Ask Riot: Unbench the Kench
The latest on Tahm Kench’s mini-update and the revival of server transfers.
Hey everyone, Bellissimoh here, Product Lead for Personalization and Events. Wanted to take a few minutes to check in on the promises we made at the start of the year, walkthrough our current thinking about skins and events (including thematics, Ultimate skins, and Event Passes), and highlight some opportunities we’d like to tackle in the future.
At the start of 2020 we made a commitment to increase the number of skins we make per year. In 2019 we shipped just under 100 skins, and our hope this year was to ship around 120. We’ve had some significant challenges in the past six months with COVID-19, and we’ve also undergone a massive transition to work from home.
This all being said, we’re delighted to let folks know that we’re still on track to hit our target of 120 skins. In fact, it’s looking like we’re going to be able to exceed our goal and hit close to 140 skins by the end of 2020.
Now outside of our commitment to just increasing the raw number of skins, we also called out along list of lower play rate champions that haven’t gotten new skins in years. We’ve hit most of our targets on that list, and are likely on track to hit the remaining three.
And since things have been going so well with production, we’ve been able to add eight more champs who haven’t gotten skins in a while to that list. As long as everything goes as planned, we expect to deliver skins for the following champs before the end of 2020:
You can also expect to see more skins for higher play rate champions in the coming months, including a Legendary Lee Sin skin.
When the average number of Ezreal skins sold is about ten times higher than the average Ivern skin, we need to come up with new ways to measure performance. The truth is that when we set out to make a skin for a low play rate champion, our core objective isn’t to support the business, it’s to support a core audience of dedicated players who love that champion. So how do we know whether we’re meeting the mark? One of the main lenses we use is data comparing between how many champion mains purchased a skin versus how many occasional players picked it up. For the graph below, “high playrate accounts” refers to the mains, and “low playrate accounts” refers to the occasional player of the champion. Let’s take Pool Party Taliyah as a recent example:
Here we can see that almost 30% of players who main Talilyah showed up and purchased the skin—it was one of the best performing skins in recent years when it comes to mains purchasing it. Conversely, Pool Party Jarvan performed poorly not only for champion mains but also for non-mains. Did we make the wrong thematic choice? Was the creative execution in-game not up to snuff? Do Jarvan players just not really dig the aesthetics of Pool Party? All of these are questions we need to dig into deeper to really understand.
Let’s go back and see what this view shows us about a highly discussed skin from 2019, Dunkmaster Ivern.
Looking at this view, an initial conclusion might be, “Ok, looks like a lot of champion mains showed up and purchased this skin,” but you might also ask, “What if Ivern players were just starved for content? What if they begrudgingly purchased this skin because they haven’t gotten one in years, but in actuality hate it?”
This is where we turn to other tools like player surveys to help ensure we understand not just the behavior (purchasing and equipping), but the sentiment: How did people feel about this content? Our success bar for low playrate champion skins is a combination of purchase rate and sentiment measurements. In the case of Dunkmaster Ivern, we found that while there were players who were genuinely happy with this skin, many Ivern players wanted something darker. For a majority of Ivern players who’d been waiting for years for a new skin, Dunkmaster Ivern was a disappointment.
Once all of this information is compiled, our skins teams perform a cross-discipline review of what they think could be done better next time or discuss what key elements could have contributed to success or failure. All of these hypotheses are then set to be tested on new skins we make in the future, all part of a never ending cycle of creation, iteration, feedback, and improvement.
Thematic development is the creative process we use in order to imagine new worlds. We want to do more than just sell skins—we’re trying to create character fantasies that have real substance and are worthy of your passion.
In 2019 we started construction on a few new thematics that we hoped to release in 2020. So far we’ve released three new thematics: Mecha Kingdoms, Spirit Blossom, and PsyOps. We don’t expect every new thematic to be a hit, but based on your reactions to Spirit Blossom, we think we’ve found something that players around the world want to see more of.
We’ve also spent some time touching up some of our yearly thematics like Championship. There's been a lot of love for Championship skins over the years, and we want to make sure we're staying true to that identity while keeping the line feeling fresh and exciting. This year we're bringing in more elements from the look and feel of the Worlds 2020 Event, and we expect this thematic to continue to evolve alongside the event in years to come.
Our team is hard at work on several new thematics for 2021 and some hot takes on some older ones. And there’s still one more new thematic we’re looking forward to releasing this year.
In 2019, we saw a lot of player feedback around the animations of Legendary skins, specifically players calling out that the adjustments we were making to things like walking or idle animations weren’t noticeable. Historically, we’ve adjusted each and every animation on a champion when we’ve made a Legendary skin, but in recent years this has become a bit more complex and challenging.
The artistic quality of new champions in League has gone up dramatically over the years. As that art quality bar has gone up, the number of animations per champion has also increased.
