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Riot Games' Marc Merrill spells out his studio's mission... on Reddit
Riot Games' Marc Merrill spells out his studio's mission... on Reddit
January 2, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

When Reddit poster omgdracula complained that League of Legends developer Riot Games is "very very greedy," company co-founder and president Marc Merrill (under his alias Tryndamere) quickly jumped into the thread to set the record straight from his perspective -- and in the process outlined the guiding principles of the massively successful free-to-play studio.

In response to the criticism that the massively successful company is "greedy," Merrill counters that Riot continually reinvests in the game and its community.

"We did this by building a really fun game, constantly investing over and over to grow and improve this game and by NOT selling power or being money hungry," he says, noting that "millions upon millions of our players spend zero dollars on League and enjoy it endlessly."

"We spend tens of millions of dollars building a pro-eSports scene to help some of our best players become global superstars who make hundreds of thousands of dollars," Merrill claims. ESports has been a big push for Riot over the past year.

Interestingly, he contrasts his game against companies that focus entirely on revenue (his example being Zynga.) His goal for Riot? "We train our entire company to drive towards ENGAGEMENT. Meaning, MAKE COOL SHIT and deliver VALUE and if people PLAY enough because they love what we do, then they will WANT to spend money."

"We do all this because Ryze and I are gamers. Always have been, always will be," Merrill says, using CEO and co-founder Brandon Beck's online nickname. While it's clear that things cannot possibly be this simple, the post is a reminder that a game developer -- no matter how large its signature product has become -- is infused with the spirit of those who make the games.

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Bob Jove
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Don't we all love the League of Legends of community? Very mature and respectable.

Jim Thompson
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I don't know how dev's do it...throw their passion, creativity, talent, lives into building games the "community" will pirate or tear down w/o a second thought.

We lose so many through this dysfunction...Whatever. I s'pose before someone builds games they need to teach junior high for a year or two. Maybe that would help.

Samuel Green
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Oh god, here we go again, Riot saving the world...

...according to people who don't understand how their business model negatively effects the game (there are pay to win elements and it negatively effects balance and game design) or don't know about the crap Riot pull on a regular basis in their 'promotion' of an eSports scene. LoL scene, not eSports scene.

Freek Hoekstra
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please show me the pay to win elements in LOL.
you can't by extra stats, you can't buy stronger weapons or champions,
it is purely a skill and teamcoop game,

I strongly agree with his sentiment here, players don;t have to pay for anything,
they can pay, and if you think a skin is overpriced don't buy it simple as that.
Riot is making big bucks sure but they are not greedy. and their business model is not affecting their game in a negative way at all, there is no pay to win.

finally playing some games like LOL or starcraft is defenitally E-sports,
pro gamers responsetimes and high speed decision making as well as their ability to multitask mkeep track of many attributes while performing intensive tasks is actually amazing, and players heartrates spike. it is actually extremely intensive to play these games at high level,

please don't dismiss this as no sports just because they are sitting down.

Samuel Green
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I love eSports. I was saying that Riot is not interested in eSports as an entire scene, they are only interested in League of Legends.

This has been seen when they try to get other games pulled from major eSports events (exclusivity agreements) and almost got all their pro league players to sign a contract saying they can't stream at least 10 games (including HEARTHSTONE) if they're contracted to the pro league.

That's not fostering eSports, that's strangling it if it doesn't have the Riot label on it.

(See my other reply for the Pay-to-win stuff)

Pace Rogers
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Even though I like LoL I'm the first one to admit it has its faults. However, you should do some research before you comment: there are no pay to win elements in LoL. You can play the full game, even competitively without spending a dime. The few elements that give you an edge in the game can be "purchased" with points you make by playing the game (for free). The only things that are only available for money are skins, which are 100% cosmetic upgrades.

Samuel Green
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I played LoL for a year, that's plenty of research

LoL's pay to win elements...
1. IP Boosts
More champs and more runes = more flexibility and available strategies = more advantages

2. Rune Pages
More rune pages means more optimal rune configurations for more champs = more flexibility and available strategies = more advantages

Just because everything is POSSIBLE to unlock with grinding, it doesn't mean it's feasible or desirable for players.

In the end, if you take 2 equally skilled players and gave one guy all the runes and champs and the other dude the 10 starting champs... the first dude would win more often than the other guy.

There's a reason why Dota 2 has every hero available from the offset, because hero/champ picks in a MOBA/ARTS/Dota-game are incredibly important and not having access to them all (and their maxed out rune pages) is a distinct disadvantage.

Anyone who plays these games significantly should understand this.

