During 4C Conference held in Prague, we had the opportunity to speak with Greg Street, the current head of creative development in Riot Games.
During 4C Conference held in Prague, we had the opportunity to speak with Greg Street, the current head of creative development in Riot Games. After his presentation titled: “Design for Esports”, we had a chance to talk about the current and upcoming projects in the League of Legends universe, how does Riot deal with the community and what has he learned from speaking with fans online.
Could you briefly introduce yourself, what’s your current job in Riot and what were your past project before working at League of legends?
My name is Greg Street, I’m the head of creative development in Riot games. A few months ago I was the lead game designer on League of Legends, which I did for 4 or 5 years. Before that I was the lead systems designer of World of Warcraft, I helped shape several expansions, I worked on class design, items design and PvP combat. Before that I worked on Age of Empires, where I did multiplayer balance, units, wrote a lot of the campaign and things like that.
Why did you decide to abandon the World of Warcraft franchise to work on League of Legends?
I mean, there were a couple of reasons. I’ve been working on World of Warcraft for many years and I really enjoyed it. It was a great team and I still love the community of that game. But I felt like I was starting to make changes into the game - because they entertained me as a designer - even if they weren’t necessarily the right thing for the players, which made me wonder if I was getting a little bored and experimenting too much rather than kind of just trying to keep what was working.
When you have game that’s been going as long as World of Warcraft, you have to be very careful by adding new features, because you run the risk of losing players, even if you have a chance of bringing in new ones.
So you didn’t lose your love for the game itself, just for the work you were doing?
Yeah, just working on it. And Blizzard’s a great place. I still have a ton of friends there.
You are known to be quite engaged in the online community of both WoW and League of Legends. What were the biggest lessons you’ve learned from communicating with fans and trolls alike?
Oh, wow. There’s a few of them. One is just to have really thick skin - like not get upset; remember that players are passionate, because they love the games; it’s not really about you, they may sound angry, but that’s just because they’re frustrated. I also learned not to promise anything; It’s way too easy to have that come back and haunt you, when you say, “Oh, I promise we’ll fix this.” So now, even if I’m pretty confident we’ll do something, I always try to couch it in terms of, “well, we’re working on it” or “we hope to do this,” or so on.
I learned really quickly not to attack players, because even if what they say is hard to justify, you alway seem like a bully, cause you’re in the position of power and often your quotes will get taken out of context. They don’t understand that a player is being mean to you and you’re just being mean back; so I always just take the high road now and even if someone’s being kind of a jerk I just thank them for their feedback and move on.
How do you deal with negative comments and negative feedback on the updates and everything you do on the game?
I mean I try to learn from them. Sometimes it’s negative feedback couched because there is an actual problem the players are talking about - like they may express frustration, but then they can explain, “Oh, I’m frustrated because I used to be able to play in a certain way and you took that away from me and I miss it” - that’s good feedback, that’s something we can talk about if it’s a change worth making.
And someone just saying like, “Oh, I don’t like the game anymore, it sucks,” there’s no useful information there for us. I mean, I’m sad that they’re having a bad time, but there’s not really anything I can do, you know? The best feedback is something I can take back into a design meeting and talk with my designers about, like, “Hey, did you guys see, we’ve had a lot of feedback right now on the game is too lethal and it’s too easy to die; do we think there’s anything to that; shall we talk about it; shall we make changes?”
One of the most important aspects in online multiplayer games is balance. And everyone seems to have some issues with it. So how often do you update the game and how often are those updates based on feedback from the community.
We update the game every two weeks almost without fail; sometimes - like around holiday - it may take a little longer. Right now we’re slowing down on the changes we make, because we’re coming into the Worlds Finals and we want the game to be stable for pro play; but we also want the build that the pros are using - which is a few weeks old now - to be recognisable to other players as well.
And a lot of the changes are based on feedback. We make a lot of the changes based on data we gather, like - oh, the game length is too long, or players aren’t using this item, or maybe we didn’t need to make a change. But it’s also just things that we hear people talking about, [what the] community [is] saying; sometimes maybe someone will make a video about a certain problem and one of the players will be like, “Oh yeah, I really agree with that problem,” that’ll get us talking about if that’s something we should change or not.
What was the most challenging thing the fans had asked for and you’ve managed to implement it into the game? That question applies for both World of Warcraft and League of Legends.
The first thing that pops into mind...there are probably a lot of examples here, but I’ll talk about one we’ve eventually called transmogrification, which is the ability that a player said, “I want to gain the newest items, because they’re more powerful, but I don’t like the way they look, I like the way this other items had looked and I still wanna wear the older items.” And so we finally added a feature where they could make their armor look like any previous armor they had gotten and keep their current stats, which was tricky to implement to kind of divorce the item from it’s art and have a system where players could switch it in and out; and I know they’ve evolved that even since I left, to make that feature kind of more robust.
And for League of Legends?
