Victory and defeat: how the League of Legends is balanced? Part 2: Balance philosophy.

It’s the final article about League of Legends balance and philosophy. First part could be found here.

Balance philosophy

First, Riot has its own “philosophy” of the game, and Street encourages all developers – both studios and loners – to formulate a unified vision of the product.

balance philosophy

Key aspects of game design League of Legends:

  • Mastery.
  • Important decisions.
  • Counter-receptions.
  • Team game.
  • Transparency.
  • Evolution.

All game changes are checked against this list. Therefore, according to Street, the game is constantly evolving, and developers do not have to regularly cancel unsuccessful updates.

Once the “philosophy” is thought out, you need to stick to it in everything. This will save the game designers from the constant desire to change the elements of the game to check the consequences. Instead, they are looking for solutions to specific problems – for example, if the hero is too strong at a certain stage of the match.

Common values affect the speed of the company’s development. Do not need to convene a board of managers – decisions, checking the list, can be made by ordinary employees.

balance anti risk

Risks mitigation

However, nothing is perfect, mistakes happen. We need a spare plan mitigating negative consequences, KPI (key performance indicators) and a clear understanding of what is being done and why. Why developers are weakening the champion – to use it 2% less often, or to make it easier for beginners to learn?

If KPIs are worked out, no one argues about whether the main goals of the game are met. Creating a new champion, a game designer can say: “Her weakness: she dies too easily at the beginning of the match.” If the champion is too powerful, you can weaken his first active ability.

In practice, although in Riot and think about all the players, the developers correct the balance point-by-point.

balance focus 1

On the graph above, the white line shows how many and which players are usually affected by the changes. And red – which players are more sensitive to changes. If you increase the attack of the champion by 5 units – beginners will not notice this, but for pros this can turn the game over.

balance focus 2

There are also those who are at the junction of the two curves: platinum and diamond leagues. Here the changes are noticed, and they affect a large number of players.

At the same time in Riot follow and for individual segments of the audience. Developers take action if the champion dominates the bronze league or is too strong in the hands of professionals.

PR matters

PR is also important: it is necessary to explain to the audience why you introduce these or other changes, which, in isolation from the context, look strange.

Also, you must be consider the viewers of broadcasts. The company does not want to complicate the life of professional players, but often guided by the entertainment of the game, changing the balance. For example, if the spectators are interested in the endings of matches, but they miss the first twenty minutes, because they are too boring to watch. There are no problems with balance, but there is something to change, because the cycle of games and views mentioned above is violated.

balance battle

Balance is a complicated matter, it can not be given to one person at the end of the development cycle. We need a separate team, which is not always possible in indie studios. The last Street recommends that you rely more on feedback from users, but remember that people will only offer changes for their skill level, because they do not care about the rest of the community.

Balance team in Riot

In Riot, a special online team deals with the balance. It is responsible for the state of play between the patches – this is the “first line of defense” and the “rapid reaction unit”. The department solves problems that can not wait until the next patch or system solution. Usually, they have only three days to work on the correction – then it needs to be tested at different levels.

Team of testers “covers” the online team, consisting of very experienced players (some in the past – professional cyber sportsmen). They conduct a kind of beta test, give the first reviews and data on the prepared patches.

Such a team of testers, according to Street, is very important, and he managed to convince all three of his employers – Ensemble Studios, Blizzard and Riot. The fact is that game designers and employees of the quality assessment department can not play the game all day long, that’s why they get a distorted impression about it.

balance season

Developers understand that changes somehow “break” the established order and make them consciously, so that the game does not “stagnate”. Usually the most serious balance adjustments occur before the start of the season or in its middle. The most important thing is to explain the reasons for the changes to the players so that they understand that the developers are aware of the problems and are doing their best.

Data

Riot collects huge amounts of user data – this is a separate team of analysts.

One of the most important indicators is the ratio of victories and defeats. Developers seek to ensure that for each Champion it was 1: 1 in all leagues. However, this indicator is not the only one, and, of course, does not reflect the situation completely.

balance winrate

Here, for example, the graph of the ratio of victories and defeats depending on the champion and the skill level of the player. Veigar roughly corresponds to a given bar, and Twisted Fate is bad for players from the bronze league, but experienced players often win.

The asterisk at Aatrox means that, although its ratio of victories and defeats falls at high skill levels, these data are not representative. Professional players too rarely take this champion, and detailed statistics can not be collected.

balance skill

And this is the ratio of victories and defeats, depending on the time of the game for the champion. For example, if a person takes Aurellion Sol, he will lose before he understands how to manage it. On the other hand, there is Volibear, which is easy to play after two or three matches. This is not the best quality for the champion, and Street promises that someday it will be remade. However, Aurelion Sol is also not ideal – its learning curve is too steep.

