DOTA 2, Valve, and the Online Multiplayer Accessibility Problem


Outside of hardcore simulators, DOTA 2 has got to be the most inaccessible game I’ve ever tried. I know people tell you the game has a high learning curve, but I feel like it’s on a whole other level compared to other games, even competitive games with entrenched communities.

A while ago here I made a post about how I tried to step into Counter-Strike, one of the most deeply competitive shooters. After a little while I was at least able to go into real matches and look like I might know what I was doing. I feel like it’ll be a long time before I’m near that state with DOTA. I don’t think it even compares to what Virtua Fighter might be like for someone who doesn’t play fighting games.

The main difference is that DOTA is the only competitive game I’ve seen where you probably have to read a bunch of documentation and watch tutorial videos before you even boot the game up. You can’t just boot the game up and figure it out by playing. Not really anyway.

The first time I tried to boot up DOTA 2 a few months ago I could immediately tell it was set up first and foremost for existing veterans. Upon first boot-up it asks you what your experience level with DOTA was there wasn’t a “no experience” option. Even the “learn” section seemed to immediately go into profiles of the game’s different characters, skipping over the basic mechanics. I couldn’t even find anything that told me what the object of the game was (I seriously didn’t know until I recently watched a tutorial video).

The main issue is that there’s very little else out there like DOTA. It’s not only extremely complex, but also extremely unique in its complexity. I could at least enter Counter-Strike with some previous knowledge of how shooters work.  I can at least enter King of Fighters XIII with my knowledge of how fighting games work. I can’t bring my knowledge from any other game into DOTA.

For years the original DOTA was basically the only Massively Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game. Just looking at the game by itself you can’t really tell what it is. It looks kind of like an isometric RPG but is really more related to real time strategy games… except you only control one unit. This is the main reason why I hesitated for years to start DOTA, League of Legends, or any MOBA. I haven’t really gotten into an RTS since the original Star Craft and Command & Conquer in the late 90’s.

The thing is, they’re trying to get tutorial functionality into the game, but it’s not done yet. This is the one thing that to me signals most of all that DOTA 2 still isn’t technically ready for public release. I don’t know how it’s the most played game on Steam.

I was able to find a “quest” mode after some digging into the menus (which in itself is a problem) which as of this writing just consists of a single tutorial mission explaining the basic controls and mechanics of DOTA. Aside from that you can play the game entirely with bots which is what I’ll be doing for a while, and play online with humans against a team of bots. They’re trying to add in some kind of coaching mode which at least sounds like a unique approach to a universal question that I think remains unanswered: How do you make a competitive online video game accessible to new players?

It seems like almost every online game at some point becomes dominated more and more exclusively by experienced players, eventually reaching a point where they destroy beginners before they can have any fun. I haven’t touched actual online DOTA because I’ve heard how abrasive the community can be to unskilled players.

I think the problem is how basically everyone is cast into the same pool of players regardless of skill level or commitment level. It’s like everyone who plays an athletic sport from people in their backyards to league professionals being thrown onto the same field. The pros just end up dominating with no place for the amateurs to go. Right now the accepted solution is “just continue sucking until you get good.”

The problem with this is that a lot of people just don’t have the time to “get good” but still want to have fun with the game. It used to be that people like this could just play local multiplayer with their friends. Today, at best they can play online with their friends… whenever their friends are actually online. In my experience matchmaking doesn’t really work.

The closest thing I’ve seen to an existing solution is dedicated servers along with a server browser. At the very least it gives players the possibility of finding a nice, enclosed community of players who might be nice enough to let them ease into the game or just enjoy themselves. It also lets people establish such communities for their own purposes.

The other effective existing solution that I think should be more or less ubiquitous is bots, or some kind of way to play against the CPU. If nothing else it lets players pick up and practice the basic mechanics of a game, whether that be the moves in a fighting game or the maps and weapons in a shooter.

Although I haven’t played it, I think StarCraft 2’s league system sounds like a good idea — lock players in specific pools with those of similar skill levels. It would be nice if multiplayer games in general established some kind of kiddy pool or recreational division for people who still want to be competitive but are really just trying to have fun above all else. That’s what I want to see the most.

I think that if anyone can figure out an answer to this problem, Valve can. They’re one of the best when it comes to unique solutions and design models. DOTA 2 is one of those games that feels like it’s had a lot of hard craft put into it which is really the main reason I was even interested in playing it in the first place.


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One thought on “DOTA 2, Valve, and the Online Multiplayer Accessibility Problem

  1. neochills99 says:

    You are right . Dota 2 does have an extremely long learning curve. Maybe you would like to check out my Blog. Im going to write one post soon for newcomers.

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