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Playing Between Rules: Negotiating the Ludic Innovations of the MOBA genre

Regulating Playful Ecosystems: Critically Exploring the Dynamics of Balance in the Multiplayer Online Battle ArenaJosh JarrettDigital Cultures Research Centre, University of the West of England@Joshua_Jarrett

Introduction to self and themes of talk1

Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)?

Fifteen year history in a modding / playing community.Largely developed out of the Warcraft 3 (2003, Blizzard Entertainment) modification Defence of the Ancients (or DotA) As of 2009 / 2010 the genre started to become replaced by corporate iterations of the genre, some of the most significant including League of Legends (Riot Games, 2009), Heroes of Newerth (Frostburn Studios, 2010) and Dota 2 (Valve Corporation, 2013).League of Legends alone has 27 million daily players.It has since gone onto be recognised as one of the most popular genres in the world responsible for industry defining trends such as the rise e-sports, live streaming and fair free to play.

Many rules!

Fountain Hook

Playing Between RulesIt is common knowledge that what to begin with seems to be a situation susceptible to indefinite repetition turns out to be capable of producing ever new combinations. (Caillois, 1958: 30)

TL; DR: Don't nerf something when it is played differently to how it was intended, because that innovation is the beautiful thing about competing within system like a videogame: You look at what is known and you try to prove it wrong. (2012, Reddit user)

More Rules!

Developer Patch Notes

Space Between RulesPatches represent a tangible top down response to bottom up explorations of rules.So although the map may seem small and easily navigated there is constant exploration of the space between rules. I.E. different variations and emergent potentials. What makes this space distinctive in MOBAs is the frenetic pace of change on the part of [professional] players, developers and user generated content producers. Each stakeholder co-creates the ongoing changes of the genre and for completely different reasons to each other.

The Agency of Ludic InnovationThe ludic innovations of players become a force with agency that can be framed just as wider forms of participation can.Play is participatory (Jenkins, 2006)Play is co-creative (Banks, 2013) Play is connective (Djick, 2013)

Reading ludic innovation in this way, as an activity with a distinct agency of its own, allows for a much wider critical perspective on what these instances of bottom up creativity represent.

Connective Approach Towards Ludic InnovationFollowing Djicks conception of connectivity as a means of mapping the convolutions between different stake holders, technological actors and microsystems provides a useful approach towards viewing these emergent play styles.

Extracts from DiscussionsI have held numerous Reddit discussions relating to the themes touched upon here asking questions such as who defines the meta?, what innovating play styles have you seen risen to the top?, have you lost expertise with the introduction of new patches? I have had around 200 in depth responses / conversations and made notes of many existing discussions that often number in the thousands of comments.

Extracts from DiscussionsIts their balance philosophy that irks me. If they only brought overtuned champions down to par then Id be fine with it. But when Riot nerfs, they often gut a champion in one patch to the point that theres no reason to play them. So people find new things to replace them and the whole thing continues. If the changes were balances instead of nerfs then I could keep playing my favourite champions without that fear of them becoming unviable. But it barely seems worth trying to master a champion when in 2 weeks they may appear in the LCS [professional e-sports league] and get steamrolled in a patch a shortly after.

Extracts from DiscussionsWho controls the innovation of the game?Riot and Pros. Riot's buffs and nerfs are the single biggest effect on the meta. If they don't like something, they make people stop doing it. Pros pick up what Riot makes strong and then add their personal flavors. The recent resurgence of Jayce after the use by Pawn in the world championships is a testament to this.There is a lot of room [for the average player to innovate]. Especially when you're not pro or near pro but even there (as we were able to see recently with a poppy top, hecarim and jayce mid). In lower tiers there are even less limitations. It's how well you play your champion and not even how well they fit into lane. Jax mid? Sure! J4 + Pantheon bottom lane? Hardest stomp I ever had... I think you get my point ;)I feel there is a fair bit of room in the game itself to be innovative and try something new but the community gets stuck in its ways and heavily hinders any innovation, you try to innovate and you will get heckled into oblivion.

Balance Philosophies Different MOBAs have come to represent different balance philosophies that mirror discussions surrounding participation and copyright.Morello vs Icefrog

Co-creative Authorship Overregulation stifles creativity. It smothers innovation. It gives dinosaurs a veto over the future. It wastes an extraordinary opportunity for democratic creativity that digital technology enables. (Lessig, 2004)Who controls innovating in the game? The players. Thats how games like basketball are balanced. Each generation has its necessities, so the rules are always evolving. Its the same with Dota. Balance is the arch-enemy of art and creativity. Creativity comes from a conflict of different ideas. Controversy is a natural part of creativity. (Icefrog, 2013)Does dispersed authorship always require some centralised control?


Staking PlayPlayersProfessional PlayersUser Generated Content ProducersDevelopers

Thank you for your time@Joshua_Jarrett