This year is going to be an interesting year for the shooter genre. There are many attempts in widening the wildly successful MOBA genre not only to shooters but also to the consoles.
The main contender by hype is Blizzard’s team-based shooter Overwatch. In my opinion, Blizzard’s core skill is finding a genre1 and making it way more mainstream. This positioning means they create new markets to their games instead of competing for a niche. It’s easy to see Overwatch as direct competitor to Team Fortress 2 but I think this is widely misleading2. Many believed that Overwatch would have been free to play, which was an easy assumption given the previous games Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm were and so is Team Fortress 2. The other key difference is that Overwatch, in my opinion, is targeted for the consoles which are acutely lacking in the class-based arena shooter genre3. The console space has been dominated with Call of Duty like shooters, although Rainbow Six: Siege tried to bring something new but still firmly stayed within the realistic law enfrocement fantasy. On PCs, on the other hand, R6 was not a real match against Counter-Strike.
For this viewpoint, I would see that Blizzard is aiming at widening the CoD market on consoles with a more approachable shooter.
Where Overwatch will not differ from previous Blizzard games or other competition will be microtransactions. Like in all other shooters, including other premium priced games like R6: Siege, and, more importantly, other MOBAs, cosmetic microtransactions are a very visible element of the games.
On PCs, the space is being entered by games from all directions, but mostly from the free to play monetization model.
We should soon see Paragon from Epic that tries to bring MOBA to third person. This is of course something that Hi-Rez has already tried with their SMITE and are now coming up with their more straight class based shooter Paladins which will also be for consoles. Not to mention Tribes: Ascend, which for unexplained reasons is still alive.
Lawbreakers from Cliff Bleszinski’s new Boss Key and Nexon has been a moving target. What was originally a much more Unreal Tournament styled free to play class based shooter has now transformed into a more Overwatch challenger with a premium price and a more stylized art direction. This is an interesting change of direction from a publisher that focuses on free to play games. Nexon has some experience from challenging Team Fortress 2 with their more realistic team shooter, Dirty Bomb.
The larger publishers have traditionally stubmled here, as seems to be future of Bethesda’s lackluster DOOM reboot. It’s not entirely fair to mention DOOM here as it’s more riding on a wave of (fake) nostalgia than MOBA-craze. Also missing in action is their WW1-styled Battlecry from which very little has been heard since last years E3.
On the more firmly in the premium game category there’s also Gearbox’s “Borderlands-MOBA”, Battleborn. It seems to be much more narrative driven and will have a single-player campaign4 in stark contrast to the other games on the list.
Not much needs to be said about EA’s now shut-down MOBA, Dawngate, or of Ubisoft’s non-violent arena shooter Shootmania Storm. Although, let’s see what For Honor will turn out to be.
That’s just a short summary of the many games that are somewhere on a MOBA – arena shooter spectrum. What this reveals is that there seems to be surprisingly a lot of overlap between the genres. By a strict literal meaning, there’s nothing in Multiplayer Online Battle Arena that would not make even Team Fortress 2 or Unreal Tournament 4 fit that category. What the term MOBA hides is the lineage of DOTA and League of Legends from the real-time strategy (RTS) and Action RTS games like Blizzard’s5 Starcraft and Diablo series. It’s the ARTS heritage that has given the MOBA genre its current generation’s isometric camera view, unique characters and control schemes6. What Overwatch, Battleborn and others are doing are changing some of these “3Cs” (Camera, Character, Controls). One thing that seems to be constant in the MOBA genre - isometric or first person - is the strong focus on unique characters (cf. DOOM’s “doomguy”). Blizzard and Epic are not of course the firsts to do this but 2016 seems to be a year of strong push to see if the MOBA market can be expanded through this way.
On PC, it will be hard to dethrone the current encumbents but there’s a lot of new market to be created and market share to battled over on consoles7. I personally just wait for Unreal Tournament 4.