A Single-Player MOBA?

Tobold has come up with an intriguing, if heretical, idea: Why not a soloable or single-player MOBA (or game mode?)

It’ll catch a hitherto untapped audience, those that prefer PvE or those that can’t commit to the length of a match with other players (without a pause button to periodically go AFK) or those simply too nervous to learn the depth of a MOBA while facing the habitual toxicity of its regular audience (and provide a stepping stone training mode for those who might not mind PvP but want some extended practice by themselves first.)

The imagined protests that immediately cross my mind are those that shriek, “OMG, the very POINT of a MOBA is to group up to defeat challenges! Teamwork and communication are critical! The very feeling we’re craving is in that practiced coordination and super-smooth execution! Go solo somewhere else, like a singleplayer RPG, and not in MY game!”

Amusingly, it seems to be a similar protest to those who oppose soloability in MMOs, or soloable dungeons, or what-have-you.

There appears to be an underlying fear that they won’t have anyone to play with, if a solo option existed.

But frankly, that seems to be a completely off-base assumption, given the example of both solo and group options co-existing in MMOs. The social players still party up and complain bitterly about instances that force them to solo, the solo players still wander off by themselves and complain bitterly about instances that force them to group, and if the devs manage to hit that magic “no-forcing, solo or group as you prefer” option, then everyone seems more or less happy, or at least, content to deal with it.

Creating alternative game modes is great for variety, offering choices for people with different preferences.

The danger seems to be mostly overwhelming a player with options (which basically means they need a linear progression path or some kind of signposting or a “do this activity for more bonuses today!” promotion), plus the issue of having to devote sufficient developer resources to tend to that game mode.

Some people might wonder, “Well, in many MOBAs today, you can already play solo, in a sense. What’s he going on about?”

It’s true. Many many people solo queue into a match that contains other players on both sides.

Still others will solo queue into a co-op game, in which players are all on one side and bots on another, which is the equivalent of GW2-like social engineering – everyone on the same side, incentivized to cooperate against a computer-controlled enemy team, essentially PvE in a MOBA.

Anyone can easily set up a bot game in which all other nine players are bots, where they are completely alone and left in peace to do whatever the hell they want, or a custom game where they can tweak some variant of this player-bot formula to however they like.

But I think Tobold is implying something a little more. That developers can explore this as yet unexperimented-with space or niche further.

An easy analogy is that of dungeons in an MMO.

People expect to group up, to have roles and experience teamwork while defeating a sequence of enemies (with complex mechanics to learn) for rewards at the end.

However, we have the example of Guild Wars 1, which turned the concept of dungeoning on its head a little by letting players solo their way through pretty much all instances with henchmen or heroes (and mind you, some players still grouped to do the harder dungeons faster and more efficiently.) Ditto The Secret World, if I remember correctly, some instances were soloable.

We have Guild Wars 2, which has experimented with the idea of the Queen’s Gauntlet, a solo-only series of challenges (with complex mechanic to learn), as well as inadvertently produced a challenging side activity of soloing dungeons meant for groups (which appeals to another subset of players.)

Why not create MOBA game modes with a little twist to them?

One interesting possibility that comes to mind goes back to a MOBA’s RTS roots. Just like you could have one player control a number of heroes in GW1, why not let a single player control multiple MOBA heroes?  That would probably be a great multi-tasking, micro-taxing, control-group practice singleplayer challenge right there. It’s not as if MOBAs don’t embrace that concept already, with heroes that can summon other mobs or illusions.

Something else players of singleplayer modes do expect is some kind of narrative or progression path to follow. Why not throw in a story mode in chapters bookending MOBA fights, perhaps with preset groups of opposing or allied heroes?

It’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Duels of the Planeswalkers is a Magic: The Gathering game that some players buy for its PvP, and some of whom merely buy to play its singleplayer chapters or puzzle challenges, unlocking cards along the way.

One might protest that without other players to show off vanity cosmetics to, that the whole revenue stream of a MOBA might break down.

However, one could also offer hero unlocks a la League of Legends or Marvel Heroes, or even content unlocks where each hero has a ‘story mode’ that you could pay for in microtransactions. PvP players who don’t give a damn wouldn’t be nickle and dimed at all, while PvE players who like that sort of thing might be convinced to pay $2-5 for several more hours of unique gameplay/maps/puzzle/story DLC.

Unlocking special achievements or increasing levels are another easy way to keep a singleplayer gamer solo farming or engaging in speed runs or mastering Dark Souls-difficulty challenges to their heart’s content. Get X number of last hits or creep or hero kills, win Y as hero or other, defeat Z mob with some kind of mechanic or finish the match in a set amount of time or whatever.

You could have leaderboards for this version of asynchronous competition too, again akin to certain competitive mode challenges in Guild Wars 1, or even in games like Batman: Arkham _Whatever_, where you have combat and predator challenges for a single player to test themselves against, improve their score versus other players’ scores and so on.