Zak Evans
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I play the game quite a fair amount and disagree with some of your points. I can guarantee, and there is evidence to support this with a little searching that the flexibility of the player does not make him superior. There have been cases of people climbing up the ranking system in this game with only 1 champion. In league of legends there are commonly 5 roles. Each role will usually have around 10-15 champions that work best in that position. Usually a player will decide a role rather quickly when levelling up and choose characters to purchase they enjoy that suit their role, their playstyle. A player will then buy runes to help them in that role. These runes provide minor increases to stats during the beginning of the game and when you reach level 30 a player will usually have around 2 full runepages usually one for physical damage and one for magical damage. Esports competitors have forgotten to even use a runepage at all at professional level and still come out ontop.

The game also gives out 10 champions which become free to use every week. This allows players to get a feel of a champ before they buy it, these champs are random and are suited to different roles. A champion is not restricted to that role however, but simply works favourable in it. The ranking system in this game suits people up with one another determined by their mmr and level. Players get exp and IP by playing games, so a player of your level has played about as many games as you have and probably unlocked as many champions with IP as you have.

When you say
'In the end, if you take 2 equally skilled players and gave one guy all the runes and champs and the other dude the 10 starting champs... the first dude would win more often than the other guy.'
Professional players have reached the very top of the leaderboards in such a short amount of time and with far less champiosn runes and flexibility than I have. I have had more runes, runepages and characters than the new accounts these pro's start out and I haven't able to win more than they have. I for one enjoyed grinding for a character, form a players perspective I see a character I think looks really good and I play games to unlock that person them move onto another when I've got it.

You can't unlock skins by grinding this game.(For those that don't know) Each champ has a selection of skins which are just different textures with a few particle effects that make no difference on the power of the champ they're there to support the character you enjoy and show you appreciation for the champ and company you're investing in.

Jorge Ramirez
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Dear Samuel Green,

Having the largest selection of runes and champions being the deciding factor for a match is possible in theory, but not significant enough in practice. The biggest thing that you are forgetting in your statement is that League of Legends is as much a game about skill as it is strategy.

Having more available strategies to a player does not necessarily mean that the player knows how to execute those strategies properly. It does a player no good to have every champion available to play if they are unable to execute the individual strategies of those champs properly and trying to execute those strategies incorrectly will most likely be detrimental rather than beneficial.
Similarly, having different runes actually changes the way you have to play a champion and you have to understand how an individual champion's strategies change with more offensive oriented runes vs having more defensive runes (or any other configuration). If a player uses more defensive runes and plays the champion in a way that would have been better suited for offensive runes, the player will must likely suffer rather than benefit from that set of runes. This leads into my second point.

The probability of two players being equally good at every champion in LoL is ridiculously low. Two players may be equally good at one champ or two; they may even be equally good at one role, but no two players can play every champ in the League equally well. There is currently over 100 champions in League of Legends (a number that keeps growing by the way) and even though they all fit into a smaller set of roles, the only reason it would be better to have every champion in every role rather than just one champion in every role is if the player could use the individual strategies of each champion well enough to give them an edge. Throw in team compositions, role specific strategies and playstyles, overall gameplay strategies, ability to work as a team, constant gameplay fixes and updates, and new champions and before you know how big the pool of owned champions and rune pages a player has becomes rather insignificant. It is far more important for a player to have a decent pool of champions (probably 5-10 like David Fried mentioned) that they can play REALLY well rather than a huge pool of champs that they can't really play.

Andrew Simons
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You might have a point, except that sort of situation doesn't seem likely to happen. IF two players with a drastic difference in terms of resources happen to play several games together again and again and recognize each other, then there might be an imbalance. But in most cases when people aren't playing against friends they probably won't encounter each other often enough for that to make a difference. How will they even know how many heroes the other has unlocked, if their vast collection of runes and heroes will actually give them an advantage? Not to mention that over time the person who started with almost no heroes will be collecting IP and spending it on more heroes, runes, and rune pages, so after a little while the big spender's advantage dries up. I'd wager there's also a handful of people who've unlocked a lot that stuff without spending money, and spending money doesn't give you an advantage over them.

Tom Cole
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@Samuel Green:

I keep on seeing people accuse League of Legends of being 'pay to win'. I've been playing for over a year now and I've still yet to see how this is possible. I've also yet to hear someone actually give an example of 'pay to win' in LoL.

I can't buy any in-game advantage with real money, and even in the case of the boosters for runes - those runes make little/no difference unless you are at a high level, in which case you've played more than enough to earn them through soft currency anyway.

Can you perhaps back up this oft-trotted out accusation with an example?

With regards to eSports vs. LoL scene - totally agree. eSports does NOT equal LoL, and it's been around far longer than they have (SC in South Korea being the biggest example). But I think it's fair to say they've really raised the profile for eSports in the Western world in recent years (Asia has been ahead of us in terms of eSports for years).

