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Why Humanizing Players And Developers Is Crucial For  League of Legends
Why Humanizing Players And Developers Is Crucial For League of Legends Exclusive
November 16, 2011 | By Christian Nutt

November 16, 2011 | By Christian Nutt
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    16 comments
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Exclusive, Design, Business/Marketing



This year, Riot Games introduced the "Tribunal" to its online game League of Legends -- a process whereby players can report other players for bad behavior.

"You are free to report any user(s) that you feel has violated the Summoner’s Code, Riot Games Legal Policies, or generally displayed unsportsmanlike conduct," according to the game's official website.

League of Legends is a highly competitive game, and it has a particular reputation for having an unforgiving -- or even abusive -- community.

"The Tribunal has been great for us is because our philosophy is our game, in many ways, is analogous to a sport," Merrill told Gamasutra.

"Just as you can get competitive with pick-up basketball, and guys can start pushing each other, getting a little aggressive, in a competitive game, oftentimes, people get pretty invested in it."

While the developers have tried to "route" different types of players into different game types, says Merrill, "the other way we think about it, of course, is trying to reinforce positive cultural change in the community. And the Tribunal, and an associated code of ethics and conduct that we have, essentially, called the Summoner's Code, is a pair of features and systems that really try to reinforce to our players that, 'Hey, this is a game, you're supposed to have fun, and be respectful'."

"The great thing about that is all the feedback we're getting about the Tribunal, even when they get judged and banned temporarily and whatnot, they recognize it. They go, 'Wow, yup. I was a jerk there. I'm sorry. I should change.' And it's really actively changing player behavior. They recognize that there are consequences to their actions, so they should be good. Just as people in real life tend to be nicer when they think that there's meaning to their decisions and there could be consequences," Merrill says.

He says it's part of a push to try and "humanize" other players -- usually represented by otherworldly avatars and online aliases in the game, of course -- to each other.

"We really are focused on community. We think it's one of the best things about online games, the opportunity to have this direct relation to the community, and have this direct dialogue, and hear what their concerns are. We view our role as nurturing, providing content, and keeping them engaged and excited," he said.

When the community has a positive reaction to changes made by Riot, says Merrill, "That is like the most satisfying thing we can ever imagine as a company."

Though the team makes changes in the game specifically to address the community's needs, that's not to say that everything the community wants, the community gets.

"We don't see it that way. We really try to get deeper and have lots of different data points and conversations with our players, and really try to synthesize and understand what they're asking for from all the different types of players. From there, we then identify goals that we think will really satisfy and enhance our community," Merrill says.

With the Tribunal, the question was "Okay, how do we make our community far better and more positive, etcetera? How do we reinforce this great behavior?"

The company identifies a question "and then we try to come up with innovative solutions to accomplish that," says Merrill.

Interestingly, says Merrill, all company employee can participate on the forums directly -- which is definitely not policy for many developers or publishers.

"We don't know if anyone else does that," says Merrill. "It's because we think it's valuable to humanize the developers, and have a direct relationship, and personalize some things, and have this dialogue."

"That just goes back to the company's philosophy in trying to be the most player-centric game company. And we've had great results with that. That's one of the reasons why we think our users are so engaged with the company, are so loyal, and hang out at the forums a lot."

Still and all, that's not the place to go for all of the data Riot uses to evolve the game, he maintains. "We recognize that the forums don't tell the whole story. So, there are other data points -- whether it's metrics, or content selection rates, or survey data, or what new players may bounce off the game and never get engaged... What are those guys saying? That's a total different set of questions. So, we try to be thoughtful about all those kinds of things."


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Comments


Lisa Brown
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I'm interested to hear their take on Tribunal Bots (there's some security flaws in how you submit Tribunals, so people make bots that go through hundreds of them at a time and auto-select guilty, just to farm the IP). I've heard of people doing this getting banned here and there, but I am curious to hear if it's having an bad effect on how Tribunal is being used for-reals, or if they're improving security measures against the bots.