Interpretation rules the world

Therefore, it is so important to correctly interpret the data. If a person plays against champion Lee Sin, most likely the opponent played three times as many matches for him – so much is needed to learn how to effectively manage it. So this is not Lee Sin too strong, and the player who took it is too experienced.

balance champion

The kind of champions that professional players choose, also has an immediate impact on the game. People from bronze and silver leagues take the same champions, even though they can not play them as effectively (which affects the statistics).

You need to understand what data to ignore. Riot does not use machine training to balance the League of Legends – instead, the company employs experienced people who can make decisions based on conflicting data.

For example:

According to statistics, the champion of Anivia has about 55% of victories, – however, if the developers weaken it, this will cause players to be bewildered. And they will be right, because it can resist many champions and tactics.

Is Anivia balanced? The data says that no, but the instinct of developers suggests that yes

balance secret data

Another problem arises: Riot does not upload data to the public. This is done so that the company does not “dictate” choice to the players. If they see low champions, they will not take it.

What to change

Suppose there was a problem with the balance. How to solve it? Is it the champion, artifact, synergy or dominant tactics?

balance changes

Shortly before the speech Riot updated character Poppy, and she abruptly changed ratio of victories and defeats. It turned out that this was due to the skill of Courage of the Colossus. He gives protection to the champion, who uses the ability to control the opponent, and Poppy has several such skills.

It was necessary to change something, and discussions began within the team. What exactly is the problem: Poppy or Courage of the Colossus? The developers looked at the champion’s figures and it turned out that the peak of victories began even before the appearance of Courage of the Colossus. Consequently, the problem was in Poppy, and in this skill, so weakened both of them.

Test as a user

Street is an ardent supporter of testing games, and often plays in LoL itself to understand how ordinary users perceive the game. However, he recommends not to abuse it, because it is very easy to begin to believe that the gaming experience of one developer is applicable to users.

balance feedback

In this case, players need to listen. Riot read the forums on their site, Reddit sections devoted to the game, the materials of journalists about it and so on. Perform all the requirements of the players is not necessary, as well as completely ignore them.

It is important to give an opportunity to speak to players who speak different languages. Riot has regional offices: they report problems or opinions that are prevalent in a particular country.

Beta-testing

The company conducts beta tests, but they, Street believes, are good for catching bugs and for understanding the general impressions of users, and not for checking the balance. Players usually do not particularly try. If they have ten hours, they will rather play the usual version, rather than in beta: there are fewer people on the beta servers, and matchmaking, respectively, works worse.

The beta test performed well during the evaluation of World of Warcraft PvE content, as many users practiced it before adding new dungeons to the main version. Also, I’m sure, do not encourage people to participate in the beta test, especially financially.

Riot does not always wait for the players to express themselves, and often goes to the contact. We invite players to the studio, where they try future updates – especially for radical changes in champions or game mechanics. The company has its own toolkit for surveys.

For example, shortly before the Street’s speach Riot decided to add randomly appearing plants on the map Summoner’s Rift. As soon as the players learned about the company’s plans, they rebelled, but now polls show that the audience is happy with the mechanics.

balance iterations

Riot practices

Riot works like this: first we make changes, and then the developers collect the impressions of the players and the new data. We repeate the cycle if necessary.

For example, champion Nidalee. She can throw a spear and turn into a panther, which increases the speed of movement. She became that “horse archer”, and it was necessary to change something.

After the first attempt, the problem did not dare. After the second, too. Moreover, Nidalee is still not balanced.

balance iterations 2

Emotional factors

Sometimes it is not difficult to overcome the complexity of adjusting the abilities of champions, and you have to change the whole system. If this does not help, developers can temporarily weaken the “broken” champions so that no one plays them. This is the last resort: the creators of the game do not want to take away the heroes from users, but believe that it is not necessary to leave the game critically unsuccessful elements.

It is especially difficult to balance the champion Azir, because he is capable of much, and he has virtually no weaknesses. It’s hard to remake and Street believes that developers will have to deprive him of a couple of abilities.

However, it is always worth remembering that the balance sheet is not exhausted. The creator of the game mechanic can not look at his work only through the balance prism. For example, champions can be completely balanced, with an ideal ratio of victories and defeats, but still will not be interesting to the players.

balance Yasuo

For instance:

Riven, Le Blanc and Yasuo. The latter is almost perfectly balanced in terms of the ratio of victories and defeats, but the players still believe that it is too strong. And some people even throw a game because of him.