Samuel Green
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I replied further up with my reasons for LoL's pay to win.

It's possible for a guy to grind out every champ and every rune (not the rune pages though... which = paying for an advantage), there's no way they'll get 100% of the champs and 100% of the runes by just playing regularly. It would take about 3 years.

I've been working in Free to Play for 4 years. If it was POSSIBLE to grind everything in a reasonable time, people wouldn't be spending money on the boosts. It's done like this on purpose. It's a great business model for making money, but it's not the paragon of virtue that everyone says it is.

I've played LoL for over a year (back before the pro stuff got big) and DotA/Dota 2 for about 5 years. If you want to play these games properly, you need all heroes/champs at their maximum capacity. There's a reason Riot unlocks all the champs and runes for pro players, because the game is broken competitively if you do not have access to everything. If the game was still competitive, Riot would make the pros grind it out like the rest of the non-spenders.

I've yet to see anyone who can fault this argument, it's a shame everyone who comments on Good Guy Riot doesn't seem to understand the competitive aspect of the game and how high level play works. You need all the champs, you can't have all the champs (reasonably) unless you spend. That's pay to win.

David Fried
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No, you don't need all champs to play competitively. You do need to have a decent champ pool, usually of at least 5 top tier champs in order to play competitively, but you can earn that IP in less than a month of active play...

Even if you only play 1 match a day for a month (excluding weekends), you'll have 6000 IP or so by the end of it. Enough to buy the most expensive champ.

Rune pages are also purchasable by IP now.

If you truly knew the competitive scene, you'd know that even pro players often only have 5-10 champs they play regularly. Most have a pool of even less than that.

Now as to viability as an e-sport, LoL destroys DOTA2 for several reasons.

1. DOTA2 has a random element to it that completely destroys the competitive aspect of an e-sport. Attack damage ranges. LoL does not have that. Damage is consistent. As a result, in DOTA2, two players playing the same or similar champs who play with equal skill will not see an equal battle in all cases. One of the players may get the lower end of their damage range on multiple attacks while the other player gets attacks in the upper range. Until that's fixed, DOTA2 is simply not viable to me as a competitive e-sport.

2. Anti-fun mechanics. That's Riot's term for them, but I just call them broken mechanics that allow for broken things to occur that shouldn't be done in competitive e-sports because people either wont' understand what's happening, or because they cause boring things to happen during matches.

3. Ease of understanding. LoL is easy to watch and pickup, even for people who have never really played the game. DOTA2 is a mess. Part of it is that they've just vomited every champ straight from the hacked together original DOTA of Warcraft 3 fame. But most of it is dull greyish brown characters on a dull greyish brown map. Nothing pops, except spells, and half of those I can't even tell what character is casting them or what they're doing.

That's why LoL is the champ (for now).

Samuel Green
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Wow, I've never disagreed with anyone more about anything. I started thinking about not going point-by-point because there's nothing I'll say that can change your mind (judging by your post) but then I read Zileas's link about his game design principles and hope that not everyone is drinking Riot's Kool-Aid. Sooo, here we go...

1. Randomness in Dota
Sure, there is randomness in Dota. Inside the Dota community there are healthy discussions about removing Rune luck (where the rune spawns every 2 mins), because that's bad randomness. That's it though. Everything else is fine. There's no way that attack ranges and chance on hits destroy the competitive aspect of Dota. If you're dismissing an entire game based on a few bits of random legacy design then you're really missing out. Attack damage ranges are not discussed EVER in the Dota community, it's that insignificant. I can't believe that you'd use them as the basis for your argument of Dota not being a viable eSport because of all dat random.

2. Anti-Fun
Oh lawd, where to start here? The Anti-Fun argument has been done to death and all it boils down to is 'burden of knowledge'. Bloodseeker's Rupture is NOT a poorly designed ability, yes... that one time when it first gets used on you, you're like "WTF?!" but that's it. After that, you know what Bloodseeker can do and you adapt to it. Rupture causes wonderfully dynamic situations because of the 'anti-fun', which makes it fun in my book. League of Legends has just as much Burden of Knowledge as Dota (even more so, since there are more champions). Tryndamere's unkillable ultimate thing is a burden of knowledge. Karthus' global nuke is burden of knowledge. Everything in a game is a 'burden' of knowledge.

Restricting your game design by treating players like morons is limiting what your game design can do. LoL will never have champions as fun as Invoker, Rubick, Meepo or Chen because of this anti-fun mentality. LoL champions feel so damned unsatisfying compared to anything in Dota. Zileas's design bible's references to Dota all boil down to "our players might have to read a bit of text so we can't do this awesome cool ability". If players are willing to learn a MOBA/ARTS/Dota-game, they have to be able to read stuff. I played LoL for over a year and read guides for hours. Research and knowledge is a core component of this type of game.

