Is it true that Dota 2 is dying?

Caution: serious analytics from the developer with charts, reports, memes.

An employee of a large gaming company, in the eyes of the community, is always a developer, and it doesn’t matter whether you write a code, texts for mailings, or serve a coffee machine. Personally, I don’t write code, but I have been working in the industry for 5 years and I know something about the internal kitchen and “slave” logic. Not to say that the latter radically diverges from the player’s logic. At the same time, the player sees many seemingly obvious and unambiguous things for the developer in a completely different way or does not see at all. And the point is not that we are on the opposite side of the barricades. We have one side, but here are the goals …

I intended to open this blog by talking about the appropriateness of the latest changes in Dota 2. However (in many respects, filing NS’a) in recent days, the topic of online DotA has become particularly relevant. The periodic appearance of such topics is typical of any popular online project. The ability to work them out can be called a classic test for professional suitability of a community manager. Ideal for starter publishing, I find.

Patch 7.23. Expectations and Reality

This has never happened before, and here again: astrologers have proclaimed a week of passions on-line and are sounding the alarm. “Gabe, we are losing him!” Just like last year, but this time it’s serious. ” News aggregators are full of retweets: “Save an ordinary online!” training manuals We arrived with detailed instructions on how to save. The most indifferent are already bombarding the open mail of Valve with manuals, but there are only a few, of course. The majority of those who are not indifferent with a smirk relish in the comments the painful death of a private soldier, ironic on the subject “what is dead cannot die”.

Online Dota chart for 2019

Online Dota chart for 2019

The reaction of the CIS community to the online state at the end of 2019 looks something like this, and this is understandable. The indicators reached the values ​​of 2013, which, of course, looks like an alarming sign. But everything must have a reason, right? Many began to look for them in the illiterate actions of Valve, and in particular in the latest global update. Part of the community cherished the hope that it was the autumn patch that would break the downtrend. Patch 7.23, on the contrary, did not correct the situation, which was why many perceived it as a complete failure. Everyone has the right to such an opinion, but it can be considered fair if the patch was really aimed at solving the problem online. Is it so? How much do global updates serve this purpose?

Online schedule from 12.2013 to 12.2019

Online schedule from 12.2013 to 12.2019

Take a look at the same chart for a longer period of time. I marked the last major patches with blue dots, ints with yellow dots, and online spikes with red dots. A curious observation: never a balanced patch in DotA, no matter how global it may be, did not give instant growth online. Much better with this task combat passes and The International cope. Oddly enough, the largest commissures always occurred at the beginning of the year, namely, February. Remember that such an important thing happens in February? We in the CIS may have nothing, but most of Dota’s audience at this time is New Year. Valve necessarily annually release events, boxes and sets right for the Lunar New Year, and it works. Best of all, as you can see, the Novotsvet event was fired in 2015-16. It is not surprising that this year Valve repeated it, and I am sure they will repeat something similar in the coming.

To summarize the idea: some development activities are aimed at increasing the activity of players, others – at developing the game itself and updating the meta. In an ideal world, it would be time to finish off both birds with one stone at a time, but in practice this does not work. In practice you* Once again, you are outraged by Gabe’s greed, looking at the new lootboxes and counting the price tag of the arcana in the compendos, and at the same time, a satisfied Chinese returns to the game to cover up the whole thing. In short, patch 7.23 has been released to refresh the meta and set the vector for the development of the game for the coming season. He did not aim to “fix” the schedule online.

*Of course, not you personally.

External factors and global trends

World Trent in a Vacuum

World Trent in a Vacuum

By the way, Novotsvet 2019 may not have shot as it should. On the graph, we clearly see the “hill”, but it is somehow strange and does not coincide in date with the event: the increase lasted from January to May with a spike in March. I could not understand what was going on until I looked again at the list of PC innovations this year. Everything turned out to be simple: the beginning of the growth coincides with the release of the modification Dota Auto Chessand recession – with the exit Dota underlords in beta. The numbers also converged: the average daily online DotA first grew, and then dipped by about 100 thousand. This part of the audience settled safely in the “auto-batter”. A very revealing example of how factors that are essentially unrelated to the game itself can influence online. And there have been a lot of such factors since 2017 (just then online in DotA began to slide). Here are perhaps the most significant:

  • high growth rate of mobile gaming;
  • market entry of strong single-platform competitor Dota – Pubg;
  • the birth of a supernova in the world of the gaming industry – Fortnite.

These are not my guesses, but the requested conclusions from the annual reports of the SuperData service. They, by the way, are in the public domain, and by reference they can be found and downloaded (if you consider this an advertisement, you can still order boost there). Such reports reflect: the growth of the gaming industry in hard currency, global trends, as well as the profit of top products.

Few people will download and read this, so here is the bottom line in five screenshots.

You can argue that the above reports are entirely about money and do not really reflect the number of players, and you will be wrong (a). Financial and audience indicators are directly dependent – always. This in itself is logical, but for the sake of persuasiveness, I will quote from the 2017 report.