It is also worth remembering that players choose champions, guided not only by their balance. For example, Jinx is a very popular and stylish champion. And it will remain popular regardless of its balance.

balance hard job

Street complains that dealing with balance is difficult. Players constantly accuse his team, and in the studio because of this, a depressive atmosphere can develop. At the same time, people work without interruption: patches are issued every two weeks, and everyone needs a lot of training.

To enable employees to switch, Riot gives employees side projects and translates them into other teams. It is very important to praise employees for their work, because the players only do that they scold the balance.

Conclusion:

The developer suggests summarizing the results of the lecture.

  • Balance is important for the involvement and duration of the game.
  • It is worth to understand what factors and how they affect the balance at different levels of the game skill.
  • You need “Philosophy”: you have to make changes according to the original goals and on the basis of data.
  • Iteration, iteration, iteration. If you can not balance something right away, you need to try again and again.
  • Errors and problems with the balance is always a lot, and this is normal.
  • We need to build good relations with the community.

Questions and answers

Making changes in the balance, how do you prevent the negative impressions of the players?

Basically, this is a question of PR, but we directly interview those who are affected by the changes. Concentrating on the data, it’s easy to forget how the changes will be felt. Take the same Nidalee: we nerf her patch after the patch, and the players did not like it, because it was changing too rapidly.

I recommend in such cases either to quickly solve the problem, or temporarily abandon it, so that players can rest from the constant shake-up of the champion’s balance. In addition, in our comments on the patch, we always try to give the context for the changes. Like, it’s not we who hate Nidalee, just the changes we have made solve such and such a problem.

Tell me more about how you explain the changes.

My position is this: with the players you need to be as honest as possible. They are smart and understand everything, so do not hang them noodles on your ears. There is nothing wrong with admitting your mistakes. To say, they say, yes, with this champion we screwed up, so now we will put it aside and we will gradually balance.

How do you choose which champions to strengthen, and which ones to weaken? And what do you do with unpopular champions?

First of all, we strengthen the champions with a low ratio of victories and defeats, so that they remain relevant. Of course, by doing this, we try not to harm the game. For example, now we are working on Galio – his abilities are not particularly strong, so we are tempted to strengthen this champion.

But we do not strengthen the champions only because they play very little. We have a champion Urgot – an eerie dark creature. He will never be as popular as Jinx, and that’s right, let him choose players who want something strange and unusual.

Players always divide champions into categories: these are the best, these niche, and these are useless. Do you consider this division when working on champions?

We do not try to make all the champions choose the same number of times. There are champions who are good at something: Shen is a good split-pusher, but if the player does not like this strategy, or if it is weak, he will not take it, and that’s fine.

We want a person who loves a particular champion to have an opportunity to show themselves.

You said that you need to develop your philosophy and stick to it. Could you give examples of exactly how you implemented your philosophy into the minds of the team members?

We talk a lot about the philosophy of game design of our product. Our teams are very autonomous, so when someone makes a mistake, we are going and discussing it.

That is, the implementation of philosophy involved in the management?

Quite right. Usually, when describing my work, I’m not saying that I am working on the balance of the League of Legends. I rather create an ecosystem in which good design decisions occur. I try to make people solve problems in a certain way.

And in general, we just hire good specialists, then we explain our values and give them the freedom to create.

Tell me more about the relationship between watching games and making changes to the balance.

We understand that all changes will affect how professional players play. Therefore, we often inform them in advance of the drafting of the balance sheet to get their opinion.

In addition, we try to explain the changes so that players understand what is happening on the screen.

In different countries, players can have different preferences in terms of champions – up to their appearance. Do you consider this in your work?

Certainly. Players have players, so if the champion is popular in one region, then in the rest, most likely, too. But of course there are regional differences. For example, Chinese players like powerful characters with big swords, and champions like Jinx among them are not so popular.

We understand this and try to make a variety of champions so that representatives of different cultures can find a hero for themselves.

But do the players’ preferences in different regions influence your decisions?

One of the strategies here is the appearance of champions. We can imagine the appearance associated with a holiday or a historical event celebrated in a particular part of the world.

How do you feel about fan communities that collect data about the game?

In general, we do not mind. I understand why they do this – we do not publish the data in public access. However, sometimes these players are simply mistaken, and we can not explain why. We just have to say “That’s not true,” and leave the players bewildered.

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