Greg Street on how to make the game accessible to all users.
At the GDC 2017 conference, Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street from Riot Games talked about the work of the team responsible for the game design of the League of Legends. He explained how the company collects data, reacts to the requests of the fans and tries not to go crazy, balancing the game, which has more than a hundred heroes.
Next – a short retelling of the speech. It will be devided into two parts, to ease the reading.
League of Legends short overview
In the League of Legends seven leagues: from the bronze to the “challenger”. A typical example of the player from the latter is Baye Seong-ung, who plays under the name of Bengi. He was three times world champion in the Korean team SKT and obviously plays very well in the League of Legends.
There is a problem: how to make the game equally interesting for people whose skill level differs not by ten or twenty percent, but by a thousand.
In the League of Legends, players control champions – such as Leon in the image above. A total of 144, and constantly appear new.
Why balance is important
Street perceives the balance as a kind of “contract”, which developers conclude with the player. Users receive benefits in exchange for money or time. If a person has been playing as a warlock for 10 years in World of Warcraft, he must be confident that he can play him regardless of changes in the game balance.
League of Legends is a PvP game in which the player’s skills are very important. According to Street, people play in LoL partly in order to show their skills. So, the balance should not exclude the need to play well.
When the game is badly balanced, it’s easy to decide the outcome of the match – take the best character, items and win. Users quickly get bored and they quit the game.
Balancing stimulates engagement: when a person gets tired of a champion, he can choose another. And if they are roughly equal in strength, it will not be boring.
In addition, Riot takes care of the players’ confidence. If the game is not balanced, it means that its creators do not care about the users. Unfortunately, this is a rather complicated process.
Balance for different skill levels
Professional players in the League of Legends can do what ordinary users can not. Therefore, the balance in e-sports means something completely different.
The level of the game skill can be divided into many categories: making the right decisions, communicating with the team, the speed of reflexes and so on. In addition, individual gaming techniques are more difficult to perform. Developers often compensate for the overestimated capacity of the hero’s ability in that it is more difficult to use.
In the picture above – a typical skillshot. Instead of just clicking on the enemy with a mouse and guaranteed to get into it, the player needs to aim, to predict where the opponent will go and so on.
However, it is not limited to skills only. All that is associated with the performance of several actions simultaneously (or frequent use of abilities) is much easier for professional players.
Many powerful abilities of champions have time of application – if the hero is attacked, they either do not work, or lose effect. On the professional stage, their activation will be interrupted almost certainly.
It’s not just purely mechanical skills. Experienced players know complex tactics, strengths and weaknesses of characters, and reflexively adapt to them.
In the picture above, Garen. He is very strong in the lower leagues, but weak in the higher leagues. His ability to spin in a whirlwind even became a meme of “spin-to-win”. However, experienced players know how to dodge it, and against them it is ineffective.
The actual problem
Street leads the problem, which he encountered while working on Age of Empires 2.
One of the most powerful features of the unit is long-range attack and high speed of movement. The mounted archers in Age of Empires 2 had both. Other units can not be compared with them.
The League of Legends also has long-range and highly mobile characters, such as Vayne and Lucian. Under the control of experienced players, they can inflict a lot of damage, practically without losing their health.
Interestingly, most people play the LoL alone, and their feelings are very different from the impressions of professional players who perform and train only in the team. They are so “played” that they read each other’s thoughts.
Inexperienced players behave differently, because they do not know whether it is possible to rely on other team members.
The character in the picture above is a typical “glass cannon”, causing a lot of damage, but quickly dying. It’s hard for them to play single users, because the team can not protect them.
Experienced players are very well versed in the gaming economy. And the economic advantage is the guarantee of victory.
Gold in the game stands out for murder and gradually accumulates over time. Players earn it and buy artifacts, becoming stronger. Of course, experienced players do it faster, but they resort to another technique. All but one champion, try not to get gold, and the rest achieves the goal, gets a lot of gold and an early advantage.
Similarly, the best guilds come in World of Warcraft: during raids, they give the best prey to the main tank or key DPS.
It is very difficult to take into account during the creation of the game, and even more difficult to balance.
For some abilities, AI responds (for example, for a turret). Their effectiveness is poorly scaled with the skill level. If you make them powerful enough for experienced players, then people from the bronze league they will simply destroy. On the other hand, if you leave the turret on an average level, professionals will not use them.
The same applies to powerful abilities, acting very little time.
The early stages of the match are very important. It is then that experienced players gain an advantage, which then, accumulating, gets out of control. Often this is compensated by the fact that players with the advantage can make a mistake, die and give the opponent more gold for the murder – but the pros play almost perfectly.
Similar problems exist in strategies like Starcraft, where a small economic advantage at the beginning of the match towards the end of the game brings huge benefits.
Do not forget about the hardware. Shortly before the performance of Street Riot conducted a study and found that the ratio of victories and defeats correlates with the speed of the Internet in the country: in South Korea the connection is very stable, in comparison with, for example, the United States.
There is a more unusual problem. Due to the high skill level of experienced players, the number of their errors is reduced to a minimum, and sometimes to zero. Often the result of the match determines exactly which team makes a mistake the first – sometimes just enough to click.
Therefore, high-level players should have an additional “layer” of gameplay – strategies, the right choice of champions and combinations, which also determine the result.
Balance for mass audience
Players of any PvP-game have different skill level. This is true even for indie projects with a small user base.
And in the League of Legends plays about a hundred million people. In this case, the rules are the same for everyone, unlike, say, basketball, where the playing field for beginners differs from the field for professionals.
Users of the League of Legends often act cyclically: they play, then they watch the streams or the broadcasts of the championships, after which they come back into the game again. A NASCAR fan does not ride a race car on weekends – in this sport, the mass audience participates only as spectators. In LoL, they can play on the same terms as professional players.
Moreover, they learn from the pros. And many understand that if they play well enough, they themselves will go to e-sports.
P.S. The next part is here.