Translation: “Despite the fact that MOBA games open and close the top five among free-to-play projects, most of the revenue comes from RPG (34%) and shooters (22%). The trend is reflected in the annual growth of these genres: RPGs and shooters grew by 9% and 13%, respectively, while MOBA are stagnant (only 3% growth).

Translation: “Despite the fact that MOBA games open and close the top five among free-to-play projects, most of the revenue comes from RPG (34%) and shooters (22%). The trend is reflected in the annual growth of these genres: RPGs and shooters grew by 9% and 13%, respectively, while MOBA are stagnant (only 3% growth). ”

Here we are talking about audience growth. In 2018, stagnation for MOBA games only worsened with the full flowering of the genre Battle royale and the boom in Fortnight’s popularity. Over the 9 months of its existence, this game has achieved 125 million registrations, becoming a cultural phenomenon and the most successful game in history. Truly a cosmic figure exceeding Dota’s active audience by 10 times. All industry leaders suffered from Fortnight – some more, some less. The blow, first of all, fell on a young and new audience (New MAU). According to Epic Games, many Fortnight players have never played a game before. Potentially, they could become part of the audience of Dota, LoL, Overwatch, Warcraft, COP or other popular game, but this did not happen. There was a noticeable shortage of New MAU in a number of top-level projects – unfulfilled KPIs, depressed employees.

Popularity gives rise to a global trend, as a result of which it multiplies. The Battle Royale genre has become a global trend, and a new generation of gamers is following it. MOBA, in particular Dota 2, with its hardcore, incredible (by modern standards) match duration, background and audience, as if speaking different languages ​​to this generation. And the point here is not so much in the correct or incorrect actions of Valve, but in the specifics and age of the game itself.

Oldy here!

In general, Dota, it can be said, easily got off, because her audience, tested over the years, passing through the throne, pron and reborn with the game, turned out to be very authentic. An experienced doter (I declare as an experienced doter) in general, side trends, brands, realities and these your battle royals. A true Dotter does not know fatigue, playing the platinum disruptor, and does not know satiety, ganking on the puja. Other games, genres and tricks of marketers excite him insofar as, after all, he already found the most hardcore, dishonest, broken, ideal game of all time with inexhaustible content. He himself is ideal, from the point of view of Valve, and has only one minus: he grows up, gets old and slowly, but surely escapes offline.

The average doter is no longer a carefree student, because the game is scary to think about how old. His entries into the game are not so regular, and the game session is getting shorter. From an active player, he is slowly being re-qualified as a spectator, and this is a natural and smooth process. As smooth as the average online decline graph. There are no sharp declines or drawdowns on it – a very good sign, in fact. Given the age of the product and the objective reasons for the New MAU shortfall, this is what is called natural outflow. Do not think that this process can quickly kill a game with a core audience of 10+ million people. This may take more than one decade.

But such a fate does not threaten Dota. According to statistics, the average age of a passing online project is 3 years. Projects that have come up well at the start are up to 5-7 years. For more than 7 years only iconic things have been living. Dota survived these marks as one of the industry leaders (stable top 5-6 in terms of audience and revenue). From a business point of view, this is an insanely successful project, from a cultural point of view it is a mass phenomenon and a brand. The advantage of the brand is that it is very easy to sell – much easier than spinning something up from scratch. So, if you are seriously worried that white with a scythe comes on our beloved game on the heels – exhale: even in the worst of the scenarios, Dotu will be more profitable to restart than to bury.

Legacy and risk

If everything is true, maybe Valve consciously and humbly let its project go by chance? Amazingly, in fact, how many people think something like this, despite the fact that this assumption should have been completely dispelled back in December 2016 with the release of the patch 7.00. Let me remind you: it was then that talents, shrains and Monkey King appeared in the game, not to mention the numerous reworking of the landscape, objects and heroes. It was this patch that finally divided the stories of Dota 2 and the classic DotA Allstars, making them essentially different games. In fact, Valve signed that Dota 2 breaks with its underground past and moves on.

The company took a huge risk, because unlike most games, the main part of the audience of the second Dota was inherited (a very unusual situation). The reaction of this audience could be very harsh. I think that’s why Valve has been pulling this decision for so many years, increasing the percentage of “its own” players who haven’t played the classics. Some of the olds after 7.00, of course, were depressed from where Dota had gone and roshpit. But time has already shown that this decision was right, and once it was made, the company made it clear that it intends to further develop the game as its own brainchild, which it still does. No matter how conservative we are towards Dota, this is not chess, but an online game. Regular changes are a necessary condition for competition with other projects for a new audience. They allow Dota to remain interesting as a game, e-sports discipline and show. And, of course, the nature of the changes is primarily dictated by the spirit of the times and the needs of society. These things can fit poorly into a player’s long-loyal value system. It is here that the developer is faced with the most difficult in his work – the search for a golden balance.

Personally, I like to see how IceFrog and the team balance, turning the game upside down, while preserving its essence, not lowering bets on e-sports and, in the meanwhile, playing on the nostalgic feelings of old-school players. But I’m rather like that, as a teaser for future material, because this is a different and very big topic.

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