Dawngate sat on the cold, metal bleachers. Quickly, so as not to be noticed, he stole a glance at League of Legends and Dota 2 over sketchbook scribbles of a polar bear gripping an electric eel. Garbed in shoulder pads and cool hats, the pair graciously accepted high fives from their 34 million admirers, all standing on the sportsball field turf.
“I wish I was that popular,” Dawngate sighed. Hitherto unseen, a kindly janitor approached the wistful MOBA and placed a hand on his shoulder. There was pain in his smile. There was sympathy in his eyes. His name-tag read “Paul.”
“It’s tough when you come from a rich publisher, Dawngate,” the janitor imparted. “There are so many expectations on a young beta these days. You need to be yourself, and not just act like League because your publisher wants you to be as successful.”
Dawngate was fighting back the tears now. Of course, he didn’t want to be just like League of Legends. It was auntie Electronic Arts that wanted him to wear the pads and the hat reading “Paid Characters and Costumes.” It was her idea for him to play almost identical to the most popular game in school.
She saw Dota’s roughly 8 million friends and League’s 27 million and said “They’ve got so many. If you act just like them, I’m sure you’ll have the same amount – if not more! Obviously, you’ll have to be just a little different to attract their attention, first.”
So auntie EA let Dawngate design his own characters and prepared his free-to-play mechanics. He was still new to this whole “beta” thing, so he only had time to prepare about 30 characters and some alternate costumes. Auntie EA rarely let anyone in the family give anything away for free. Dawngate’s potential friends would have to pay for permanent access to characters by grinding in-game currency or use their real lunch money.
With only a couple dozen characters, and just a few of those for free at any given time, Dawngate’s friends would be left with another problem. They’d have to play “mirror matches,” where friends on either team could choose the same character. Dawngate knew this would ruin things like team composition, variety and counter-picking, but he said nothing. Instead, he spent his time focusing on his art – which was quite colorful and good.
Of course, Dawngate understood that League could be a bit of a prat sometimes. In art class, League always drew the female character models about as respectfully as anyone (which is to say with tight clothes and low-cut tops). It wasn’t until class was over that League sold “Alternate Costumes” where the women all wore juvenile fetish gear, like “sexy nurse” outfits. Dawngate didn’t copy any of that.
Looking over his shoulder, the janitor saw Dawngate’s own sketchbook of character designs.
“You’ve got a real talent for design,” he said, sitting down next to the lonely MOBA. Sure, some of the women still had nonsensical cleavage – he was a video game after all. But some designs showed real uniqueness.
There was the aforementioned eel-swinging bear. Another was a living, Victorian doll with a spectral wind-up key in her back. One seemed to just be an animate mausoleum with arms and legs.
It was good character design; it was interesting. But both Paul the janitor and Dawngate knew that that wasn’t enough.
“Maybe if you actually tried talking to people,” Paul said. “You confuse people with words like “vim” instead of gold, and “Shaper” instead of hero or champion. I know your aunt wants you to be a little different, but you have to focus on your strengths.”
“What strengths are those?” Dawngate snorted to himself. But then he though for a second. There was the “roles” system he had been toying with. It let all of his friends customize the way their character earned experience at the start of every match. They could jungle or focus on ganking as they saw fit.
Paul the janitor was right, though. He didn’t know how to talk to people about this idea. It was a smattering of numbers and nonsensical fantasy jargon – too esoteric for new acquaintances to understand without a tutorial.
Yeah! That was it! He just needed to give a better explanation of how his systems worked. Right now, understanding Dawngate required finding YouTube videos. He, personally, did very little to help people understand him as a game. Maybe it didn’t matter that even he didn’t know what audience he was trying to reach. Maybe all he had to do was make people understand what made him different.
Dawngate rose up from his seat, clutching his art to his chest. His head swam with the undefined potential of his own uniqueness. Paul smiled, this time without a hint of pain.
Just then, applause broke out on the field below. Dota 2’s 2014 International Tournament had just begun. Everyone was cheering and paying attention to him again.
Dawngate saw it, too. He sat back down on his cold, steel seat.