In my opinion, the singleplayer MOBA (or variant game modes thereof) is certainly worth a company’s time to experiment and tinker with. It’ll be interesting to see which MOBA decides to eventually branch or innovate in this direction, or if they think grabbing their handfuls of the competitive PvP / eSports pie is more than sufficient to focus on.

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11 thoughts on “A Single-Player MOBA?

  1. tsuhelm says:

    I don’t MOBA but a solo aspect sounds great. You mention its RTS roots and most of those had a throwaway solo mode but some contained some interesting challenges and even content and strategies that could only be scripted rather than appear in a multiplayer map!

    I remember playing MGS for the first time and loving the VR missions and even more so the extended VR missions they released…practice and training almost better than the real thing! Sometimes playing against the creator can be just as fun and rewarding than again other folk (and there is hopefully no chance of getting verbally abused in the chat window for incompetence of way-out playstyle.

    Another memory of solo playing multiplayer map is from Command and Conquer Generals, when would take on 3 expert generals on a 4 player map for the thrill of it…was actually relaxing in the end!

  2. C. T. Murphy says:

    Sounds like a single map arena mode for Diablo with many more, but less deep, characters to play.

    Make it co-op focused with a single player component, and I’d play a PvE-based MOBA. I would especially play it if you brought in elements of the holy trinity from MMOs, but cut out level grinding, gearing, and all the like.

    Basically, just the Dungeon Finder/Matchmaking from Ye Olde MMO with a focus on single group or solo content.

  3. Pasduil says:

    I enjoy soloing instances, as well as doing them in groups. Also enjoy games where I have control of a number of units that I can orchestrate, from pet classes in MMOs to RTS to turn-based strategy.

  4. knivesmith says:

    I tried to post something about this on Tobold’s post this morning, but his site is unkind to mobile users.

    But basically with DotA 2 having mod tools, and Heroes of the Storm mentioning a want to provide those too, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tower Defense type game modes at the very least, as it would be the easiest way to scale AI difficulty for one or more players.

    But now that I have time to think about it, the only reason I can see no one attempting it is because they see it as just another Horde mode or Tower Defense.

  5. Izlain says:

    I don’t see it. Plus, it can’t be called a MOBA since the M stands for Multiplayer. SOBA? Sure, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it.

    If you take the traditional 3-lane map, unless you can slow it down to turn based and can control all members on your team, I can’t see it working. It definitely wouldn’t work in real time.

    I suppose you could play 1v1 on a single lane, and that would give you that solo mode, but in my experience the AI in EVERY MOBA is terrible. You’d get bored quickly.

    It’s a skill-based game. Most skill based games pit you against other players, or at the very least against a high-score board. I’m not saying it couldn’t be figured out, but I don’t see the point really. What draws me (and I’m sure it’s the same for most) to the genre is the appeal of team-based PvP. Take the PvP away and it doesn’t seem like there’s a point. I’d just go play a regular RTS for that fix.

    • Jeromai says:

      I was rather envisioning something akin to one person playing a carry and support hero duo, which allows for synergies and interactions while focusing on the same lane, and then occasional separation of focus to send each hero doing their own things.

      It’s not hard from there to imagine a very much more practiced player being able to control 3-4 heroes in separate lanes, possibly akin to a Dota 2 Meepo multi-tasking. That also seems a test of skill, if a different kind of skill.

      One group-favoring extrapolation from there is the reduction in number of players needed to come together for a match. Perhaps two good players can control duos each, while one novice player takes one hero. Perhaps a pair of friends can play two or three heroes each, to pit themselves against another team, and so on. Might give a different flavor of gameplay.

      • Izlain says:

        Yeah, to play any one hero with any semblance of skill is hard enough, adding more would make it nigh impossible.

        What you had written (and tobold too) reads as though you’d want the same exact game to be played solo. I’m simply saying that it would have to be a redesigned from the ground up game, or it just wouldn’t work. And I think the point is for it to be a multiplayer pvp experience. Single player would get boring too fast imo.

        • knivesmith says:

          Part of the point Tobold is trying to make is that regardless of if the multiplayer is what draws others to the genre, there is an untapped market of those that would enjoy the combat and mechanics, but not the multiplayer, and part of that even manifests in current offerings as well as specifically Heroes of the Storm, in that there are a number of people that level in co-op mode and previously practice mode.

  6. fireflyry says:

    It could happen but I tend to assume most players would get bored pretty quick, then again I love bot play. Other genres are just vastly superior at specifically catering to single play.

    Round hole.Square peg.

  7. […] maybe we’ll eventually see a few maps/modes that support singleplayer gameplay, which would be amusing to try out. Casually skimming the existing list of custom games reveals a […]

  8. What I would love to see from a game like this is the combat elements of MOBA’s in a single-player story mode. An example would be if Riot came out with a single-player campaign about Garen and his experiences on the frontlines of the Demacia-Noxian war. That’s what I would love to see, and I obviously don’t mean just League of Legends characters, I was just giving an example that I could think of.

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