3. Ease of Understanding
This is just personal preference. MANY people argue that LoL is a complete mess. Way too many flashy abilities and nothing is distinctive. Valve has been praised on their visual effects that are very readable. This argument is just subjective and you're looking at LoL with rose-tinted glasses. Show both games to 2 complete strangers and I doubt they'll say a teamfight in LoL is any easier to understand than Dota 2 (I'd put money on Dota 2 being more readable).

4. Dota 2 not being a viable eSport....
Oh dear oh dear, I had to come back to this because it's completely ludicrous. Dota 2's metagame, viable hero pool, in-game dynamics and sheer entertainment value are FAR MORE impressive than LoL. LoL's competitive games (from what I hear, correct me if I'm wrong) are still all about who gets the first Dragon. There are hardly any ganks and comebacks rarely happen. Furthermore, Dota is more punishing and skillful than LoL... which allows the pro players to flourish with a limitless skill ceiling. LoL is passive compared to Dota. Weak abilities for weak champions makes for weak plays and a weak spectator experience.

The bottom line is that Dota 2's The International has been unanimously heralded as the best eSports event of the year, 2 years in a row. It's viable whether you like it or not.

5. LoL stuff from the top.
Riot give all the champions/runes/rune pages to pro players. Why is that? Because a MOBA/ARTS/Dota-game requires all options to be viable. Riot admit this through their actions. Having 5 top tier champs does not make yo competitively viable. What happens if the opposition ban your only support? Or pick your only mid? What if there are 3 well known OP mid champs, which you spent all your IP on, who get nerfed... and you don't have the new flavor of the month? There's no way in hell you can argue that Dota is not a viable competitive game because of ATTACK DAMAGE RANGES, and still argue that unlocking champions is cool for LoL. Unless you're saying neither game is viable as an eSport... are you?

Sorry if I come across as angry or having an attitude. It's not intentional. It just frustrates me to see such misinformation get spread around. LoL has so many fanboys in the industry which could be destructive to future business models. Riot haven't found some holy grail that doesn't effect the game in a negative way. It's minor, but it IS a negative business model.

Tuomas Pirinen
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Lot of the comments here leave me scratching my head... I am starting to wonder what IS acceptable revenue model to people? People hate ads, people hate paying for premium, people hate AAA 60$ prize tag and DLC, people hate F2P, people hate season passes...

Is "completely free with no ads, no passes, no DLC and no IAP" the only acceptable solution? And how do people propose games get produced under this scheme? I am not talking about Riot specifically, I am just starting to wonder in general what you need to do in order not not be seen as "greedy"... I do not believe selling purely cosmetic items will ever recoup cost of a title of any decent quality.

David Fried
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There is no acceptable revenue model for people unless the person receiving the money is perceived as deserving of it. People who hate LoL, or prefer DOTA2 or original DOTA, will never believe Riot is deserving of the success they've achieved, so no revenue model is acceptable to them.

Look at Minecraft as an example. Mojang charges 10 euro for it, and no one bats an eye because they see Notch as respectable, humble, and deserving of the success he has achieved (and he is). Riot is too, but people who do not like LoL will never acknowledge that, so any money they make is perceived negatively.

Zak Evans
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You've gotta give the player a reason to play. You have got to give them objectives and goals they set for themselves in order to keep them playing. Allowing them to do this with friends is a must too. From an avid gamers point of view I won't really buy any single player game ever unless I can start it up and be playing it within like 30 seconds of wanting to play it. Then close it, have my progress automatically saved. I call a company greedy when it's called a free to play game but putting money into the game makes you a better person than someone who hasn't. Developer wise it is, obviously but a player doesn't want to feel like that.

Diablo 3 is probably a good example of something that failed making objectives for the player someone who plays that game consistently is no better than someone who put 5 on the game and bought items online. The problem with that game is that there's nothing to do, there is no endgame content in that game whatesoever simply increasing a monsters stats repeatedly and having it get harder and harder number wise does not appeal to players.

Games need to provide flexibility, they need a varied experience every session. Games have been doing well recently regarding randomisation, it's a different outcome everytime you play the game. 'What if I did this, this time. What if I walked into that room instead of that room. I did this last time maybe I should do that but instead try this along side' etc. again providing objectives for the player to set themselves and keeping them second guessing their own decisions due to the varied experience is such a good element to a game. That experience keeps players coming back for more, the longer they stay the more chance they decide to invest in your company.

Terry Matthes
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Who cares if you do have to throw a bit of cash out to be competitive. Its a free game and it's really fun. What if any sport (e-sport) can you get competitive in without investing any cash at all? Jesus, people are so cheap sometimes.