Dota Plus may be too little, too late for Dota 2’s disappearing player base

Dota 2 reached its peak number of players in December 2016. Nearly 14M people logged in that month to play the 7.00 update, which included a new hero and the introduction of new gameplay mechanics (hero talent trees and significant map changes). The excitement over the update didn’t last long, however, and 1M players abandoned the game two months later. In the year since, the number of monthly players has continued to fall to 10.6M in February 2018, a loss of almost a quarter of its peak player base.

 

With a dwindling number of players, Valve started to make changes to make sure those 10.6M stick around. First, the developer publicly committed to releasing updates every two weeks to address player complaints over long update droughts. In a second, more ambitious move, it introduced Dota Plus.

 

Dota Plus is a monthly subscription service for Dota 2 players that comes with two significant features intended to boost player retention: Plus Assistant and Hero Progression. Plus Assistant offers players real-time item and ability suggestions during a game as well as post-game analytics. Hero Progression lets players level up heroes outside of matches (something that had not been available previously) and unlocks hero-specific challenges that boost hero leveling with additional experience upon completion.

 

The service, which costs $3.99 per month, was initially met with some confusion. Some members of the Dota 2 community believed that Plus Assistant should be available for new players and should not be locked behind a paywall. If anything, Dota Plus makes the game even less attractive for new players. That’s because Dota Plus isn’t meant to attract new players. It is designed to keep active users playing, and more importantly, paying.  

 

What does Dota Plus mean for the future of Dota 2?

 

For Valve, it represents a steadier revenue stream. In past years, revenue for the publisher spiked heavily around the sales of The International Battle Pass. In May 2017, for instance, Valve made $68M in revenue when they released The International Battle Pass. Six months later, Valve only pulled in $24M. Moving to a subscription service will help alleviate revenue volatility in the long term.

 

At this time, it is unclear whether or not Valve will use the revenue generated from Dota Plus to contribute to the prize pool of The International, which in years past was partially funded by a percentage of Battle Pass sales. These Battle Pass sales allowed prize pools in Dota 2 to reach  record-setting sizes, which brought in a lot positive media attention. If this year’s prize pool falls short of last year’s, it is further confirmation of the shrinking player base and that Valve seeks to more heavily monetize those who are left.

 

Of course, none of this is to say that Dota 2 is a dead or dying game. It still beats out other MOBA titles like SMITE (2.0M) and Heroes of the Storm (6.5M) in size, but it can only continue to do that if it can stem the tide of the current exodus. If Dota Plus is successful in this regard, it will become the gold standard for free-to-play games in decline that need to extend their life cycle (and revenue). If not, it will be yet another attempt in a long list of failed efforts by publishers to prevent the inevitable.