Continuing our Free-to-Play week, Locke and Tally take a look at DOTA 2. While there’s a lot to say about the game, we’ll be focusing on the co-op experience as well as how Valve monetizes the game.
One of the things that sets DOTA 2 apart from some of the other MOBA/ARTS games out there is that all the heroes are available to play without any purchase. While many other games support a rotating set of free heroes/champions, all of DOTA 2’s heroes are always unlocked for play. The game does have a shop, of course, but almost all of the items are in some way or another purely cosmetic or vanity items. The items that are not cosmetic or vanity are items that support professional teams/players and have no impact on gameplay. Examples of these are tournament “tickets” (which allow players to watch professional matches in-game through spectator mode) or team pennants (which allow players to equip a flag to show support for their favorite teams).
Cosmetic items can be equipped on their perspective heroes to alter their appearance. Players can mix and match pieces of item sets to their heart’s content. Unlike an RPG, these items in no way boost their hero. It is 100% for looks. Vanity items allow players to rename items or keep counters on things such as wards placed or towers destroyed. They also include “battle boosters” which increases the rate which that player (and all players he or she plays with, to a lesser effect) gains DOTA 2 Profile XP. This XP is only really useful for two things: bragging rights for DOTA 2 levels (which means more games played), and every time players gain a level, they are guaranteed an item drop. Almost all of the items available in the store can drop after a matchmaking game (randomly distributed) whether or not someone has leveled, but leveling ensures an item to that player.
If perusing Valve’s DOTA 2 store, the price for a set is between five and twenty dollars. At the time of this post, there are 5 sets in the store at the highest price of $17.99. The reason these are almost double the price of other sets is because they come with a ‘legendary’ item (usually a mount) that is always quite expensive. The colored loot system exists in DOTA 2, and is directly related to the price of an item. Commons and Uncommons can be purchased for mere cents, with the price increasing with rarity.
If one turns to Steam’s Community Market, all sorts of treasures can be found with prices skewed in both directions. Some items in the Valve store are available on the marketplace, but most hero items are not for sale on the marketplace, due to a an obvious conflict of interest on Valve’s part. Marketplace items are usually items that are not available for sale in the store. There are several standout items that have high price tags. These include the Vintage Timebreaker (going for around 50 USD), the Dragonclaw Hook (around 90 USD) and the Genuine Battlefury (100 USD). All 3 of these items are highly sought after by traders and are some of the types items that collectors pursue. Once again, they're purely cosmetic.
The cheapest ‘item’ on the market is technically the chests that drop randomly, each of which can be picked up for less than a nickel. The catch is, keys are required to unlock the chests to get the goodies inside (made popular by Team Fortress 2). A single key costs about $2.49 on the Valve store. However, when it comes to actual hero items the least you will pay is $0.99 for a common item.
SHARING PREMIUM ITEMS
As mentioned, battle boosters can be shared with co-op partners, to help them level up faster as well and get cosmetic items cheaper. Players can also freely trade their items between each other via the Steam trading interface. As far as I can think of, nothing in the shop is locked to a player’s account initially. Even tournament tickets must be activated. After that, they are bound to that Steam account. Cosmetic items are almost never locked to an account (a rare exception includes a cosmetic item acquired for completing a tutorial mission).
INCENTIVE FOR PROGRESS AND LONGEVITY
Since there’s nothing that can be bought for real or virtual currency that really changes the game in any way, each player will have different feelings about incentive to play (or keep playing) DOTA 2. That being said, there is also no “completing” DOTA 2, either. Each individual game will be unique in some way. Players who continue to play usually do so because they enjoy playing, and/or they want to get better. With 102 heroes (and several more at least on the way), it’s a monstrous task to learn what they all do, and perhaps impossible for most people to even think of mastering them all. The cosmetic items are often enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing or interesting, but they’re certainly not a reason to play. Players play because they like the game and want to further their knowledge, skill, and experience of the game.
ARE THERE ANY WORLD BREAKING TRANSACTIONS?
