I've been very, very impressed with Riot as a company and as game developers. You see red posts about being "player focused" so often it seems like a cliche... and then you play yet another game after getting used to Riot and you can feel the "this is F2P, stop whining" / "we already have your money, nobody cares" from the game itself. There are entire companies whose business strategy is "release enough games that some fraction of them will sell well (and don't bother supporting any of the others)" or "keep selling sequels until they stop making money." That Riot is apparently profitable confuses me a little because the standard business strategy is apparently to screw your supply chain, screw your employees, screw your customers, and then pass the savings on to the sharesholders and C-level executives. Did you know that programmers have one of the highest job satisfaction ratings in America... except for game programmers, who have some of the worst? That might just be EA Games and Zynga messing up the curve, but from forum posts it sounds like Riot is bucking that trend, which is more than a little incredible with how much abuse the community throws at them.
When Riot updates League of Legends, the game gets better. It sounds obvious but so many companies completely miss that. When any given iOS game updates, it gets 40 new in-app purchases, a memory leak, and a game-breaking crash on whichever specific resolution of i-device the devs didn't feel like testing on. When Skype updates, it finds more places to put ads and tries to install browser toolbars. Then are other games where the update process only ever adds new features, which sounds good until the devs eventually add something poorly thought out that completely invalidates the core well-designed thing that made their game good in the first place (and then never go back on it.) Riot isn't afraid to remove features - even popular features - that are hurting the game in subtle ways that people aren't complaining about. League copying DnD-cleric style healing because that's what all the other quasi-rpgs have was a bad idea in the first place, and so Morello fixed it. And he's still tanking "why u hate supports" heat over it. Was the Eve / stealth rework handled poorly? Yes, and Morello will admit it (!). Was a year with Intentionally Crippled Eve better than Old Eve? &#$% yes.
Here's a few points that the community hasn't been giving enough Riot enough credit for:
- The client-server architecture. Unlike probably every other game you've ever played, League of Legends does not run on your computer. It runs on Riot-operated servers. That's harder to develop - you have to build two totally different programs and keep them in client and server in sync. It's harder to scale - if you have 10x as many players, you need at least 10x as much server power, and you need to have those servers ready before new players show up. It's much, much cheaper to just run a service that lets clients connect to each other. But that's important, because it means your client doesn't have the complete game in memory which makes it impossible to run an add-on to disable Fog of War (aka "Maphack".) You could hack your client to make it think that Ashe has 3000 ms, but that wouldn't get you anywhere because it's the server that calculates everything; the worst you'd get is a display inconsistency / crash on your end. Masteries "hack" (lack of server-side validation) was patched in less than a week, and players banned. StarCraft I had Drophack ("target player disconnects from game, no rejoin") for years - "had" as in it was never fixed, they just released SCII instead. I would 1000x rather have a system that makes drophack/maphack impossible than have an architecture that makes writing LoLReplay easy. (The brief period where LoL had "drophack" - more like laghack - which was an actual DoS attack directed against the servers (!) is really not comparable. Script kiddies didn't pull that one off.)
- Team PB&J, especially tribunal report cards - the original policy of not telling people why they were banned is the only genuinely non-player focused thing that Riot did I can think of - and I can't think of any other company that actively tries to get its clients to recognize when they're being abusive P.O.S.s. Anyone who doesn't think the community and in-game experience hasn't drastically improved since Tribunal launched either has the memory of a fruit fly or has never played any other mmo. League was a lot less fun when I had to worry about someone saying they would rape my friend and duo-queue partner, who is a rape victim.
- Caring about security before unleashing Gifting. It's obvious to everyone, including Riot, that letting people buy stuff for their friends is highly profitable. Riot held off on it partially to make sure that their security was firm enough to handle hacking an account being a juicier target. Around the time gifting for Christmas was turned on, HoN managed to lose a database with recoverable (!!) user passwords, which means that anyone who had both a HoN account and a LoL account and used the same password for both was potentially in trouble. Riot responded professionally. Actual banks tell small business customers that it's their fault someone tricked the bank into mailing out hundreds of thousands of dollars in fake payday loans under their account name.
- Self-service refunds. I dare you to name a single game company that lets you refund real-currency in-game purchases without having to deal with customer support.
- League of Legends run great on laptops. Saying you only care about "real gamers", where "real gamer" means "owns a high-powered gaming rig" is downright offensive... but there are network games that do that. Even supposing I had such a thing in college, I would have had to play LoL alone in my dorm where the hypothetical desktop would be, and not in common areas / student lounges where I could make new friends by recruiting people to play with me.
- Colorblind mode. I'm aware of a handful of games that let you set ally/enemy indicators to custom colors, but not many, and I don't think any major 3D games that also change the colors of particles.
Community relations person who is reading this thread, please send my thanks to whoever made the call to give Anivia real animations about a year ago. Her wings didn't use to curve - her cast animations were just her whole model spinning around. She played like a plane. To my knowledge The Community wasn't complaining about it (or even playing her that much), but to me that was the point when I realized that Riot really did care, even about small, unprofitable details.
My "room for improvement" points, since everyone else is asking for things:
- Riot really is doing a good job of listening to the community. At least, the NA community. I wonder if non-English EU / Korea / China gets the same level of access to developers, though.
- I've learned a ton of game design stuff by reading Xypherous/Morello/Zileas forum posts. I challenge you to go one better and emulate the regular design / process retrospective articles that Magic: The Gathering does, Mark Rosewater / Matt Gottlieb style. You did a little for Spider Queen. That was awesome. Do more. (and especially tell us about things you tried but didn't work - that's the really educational part!)
- You need a real public bug tracking system. A forum is not a bug tracking system. My company will be happy to sell you one, but there are a lot of options out there.
- I've seen hints from your software engineers that you're in the process of tacking major tech-debt in your codebase. Great. Keep doing that, no matter what. And when you're further along, publish a case study or give a talk about how you did it. (Preferably at Codemash, the conference I'm most likely to attend. I know someone at Riot knows about Codemash because my mom got skin codes from a Riot dev there this year.)
- Pull #s in tooltips from the same source of truth that the actual engine uses. Tooltip bugs are dumb and need to be solved permanently.
- Get more resources to your UI/UX team. New store is better in some ways, but you're not finished yet. The launcher itself could use a fair bit of polish as well (mastery screen y u cover up chat and enemy team picks.)