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After a gradually broadening beta that lasted for more than six months, Riot Games' PC multiplayer action/strategy/RPG hybrid League of Legends: Clash of Fates has launched. But as a free-to-play experience with optional paid "customization and convenience," the work for the Los Angeles-area developer is only just beginning. To generate revenue, the company must continually add new content and features to its game, fostering a community willing to choose to incrementally invest in the experience.
League of Legends is heavily inspired by the mega-hit WarCraft III mod Defense of the Ancients, which pioneered a gameplay mechanic that is being featured in an increasing number of commercial products, and former DOTA caretaker Steve "Guinsoo" Feak is a Riot designer.
Earlier this year, Gas Powered Games released Demigod, which draws from DOTA, while Riot will be competing with S2 Games' upcoming Heroes of Newerth as more direct DOTA successors. DOTA's current custodian is also now employed by Valve, creating the potential for even more big-name competition.
That crowded market means each individual studio has its hands full trying to attract the large and vocal DOTA community while expanding the reach beyond the existing hardcore audience out to the broader market.
Gamasutra sat down with Riot Games co-founder and president Marc Merrill and lead creative designer Shawn Carnes to discuss how the company plans to do just that, from its low-cost business model, to usability concerns, to breaking free of the grip of publishers.
You've had quite a long, relatively public, beta leading up to release. Is that a necessary part of development for a multiplayer game like this?
Shawn Carnes: Yeah. I like a long beta process. I worked for Blizzard, and when we were doing [World of Warcraft], we took a year or so -- it felt like a year, anyway. A long beta process is really good, not just because we're working out the kinks of the development, but because balance is such an integral part of the game.
Tom Cadwell and the designers have been spending a lot of time [on balance]. I mean, we're trying to balance 40 champions and making sure there's not an overwhelming strategy, like one or two champions that outright crush. The long beta process really helps.
It also ties in a lot with our philosophy, which is we're nothing without our community. So, during this time, we've been able to generate a lot of interesting and good work through the feedback of our community, working with them, talking with them, and them giving us great feedback. It's worth it. The short answer is, it's worth it.
Can you speak to how the design has changed as a result of the community?
SC: Absolutely. The strongest one that comes to my mind, because of what I do, has been feedback on the colors of the map. We went through a huge pass where we took another look at the whole color palette. Because we have a very painterly style, it gives us a broad range of options into making champions.
However, that painterly style was really too bright, and it popped too much. Eventually, if you get three champions on the screen fighting one another and you get a bunch of minions, you can't really see what's going on. Our community was invaluable about giving detailed information -- "Whenever three or more champions are on the screen with all the big particle effects, here's how I can't figure out what's going on."
Through iteration, we've been able to help isolate the champion on the screen better, all based on feedback from the community. We've been able to tone down the color palette but still make it look rich and exciting. That to me, in my mind, is a great example of how the community has really helped out.
I assume you expect balance to still be a perpetually ongoing process.
SC: And it's actually going to be a really difficult process, too, because while balancing 40 and tweaking things to make sure, at some point, you get to sort of a maintenance point. But we're going to be introducing five champions a month, or four champions or month, or something. It's difficult enough balancing those four, but how those four interact with the existing 40, sometimes you have to go back to square one.
That seems like a fairly quick pace.
SC: Yeah. Because we're offering the game for free, it's part of our credo. We're in the business of servicing our community, and to do that, we have to introduce not only new champions, we're going to introduce new maps, new game styles for these maps. We're going to be introducing new customizable skins for the champions.
We're really dedicating as many resources as we can to the ongoing development of the game. I mean, it's really important. Without our community and without a bunch of people playing this game, it's nothing, so we need to please them.