Riot Games Treats its Player-Base Like Drug Addicts (Because They Are)

A part of me feels as though incredible, sweeping changes such as what Riot is proposing for Patch 13.10 are indicative of a business mindset the company acts on that emphasizes novelty over consistency. This is in great contrast to Valve’s methodology of balancing / game development with DOTA 2, which favors an extremely long-form basis of balance and sees heroes and respective items altered very, very slowly with big changes coming once every few years, at the most.

What does all that mean, and what the hell am I talking about?

Patch 13.10

Image art via Riot Games

League of Legends goes through patches just like any other game. These changes consist of character alterations, items changes, and content introduced or removed. And because it’s the biggest esport in the world, League’s patch notes are seen as far more important than just a method of game balance, instead being treated like things that can, and will, upset or help a game with nearly 2 billion dollars of annual revenue. The developers, artists, professionals, and casual players alike all rely on the balance team to do their job in a safe manner so as to not flip the tables on something they all rely on as a job and a hobby.

13.10 is the kind of patch that I like: New items introduced, old items brought back, existing items reworked, champion changes, map changes, the whole 9 yards. That said, it upsets me quite a bit that these changes weren’t introduced during pre-season, when most changes to the game are supposed to take place. To be completely fair to Riot, I don’t think the changes being introduced could have been completely foreseen as helpful or needed during pre-season simply because the problems they fix didn’t exist until pre-season had already passed. That said, it does feel like Riot is holding out on big changes for the sake of creating a manufactured sense of novelty instead of a natural one. That is to say that Riot holds out on sweeping changes for longer periods of time than they need to so that the player base sees any changes at all as the cleanest breath of fresh air they’ve ever had the pleasure of sucking up.

The truth is, I believe Riot would actually stand to gain from being far, far more aggressive early in the year and during preseason more often than they are. I mean why couldn’t Statikk Shyv exist right from the get go this season, huh? To quote a Douglas Robb,
“…the reason is you.”

You, the league player, are seen as a product that ripens with a measured amount of exposure to your addiction. Too big of a hit too quickly, and you overdose, leaving behind the dealer with what’s tantamount to pocket change. Think of the effect URF has on casuals and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Too small of a hit, and you find a new dealer outright because you need a better fix. And Riot’s methodology of patch changes follows the guidelines of making sure their player-base gets just enough of a kick to stick around while also being just mildly upset with XYZ aspects of the game, which Riot themselves created, intentionally or otherwise, just so that they can save the day by making the necessary alterations after enough teasing and bam, another successful deal (and you’ll be back for more.)

I’m not anti-business, and I understand money trumps all in a business as big as Riot Games, but as stated, I believe they have more to gain by approaching their patch notes with aggression and fervor moving forward as opposed to the limp wristed half-measures they’ve been exhibiting this past year. And if that sounds too harsh, remember to ask yourself this question: “Why couldn’t Static Shyv have been here the whole time?” There’s no reason it couldn’t have. Riot could have nerfed it if it was a problem, but chose to remove a fun item instead. They made that choice, just like they did with Ohmwrecker and Banner of Command.

Riot Games, I beg of you, take the leash off and let League have a wealth of niche, strange items for players to further identify their play-styles in. And for fuck’s sake, don’t remove Statikk Shyv ever again or I’m changing dealers.

GLHF,
-E

How to Make a Boring Game | Transparency

I’d like to talk about a phenomena in gaming that anyone who grew up with a controller in their hands can relate to: sucking. Sucking isn’t actually the negative thing its made out to be in gaming, despite the inherent negative connotations made with the term. Sucking, or being bad, is a by product of being a newbie. Its the seed from which being passable and then talented comes from.

In modern game development, there has been a loss of artistic grit in the form of transparency. And by that I mean that the art of lacking transparency in just the right way is a practice modern game developers are leaving in the dust.

New World
Image via Amazon Games

Artistic Grit

To “lack transparency” in just the right way is to obfuscate, hide, or outright lie about information presented in a game to purposefully keep the player out of the know. For me, I think about Dark Souls 1 and its ability to have a complicated combat system that players can learn the basics of without spilling any of the deeper mechanics in an obvious way. Spell casting, for example, isn’t something that’s listed as having anything to do with dexterity, but absolutely does work in tandem with the attribute. Dexterity speeds up spell casting, and this is only something someone could know through self made trials (or data mining).

This is a very specific example, and a very bizarre one at that, given the mathematics behind the mechanics of the casting speed in DS1, but ultimately the specifics aren’t important for this discussion. What is important is the key takeaway: FromSoftware decided to hide specific information about the game from the player and let the studious among their fans find out the info for themselves.

For game developers, specifically, this is something I want to see more of. Patch notes, official game guides, in-game books and descriptions, and all of the information you can get in-game should function this way. They should be minor, incomplete, or non-existent altogether, at least in some regards.

A player shouldn’t be mapping out their game route before they’ve begun playing a game. And when developers show every little number and change in the game as they’re released, it feels like the game itself is becoming detached from the world its trying to pull its players into. Its no longer a separate entity to escape in, it’s a piece of art that’s not only stuck in the real world, but requires real world study to get the most out of before its even been played.

This philosophy I’m advocating for, which is a philosophy in favor of partially or completely hidden mechanics in-game, isn’t a philosophy that’s going to work for all games. And I completely understand that point. If tomorrow, Riot Games began releasing “secret” updates every week that changes the numbers of specific champs in League of Legends, I’d wager the uproar from the casual and competitive gaming community would be loud enough to force Riot to revert any and all changes immediately.

But for game developers who are creating pieces of art that are meant to be learned about in-game and in real-time, I’d like to offer a piece of advice, if I can be so bold: Act as if you’re developing an RPG / MMO that’s going to be played by millions of people every day, concurrently. Ask yourself, “Would I want to tell players that this is the META at this stage of the game? Would I want to disclose this mechanic? Would it be far more enjoyable for players to discover this on their own?” I hope the answers to these question outside of a competitive PvP game, is “No, No, and Yes, of course it would.

Transparency and the 2000’s

Image via “A Friend”

I remember playing OSRS back when it was just RS in 2007 and just walking around, having zero clue what I was doing. That not knowing made every little thing worth doing because I didn’t know if what I was doing was effective or not. “Is this fishing method the best XP/HR? Who knows? No one knows, so I don’t care.” That’s the mentality of a player who’s having fun, and that mentality only exists in ignorance.

There’s a reason people still talk about the 2000’s as the golden age for gaming, and I reckon it isn’t because developers have gotten worse at their jobs or because games are objectively less fun. I think its because gamers as a whole are able to cipher information about what they’re playing a lot easier, and when developers display that information and leave zero room for experimentation on the part of the player, the game in question becomes solved faster than developers can possibly keep up with.

The solution? Lose the transparency. Create games that obfuscate information. But provide players with the necessary tools to experiment with the mechanics of the game themselves: leave clues via NPC’s, dialogue, or other means to teach players about your game without handing them the keys to victory for little to no work. And if you as a developer can manage it, release updates that are either partially or completely secret. If you buff, nerf, or otherwise change something in game, let players know that something has been changed and watch them scurry about trying to find out what it is and how it effects the way they play. That, right there, is half the fun.

Games are fun. Games are especially fun when you’re bad at them. Stop giving me the tools to be decent at every game before I’ve had my fun with them and let me just be terrible for a while.

GLHF,
-E