Riot Games CEO Brandon Beck gave the closing keynote at last week's IGDA Leadership Forum in Los Angeles, California, and during the talk (in which he made the point that "Riot's secret weapon all along" has been its employees), he gave a few interesting examples of how Riot's staff had really gone the extra distance to turn League of Legends
into the successful online phenomenon it is today.
His first example was about the matchmaking system -- originally, Riot struggled to make sure that players were matched up against each other in an interesting and effective way, and the company ended up bringing in not a game developer, but a programmer with a PhD in computational biology whose "thinking was radically different and compelling," according to Beck.
A month after this hire, the company had a whole new matchmaking system, and in the end, it turned out to be "too fair" -- the games were too close. Since "what players remember are the outliers," according to Beck, the team developed "snowball items," which were "risky purchases that rewarded flawless execution." That bit of gameplay mixed up the matches, and came to be the system the game uses today.
Beck also talked about the free-to-play title's item store, which originally wasn't built by Riot alone, but with another technical partner. That partner, says Beck, wasn't ready for the scale of the game when it launched in 2009, and as a result, "we were stuck without a critical feature, which also happened to be our primary revenue mechanism." Riot employees took on the task of building their own store for the title "from scratch in less than 30 days," which has of course since generated plenty of purchases for the company
Finally, Beck commended his team on the split they had to carry out inside the European servers for the game
. While the decision was unpopular with many players, the team worked hard to share as much information with players as possible about why the change was happening, including setting up a full television studio in the company, and running a 17-hour live stream featuring different members of the team talking about the change.
Beck closed by repeating that all of this was possible because of Riot's "fundamental core cultural tenet, where we aspire to be the most player-centric games company possible." League of Legends
is a powerhouse in online gaming today, but it was interesting to hear that there were a few close calls over the years.