Ian Morrison
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It's tough to say how much the Tribunal has improved things from my perspective. The League of Legends community can still feel overwhelmingly toxic.

Jeff Beaudoin
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It is an impossible problem.



The LoL community is a subset of the internet as a whole, which is overwhelmingly toxic. Comparing it to experiences I have had in HoN or the original dota or even xbox live, LoL certainly seems like a better environment, though this was the case before they implemented the tribunal.



All they can hope for is that their policies and systems like the tribunal help in some small way to encourage the player base towards a better experience for everyone.

Wylie Garvin
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I don't play any of these DotA games myself, but I know a hardcore HoN player and the HoN community seems to be extremely toxic to me. These are very niche hardcore games, which take hundreds of hours of play to get up to the level of skill where you won't immediately get puked on by the other players for your noobishness. Most of the players seem to have nothing but contempt for anyone who isn't as hardcore as they are in their specific niche. A lot of them also seem to be bored teenagers who enjoy griefing each other as much as they enjoy actually playing the game.

Bruno Xavier
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League of Trollegends.

The community around that game is immensely filled with trolls, they need to separate matches at least by average players' age. Tribunal solves nothing.



Their matchmaking system is the biggest troll there though.

If you have around 5 to 10 victories in a row, and lets say you have 500+ victories overall, than usually it put you with 2 to 4 players who have only 10% of your skills trying to "balance" the matchmaking, but there is when experienced players are driven crazy when watching what his terrible team is doing, so the flamewar explodes pretty quick. And thats the only real use for the chat panel they have, to players flame each other.

The only way you can have a nice weekend playing that is with your own pre-made team, otherwise you get frustrated often by players who can't play within the level you expect.



The bad community is all Riot's fault. They like to see their players whining all day long, it makes them feel good on how many people care about their first game; weird.

Andrew Dobbs
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That's not how matchmaking works. They use an ELO system that matches you up against players with similar ELOs.



Speaking of trolls....

Tejas Oza
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I think that's a slightly unfair assessment, Bruno. I play the game and yes, the matchmaking isn't perfect but its better than spending half an hour attempting to join a game and constantly being kicked or having a host leave. Its a system and there is no system in existence that is inherently perfect.



That being said, there's a lot of interesting points in this article. The Tribunal system is a good step forward, but I doubt its a cause for actual player improvement. 'Perceived Improvement', yes... actual, no. With the system in place, you can at least end a game in the belief that reporting someone will give them the punishment you think they deserve. Of course, you'll never really know if they got punished but you feel a little bit better after the whole thing. I wouldn't call it smoke and mirrors but its (once again) better than nothing at all and I'd choose false hope over useless rage any day.



Another interesting point about the article is that the Developers actively take part in their own forums, which I think is a good thing to do. It keeps you grounded and in tune with your community. Seeing as how Riot's been built by its community and the good will its created with them, this is a smart thing to do. I'm just curious as to what Riot has to say about the complaints that they only frequent the forums for one server over the others. From what I've heard, they're active on the NA server but the others don't quite get as much love.



Aaaand, yeah... that's all I got.

Renato Martellini
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I agree with Bruno, because I have recently start playing MMO and didn't like neither the way the game works and even the players comunity.

I started playing WoW because I know the reputation the game have. I didn't made it before because the bad comments about losing social life. Today I am married, have a full time job and bills to pay, so I can't play it like before, the old good times. But I decided to try it when I see the lvl 20 free promo. I see many messages of other guilds and players about join their ranks and participating in pvp combat, and for me it was annoying. I don't want to do these things, I play games because itīs fun, its relaxing and I donīt want to take it as a job. If I would take it as long as the good old sessions of D&D or GURPS, I actually want to play it with my 5 or 6 good friends, and not with 600 forcibly added "friends", because the game need these extra friends to work some of the advanced features.

