With enough effort, anyone can establish a successful entry in the MOBA genre. But Waystone wanted to give players of their game a reason to care. As such, it has chosen to emphasize story and lore in Dawngate, something that both of its main competitors have let slide over time.
“The other big design challenge that we wanted to work on which was the notion of story,” Lead Producer Dave Cerra tells us. “This is a pretty personal thing for a lot of us at the studio, we all consume comics and anime, and we're all hardcore MMO players - my guild was number seven on the Kilrogg server in WoW. We like that stuff a lot, so we're like, 'How can we bring this back into the genre?'”
Back into the genre we ask him? “Because ironically the genre came out of Warcraft III and that game's hero units,” he explains, “and Blizzard had introduced those units to better tell their stories in an RTS, and along the way the notion of the story kind of got left by the wayside. I think it was the right thing for those games, I'm not saying they did the wrong thing at all, but there it is, like waiting.
So we said, 'Okay, we love this.' We think this is important and meaningful, are we crazy? And so we asked over a thousand active regular MOBA players, 'What games are you playing?' Because we didn't want to lead them and say, 'Do you want story with your MOBA?' And they were all playing Skyrim and RPGs, RTSs, and all these story driven games. And so we said, 'Okay, let's figure this out.'
Out of this their story driven experience was born. That's what Living Lore is,” Cerra continues, “how do we make story meaningful for everybody and high quality for everybody without having it get in the way of people that just want to play their competitive game. The reception from the fans has been awesome.
Even here the developers incorporation of the community shows it's head. “Importantly, those choices they make are going to result in the discovery of new content that's then going to feed back in.” Cerra explains a possible situation saying, “Hypothetically, if the players decide, through a choice that we give them, to have the North wage war of the West or whatever it is. They might find some amazing general along the way in the story arch, he then becomes a playable character in Dawngate. Or maybe it's a cosmetic item like a skin, they send Zalgus to go do something and he becomes corrupted and the players are like, 'Oh my God!' Then they get the corrupted Zalgus skin and they're like, 'This is bad***!'”
Cerra and his team understand that players become attached to each of these Shapers that they spend a long period of their time playing as. Being able to have an influence on that character is huge and something that Waystone doesn't underestimate.
“When you really break MOBAs down from an emotional connection point, you as a player are becoming excellent at playing the game in that specific way. You find your main, you find that character that's just like, 'Yeah, the whole game opens up when I play this character.'
“So how can we deepen that relationship? How can we make that even more meaningful for you? Bring him to life. The way that we're doing this, through the web comic, allows us to explore.”
Shifting away from story we begin to talk about the current landscape of Dawngate and how Waystone is encouraging good behavior rather than focusing on punishing those who act outside the norm.
A big part of this is the game's reward system which as of this moment gives out rewards based on performance, first win of the day, how honorable you were, etc and can even grant out Shapers for free.
“We wanted to use that end of the game to do more than just go, 'Here's your grind currency.' Nothing wrong with that, that's fine, 'Cool I got my reward, I'm playing my free-to-play game, I have my experience.' But we saw it as an opportunity to reward different emotional levels, and we're not done with that system, more is coming there.”
Cerra takes some time to explain how the current system works, “But this initial release we've got five different tiers and they're affected by: Did you win your game? How well did you play in the game? Was it your first win of the day? Etc. Etc. There's a random roll, and we feel that is broken, so we're going to do some work on that. (It creates some weird states that are unfortunate, you should always just feel good at the end of your game)
“Again, you can't find these things until you go into it. But we wanted to tie that into some of our philosophy around addressing toxicity in the game. Because I agree with you, I think the loot system is pretty unique, and so we said, 'Okay, how can we use this to encourage the behavior we want to see?' So before you go into that loot screen you've got the opportunity to vote on everybody in the game, but only up votes, no down votes. . .We want to encourage positive behavior, not focus attention on negative behavior and react to that. . .There's a lot that's going on under the hood behind that [and] that karma then gets directly applied to your loot roll.”
After a long winded explanation Cerra summarizes it with four key words, “What we're saying to players is, 'Don't be a jerk.'
“The reason we're giving away Shapers in those higher tiers is because that's money, that's literally money, or grind currency, time, that you now don't have to spend. So you can go be a jerk and you won't get any karma and it'll just slow you down. [So] don't be a jerk.
Where does Cerra see this path taking Waystone in the future? Where the community wants for one, but he also knows the team will continue to understand exactly what direction the game will be heading in. Right now there are a ton of different possibilities depending on how their latest efforts play out.
“I think in six months from now we will have learned a hell of a lot about Living Lore and what's working there and what's not. The commitment there is very strong, we've got a three person team of pros that are putting that experience together. That could grow into something even more, it could be animated at some point, I don't know,” Cerra admits, “we're going to see how that works for people.”
“The community is pushing us toward eSports,” he predictably says. “From Day Zero, we've made all of our design decisions with eSports in mind, but we also don't feel that you can just go in and buy your way or force your way into eSports. People have to raise that up and say, 'We want to express our mastery of this game in that way.' So we're starting to build features to support the community – spectating 1.0 feature will be coming soon-ish.”
“If Living Lore does what it's already starting to do and we continue to support the community with eSports focused features, my suspicion is that we will see a community that's very interested in the entertainment side and very interested in exploring the competitive side.
“We'll just keep building features to support that,” Cerra firmly states.
He's quick to lighten the mood again however, “I expect the community's going to go, 'Give us tournament mode!' And we're going to go, 'We hear you loud and clear!' These are champagne problems, right? Wherever the players want, we can take the game wherever the players want and that's the whole point."
We'd like to thank Dave Cerra, Electronic Arts, and the rest of the Waystone Games team for taking the time to talk with us about Dawngate.