Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games are "notoriously toxic," but they don't have to be that way, argues Strife developer S2 Games monetization director Pu Liu. Speaking with GameSpot today, Liu said MOBAs can be poisonous in nature because they often force players to fight for resources against not only enemies--but also teammates.
"MOBAs are notoriously toxic; the competition for resources between teammates and enemies alike really creates a tense atmosphere," Liu said. "If a teammate does something you don't expect, you tend to react very negatively. Most genre stakeholders acknowledge the toxicity issue, and are trying to address it retroactively--by punishing bad behavior."
However, with S2 Games' upcoming MOBA Strife, the developer is employing a new Karma system that aims to addresses toxic behavior proactively and--more importantly, Liu says--facilitate team behavior through game design.
"From the ground up, Strife is designed to be less toxic by creating less competition between teammates," Liu said. "For instance, since intra-team conflict is usually the most common and worst offender that contributes to toxicity in MOBAs, we proactively addressed this in Strife with our gold sharing mechanic for brawler kills."
The Karma system is fairly basic. After a match is finished, players can rate others--positively, negatively, or indifferent. The higher a player's karma score, the more positive their rating is with the community. Player's with low ratings will literally receive items like coal, while players with high ratings stand to receive better items.
Like League of Legends and DOTA 2, Strife is a free-to-play game--another point that might scare some players away. But Liu stressed that though Strife is free-to-play, it is not pay-to-win. Every hero in the game is available to every player--no unlocking necessary.
Strife's in-game payments, instead, will allow players to acquire cosmetics like dyes and gear sets, as well as shortcuts that could otherwise be earned through gameplay.
"We believe that the key to having a healthy free-to-play game is to have an amazing experience for the free-to-play player," Liu said. "That in turn creates higher organic growth, meaning you have more chances to get players who will spend money on the game, supporting the game for the entire community."
Liu said S2 Games' overarching goal for in-game payments in Strife is to offer a system that is "elegant and clean." This means there is no dedicated "store" to speak of.
"Microtransactions are seamlessly integrated into the free player's core flow. If someone wants to spend, fantastic," Liu said. "If not, we're not cattle-herding them into a premium store under one guise or another. When someone does spend, it will be within the exact context that they are spending on--there's nothing hidden, there's no entrapment agenda."
Strife has been in closed beta for months now, and a free trial weekend begins next Friday. You can read more about the trial from our interview with Liu and sign up for the free weekend at the Strife website.