Probably one of the biggest changes we’ve made is to overhaul the rune system, because it used to be that you would earn points that you could spend on either a champion or runes; and it felt to players a little bit like pay for power, because they wanted the champions and if they didn’t buy the runes, they wouldn’t be able to compete. And so they felt like, what we were trying to get them to do, is to spend real money on the champions and it just felt a little...it wasn’t the intent, but I think it felt a little uncomfortable, so we’d made a change to that runes are now completely free. You do still earn them, but you can’t spend that currency on anything else, so now there’s separate currency for runes and other things - that was a big change - it affected the leveling system of the game, it affected the economy, but we really thought it was the right thing to do for the long term half of the game.
Is there a lot of cheating in League of Legends and how do you prevent it?
Hah, there’s not a lot of cheating just because it is a client-server game, so if players made a change on their local client it wouldn’t get propagated to other computers and the server’s pretty good about keeping that. I think the kinds of cheating that would occur are more like, if someone buys an account from another player and things like that are harder for us to enforce.
And how do you balance penalties for players? There seems to be a lot of players away from keyboard who ruin the game. How do you deal with this kind of behaviour in the game?
I mean in general there’s two things that kind of happen: If you let your team down a lot, just because you walk off or you’re not paying attention, you’re going to lose more often and as you lose, your score is gonna go down over time - that is a little reinforcing. We also have a pretty strong reporting system now, where if players report another player then we can assess penalties against them; and that’s very automated these days - we don’t have to have humans interact too much - because we use a machine-learning system that learns what players tend to get reported for these types of behaviours so we should just go ahead and punish them for those kinds of behaviours.
And what about voting for surrender - are you planning to shorten the time to enable surrender? Because now it takes quite a long time.
I’m trying to remember whether we’ve either experimented, or we’ve made an actual change where early on in the game, you could decrease the amount of time it took for surrender if like, you only had four players in the game or things like that. The trick we run up against is, we don’t want players to ever run into a situation of, “Oh we lost first blood, so I’ll just surrender and start a new game over.” It’s imminently possible to come from behind and so we don’t want players to give up too early - we want them to kind of stick with it and try to solve it - otherwise every game will just end after 5 minutes, because someone’ll surrender after they lose.
Throughout the years you have added many new characters and skins and there seems to be a prominent shift to cute and anime-like visual design. Where did that decision come from and how do these skins fit into the world of League of Legends?
We used to just make skins that were almost disconnected from the game and now all the skins will follow a particular alternate universe. So Odyssey is one we just wrapped up - which was a science fiction theme - and we’ve had things like Star Guardian. It’s fun to experiment that way and give different members of the community kind of an art style that they will enjoy, even if it doesn’t fit the core of League of Legends. I think Star Guardian is a great example there of kind of the cute anime girl look that players can have without us having to putting that into the core of League of Legends universe.
Recently there’s been a lot of discussion about establishing e-sports as an olympic discipline. What’s your opinion about that? Do you see League of Legends as one of the games that could potentially get to this level of competition?
I mean, I think it has all the hallmarks of a competition with like, great stories and rising flowing action and something you can enjoy on different levels. Um, I wouldn’t wanna force it, I wouldn’t want to go somewhere we weren’t welcome. Sometimes when you try to get into the world of physical sports - like when ESPN started to cover e-sports - some people were like “That’s not real [sport].” And we don’t even need to be in that argument, ‘cause we know our sport’s very popular; so in some ways it’s almost like the Olympics needs us more than we need theOlympics. And I say that about e-sports in general, not just Riot.
Can you give us a little sneak peak about the presentation the viewers can expect at Worlds 2018 Finals?
Oh gosh, I probably shouldn’t (laughs). It’ll be technically challenging and hopefully we can pull it all off.
That’s all you’re going to say?
Can you tell us about any new updates that are coming to League of Legends?
This is a little bit of a quiet time for us, because like I’ve said, we don’t want to take any of the excitement away from Worlds. After that has happened, then we can go into our pre-season, which is our chance to really mess with the rules and game systems before next year starts; and we’ll shift the attention a little bit away from e-sports to kind of next year. We’ve also been talking about a big update to the way rank system is going to work - some new rules there - and we tried to launch this feature called Clash, which is kind of like e-sports for the normal person - and it was delayed a little bit, but we’re finally getting close to being able to launch that as well.
Can you tell us anything about new projects in the League of Legends universe?
We haven’t announced much yet. We’re working on some exciting stuff. As I’ve said we would love to be a multi-game studio, we don’t want to just be League of Legends forever. We’re also looking at different ways to tell stories outside of games because we know there are a lot of people that wanto to learn more about the universe and more about the characters, so we’re trying to figure out the right way to tell those stories.
Are you still adamant that League of Legends doesn’t need a sequel?
I don’t know what a sequel would be. We could just call it League of Legends 2, but it would just be the same game. I think all the advantages you get from a sequel - like being able to update the engine or add new characters - are the things we can just do anyway.
Thanks for the interview.
The original article was published on www.sector.sk.