I see that also when I played Castle Age and (still playing) Dragon Age Legends in Facebook. Of course they are not like the AAA MMO titles but they are based in the same principles. About these two games I didn't like it when it comes the raid features, because I have to add a hundred people that I don't really know at my ranks to have a slightly possibility to end then. And because they are not like my loyal friends, and have many common friends alike, they doesn't feel the need to enter my raids. There is also the fact that they are also playing another friends raid, so there are lots of new players that became bored, angry and lose interest in the game. Even Wow that is a great game is losing lots of subscribers, not because the game is paid, but because the game is not made for them. It doesn't help launch lots of expansion, in case, Cataclysm and Myst of Pandaria, because the game social environment doesn't attend this principle. I think the new Star Wars:Old Republic will not solve this problem also, because the existing players behaviour have changed and companies are not attending to that.

I think that if companies want to keep players in there game world, they need to think players like busy people, and not just the kids and teenagers. I'm not even saying that most players today are casual, and games were made for core gamers. It doens't matter. The old teen gamers are adults now, and they want to be treated like that. I know a lot of people that have this feeling, me included. I think the MMO genre is very interesting, but I don't want to be stuck in a game world forever, I want to play most of the new games available when I have time or will, because itīs fun and relaxing. Also internet expansion has changed people behaviour about how social interaction works. They are fast, online and occurs in every part of the world. The ideas and tastes changes a lot in a matter of hours. Games as a form of entertainment reflects these behaviour, so they must change too in order to keep people playing.

These are some opinions I have, reading many other gamasutra texts and based in my experiences playing games for a long time.

Darcy Nelson
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I don't know if you realize this, but you are not the MMO developer's target audience. Games for "busy people" can be found in abundance in the mobile market, or on social networks. Also, I don't entirely agree with your assessment about World of Warcraft losing its subscribers; while I'm sure for many people the game just doesn't 'take' (e.g., people who aren't into MMO's) there's guaranteed to be a myriad of other causes leading to this recent drop.



I'm really glad developers are deliberately attempting to make their community a more pleasant place to interact in. I've been to the bowels of the internet and trolled more than once on XBox Live -it's nice to know someone is attempting to clean things up.

David Paris
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Their current solution actually makes the community worse, not better.



Although the theory sounds ok on the surface, it fails to take into account how it actually impacts people playing. And to begin with, it worked fine. There were huge backlogs of people engaged in really blatant bad behavior and it was trivial for the tribunal to look at people and go "Yeah, this guy intentionally fed for 25 games in a row and should be nuked." Cool, people thought the Tribunal was great.



Unfortunately, the trolls adapted fast.



Now the same guys that were jerks before just use the tribunal as a weapon instead. Every single lost game (and some winning ones) is a nonstop competition to make sure some other guy is the one being reported for the loss. Because truthfully, the Tribunal allows reporting for such broad categories (failure to help team - generally interpreted as "didn't make me win", intentional feed - generally interpreted as "more deaths than i wanted him to have", verbal harrassment - used to report anyone who said pretty much anything you didn't like during the game, regardless of what you yourself said, etc... ) that it is trivial to report someone every single game.



Ordinary well-behaved players don't spend their time filing tribunal reports after every game. Rest assured the trolls do. And the constant threat of reporting is used over and over again against any player that underperforms. God forbid you are a less than average skilled player, you'll be raged at, reported, and constantly threatened thanks to the "wonderful environment" that the Tribunal provides.



The current environment is far more toxic than before. Whereas a troll could make a nuisance of himself for one game in the past, now a troll can potentially get someone banned from the game for days.



And before you start thinking that the peer review system precludes that. Watch the threads that roll across the Tribunal forum. "Do you punish for nonstandard builds? Why yes, I certainly do" "Do you punish for bad character picks? Absolutely" "What if someone said noob once? Oh banhammer that guy!!!".



Seriously, Riot had an overwhelming customer support issue and tried to choose a cheap way out. But because of the overly broad and imprecise nature of their solution they have actually made a community that is even more hateful to actual beginners or lower skilled players.



Don't buy the hype.

Will Buck
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As I posted below I partially agree. I think the tribunal was a good first pass at how to manage a trolling problem, but it answered it with negativity instead of positivity, and as you said, that can actually end up breeding more trolling in a way. I dont know whether the numbers would support your theory or not, but I can agree that my experience has been similar to yours in many ways.



