aspects – attack an enemy hero when his “creep wave” is around and they will turn on you in an instant and start laying into your hero.
Pulling it all together
So it's almost all team based PVP, like an FPS without as much twitch, it has creatures to kill and heroes to advance like a MMORPG or RPG, the GUI is reminiscent of an RTS and games have elements of base attack and defense. Take this bucket of acronym soup and it comes out to create one delicious recipe – the modern MOBA.