Since each game of DOTA 2 is self contained, there is no room for transactions within the game itself. As mentioned previously, all of the purchasing is done out of game (in the Valve store), and is purely cosmetic or for spectating. This model feels superior to other MOBA games since all of the heroes are accessible from the beginning, which levels the playing field and favorite heroes can be customized at will.
DOTA 2 will never ask for another quarter during the match, but Valve does a very good job of tempting players with chests. Seeing other heroes with a rare set usually has players scramble to buy/sell/trade bodily fluids for items. Some people (no names) have a deep affinity for the item system in the game so much that it has tapped into the human psyche and taken money from wallets.
SO HOW DO YOU ACTUALLY CO-OP?
It’s simple really, and it doesn’t matter if you are alone or with friends. Each game of DOTA 2 consists of a 5 on 5 battle, so you will be looking at a co-op group of five. Once you have booted up the game, players can party up by clicking on their names and selecting ‘Invite to party’. Once in a party there are three ways to start a co-op match, each of which are accessible by hitting the large ‘PLAY’ button located at the top of the screen.
1. Practice with bots - this will begin a match immediately for all the players in the party. The empty spots are filled with bot players, and the easiest method for practicing new heroes and tactics.
2. Co-Op matchmaking - as mentioned above, players may queue up for a co-op match in which battle points can be earned as well as possible item drops. Note that if a player abandons a queued match, it will count against their record.
3. Create a lobby - if a customized match is required, or if there is a larger group, a lobby can be made to accommodate. The type of game can be changed, how many bots are present, and players can choose what team to play for or even spectate the match.
Keep in mind that communication is key in a game like DOTA 2, and thankfully there are several ways to communicate with your team. Text chat can be accessed by hitting Enter on the keyboard. Precomposed messages such as “Well played” or “Get back” are on a radial menu which is available by hitting the Y key. Finally in-game voice chat is (usually) the most effective form of communication, and can be accessed using the ‘G’ key.
Tally: As we mentioned, there are two ways to play co-op: private lobby or co-op matchmaking. I play both. Until quite recently, I’d mostly stopped playing co-op matchmaking completely, because, let’s face it - MOBA communities are almost always terrible. I started it again recently, however, and have been surprised that it’s been a much more positive experience than before. I attribute this mostly to two factors: the low-priority queuing system and the muting system that Valve has been enforcing. Getting into the specifics of these systems would run too long, but the short of it is they promote a friendly community and attempt to separate the decent people from the trolls, whether be by putting them in a whole different matchmaking pool, or simply taking away their ability to voice or text chat in game. These measures are not permanent (so people can always come back to the “good” community if they change their ways), but they will continue to be punished if they continue their ways.
Playing co-op DOTA 2 games is generally relaxing, and I often take opportunities to play heroes I am unaccustomed to playing. Every once in awhile the computer reflexes can be annoying, but it’s a small annoyance. Valve continues to make tweaks to the bot AI and add in more heroes for the AI to play, and overall I’m satisfied and impressed with their behavior. It’s usually satisfying to play against the bots, and the players don’t always win. It’s a quality title to blow off some, ahem, steam (you see what I did there?) with some friends. Differing skill levels can also be easily disregarded as long as people don’t get ragey.
Locke: DOTA 2 has quickly become my go-to game. Being able to use all the heroes and test out different strategies is always welcome. I really enjoy the team aspect of the game, and I think that is one of the main reasons I prefer it over other staples. The game has a great flow to it, and I thrive in situations where teamwork and strategy is paramount. If you don’t coordinate it will be a very quick loss. Maybe it is because I’m slightly deprived of team sports in my adult life, and a void is definitely being filled.
Playing with a team of friends is immensely satisfying, especially when things go well. If the match takes a down turn and ends up in a loss, that’s when I learn something. DOTA 2 isn’t a forgiving game, and the learning curve is very steep which turns off most players. However, the best way to play is with friends and learn the game together. You will lose a ton, but losing together is easier than alone and winning together is a fantastic feeling.
So that’s it. Get in there and have some fun with friends. Find heroes you like and coordinate to dominate those lanes!