My suggestion for a second iteration would more closely model a "reputation" system , perhaps even tied to the in-game currency (Influence Points, or IP), wherein it would cost you a little to report someone (not so much that you don't report true offenders, but not so little that people wield it like a kid with a firecracker). Conversely, you could stand to gain a lot to be commended by your teammates as a well-behaved, polite player. This would be much more effective IMO.

Will Buck
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Sorry for double post but the other thing that exacerbates the problem you mention (trolls utilizing reporting functionality as a trollbomb) is that most people "participating" in the Tribunal, at this point, just click punish and continue, failing to actually read anything about the cases. When it first was introduced, as you said, the Tribunal had such a killer filter on it that everyone really was guilty. When they loosened the filter, though, there were legitimately pardon-able cases, and no one playing judge changed their behavior.



Another way you could improve the current system would be to reward, say, twice as much IP if you vote to pardon and people agree with you. That would provide a much better decision process for a judge in tribunal: Do I err on the side of punishing the innocent and earn less, pardoning the guilty to potentially earn more, or actually try so that the right people get punished AND I still earn a little more?

Andrew Dobbs
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You don't get judged by the Tribunal for some of the options. They put them in there so people wouldn't report simply bad players as intentionally bad players.



At least, that's the intent. Whether it worked or not would need a more scientific analysis.

Bruno Xavier
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@ Andrew/Tejas:

I have played more than 1000 random matches there.

They removed ELO rating for normal matches since long time ago. ALWAYS after I had a lot of consecutive victories their matchmaking system did insert me into a team of players who are 100 or less victories or are new to lvl30 games, who can be killed easily by only one or two players from the other team who have my average skill level.

The same happens the other way around. Often I played against a team I did kill them all by myself, its not a rare occasion. ELO is not a predominant factor there when you reach such conditions searching for a quick match.

Funny is that in pre-made that NEVER happens. And Im not the only one who says their matchmaker is broken. Some players who are top level skill have a rating of only 1700 to 1800 in random rated while are 2400+ in pre-made team. How can you tell that matchmaker isnt broken? Of course it is. And its the main reason theres so many flamewars in that game.

Will Buck
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It's a non-trivial problem, Bruno. I certainly thinks there are improvements to be made to the current matchmaking system (attempts to incorporate statistical player contribution, coupled with some kind of player-contributed hueristic whereby you could rate your teammates, perhaps), but at the same time Tom Caldwell is a really smart guy. He designed the matchmaker, and it does a reasonable job of not pairing completely new people and skilled veterans. He's been actively engaged in trying to improve it.



I'm a software engineer so forgive me if I'm being overzealous, but its troublesome to a designer/developer to hear someone say something is "broken" when the truth is its doing its job, it just isn't perfect and people somehow expect it to be. Getting computers to do things can be quite difficult, technical constraints have to be considered etc. Please don't dismiss the matchmaker as simply "broken" :) You certainly notice when it isn't doing its job well, but you're probably not noticing the times where its working quite all right

Will Buck
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I do like the steps LoL is taking, and have firmly believed since the Beta that this was a community that would trump DotA's community (which was by far the most toxic environment I've ever experienced).



I just hope that the journey doesn't end with the Tribunal. It's an excellent first pass, but its clearly flawed in many ways. My hope is that a more positive system comes into play, where rather than negativity (trolling) fuels more negativity (punitive reporting), some kind of "reputation" system is implemented, where my being a *positive* player is more *rewarded* by my peers. A model like Stack Overflow's reputation system, perhaps (you lose a small amount of reputation for "reporting" someone, but gain a lot for being exceptionally helpful).



That, and as far as new player retention goes, a system like the one DotA2 has been alluding to where veteran players may "sponsor" new players, and are moderately incentivized to do so. Certainly would help foster an air of pleasantry and positive reinforcement.



I'm hopeful that Riot will continue to improve these systems, albiet at a slower pace that accommodates their massive scale.


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