For example, Amumu, a champion with a much older base, has 16 animations across his entire kit, emotes, and back animation. Sett, a much newer champion, has 159 animations. Aphelios has 298.
So in 2019 when we set out to build Legendary PROJECT Pyke, the team was faced with the challenge of adjusting all 127 animations in his kit. This resulted in a number of base skin animations being modified rather than completely redone, and we received a fair amount of feedback that you wanted to see clear animation changes. Our key takeaway was that it doesn’t matter if we go and adjust every animation if players don’t notice. So we decided to change our approach to how we invest our team’s time into Legendary skins.
For High Noon Senna, we recognized that this was another fairly new champion with a lot of animations that were already very high quality. In this case, the team had come up with a really sick idea to take her gun and allow it to transform into a horse for her to ride. While this was a great idea and really drove home the fantasy of High Noon, the team recognized that it would be a huge time investment and would take up a large chunk of our planned animation work for the project. We went for it anyway because our bet was that players would notice the Gun Horse way more than minor tweaks across all her animations, and based on player reactions, we think that was the right choice.
Now this doesn’t mean that we’ll always invest our time this way. For more recent Legendaries for Ahri and Thresh—two older champions with much smaller animation sets—we were able to meaningfully update all of their core animations and have extra time and budget to add transformations for each.
Speaking of in-game fantasies for our skins, let’s take a minute to talk about skin tiers, and specifically about Ultimate skins.
Whenever we set out to build a skin, we often discuss which skin tier something should be. Major considerations or factors in that decision are things like:
Let’s take the example of Spirit Blossom Thresh. The initial pitch for Spirit Blossom Thresh was: “What if as he gathered souls on the battlefield, he eventually grew powerful enough to shift between demon and human form?” Examining the core concept here, if we tried to build this as an Epic tier skin, we’d likely fall short of the fantasy being presented due to time restraints. After a lot of discussion across the various disciplines, we made the call to make this skin a Legendary and invest a lot more time in production so we could deliver on the fantasy.
Now when it comes to Ultimate skins, these are often skin fantasies that we don’t think we can effectively accomplish within the timebox (aka development window) of an Epic or even Legendary tier skin. Sometimes the team comes up with ideas that require a lot more time and effort to achieve, and we think it’s worth it to spend that time.
That being said, you’ve probably noticed that we haven’t done an Ultimate skin for a while now, and one of the main reasons for that is because Ultimate skins come with the player expectation that they must always include “new tech.” Over the last several years, we’ve actually reviewed a number of ideas for Ultimate skins that we thought were pretty exciting. And while many of these ideas fired up our team, because they leveraged existing tech, they didn’t meet the classification requirements.
It prompted us to sit down and ask ourselves: What do we think is really important when it comes to Ultimate skins? Is it that there’s different technology and code powering it? Is it that we create a deep and compelling fantasy that feels unique for the champion? Or is it about the amount of time and effort we put in?
We came to the conclusion that Ultimate skins should make players feel like we’ve done something truly special. New tech is one way to do that, but we also believe we can hit that bar by creating an immersive, deep fantasy that feels unique for the champion. Regardless, Ultimate skins will always require extra development time to craft, create, and ship. And most importantly, all of this effort should translate to an experience that you think is best-in-class for the champion.
“With all this said, we’re happy to announce that we’re currently working on an Ultimate skin that we hope to ship later this year.”
While this skin will have new tech, this won’t necessarily be the case for all Ultimates going forward. If the fantasy requires new tech to bring to life, we’ll create new tech as part of the development time. If not, we’ll use that time and energy in other ways to create that best-in-class experience we hope to deliver with every Ultimate skin going forward.
In 2019, we got a lot of feedback around events, specifically that it felt like their quality had dropped over time. Our goal for Events in 2020 was to make them feel more rewarding, novel, and memorable for everyone.
One of the things we promised to do this year was to include a game mode alongside every major event. We’re still on track to hit this, with the latest game mode being One-For-All alongside PsyOps. We’ll be talking more deeply about our approach to game modes in a /dev blog later this year.
We also created an out of game experience, Spirit Bonds, that allowed you to engage deeply with the narrative of your favorite champs. Whether it was getting to know Lamb and Wolf better, or “silently” hoping that Cassiopeia would crush your bones, we saw a huge positive response to this system.
While we’re blown away by player responses to this event, we want to call out that Spirit Blossom was a massive, massive investment on behalf of teams all across League. While it’s clear that players would like more events of this caliber, the reality is that Spirit Blossom took almost a full year to produce, and coordinating such a massive event across not only League, but other game teams (like Legends of Runeterra) can’t be done for every event. We’re already planning and plotting on how we can deliver another cross-game event of this size, so stay tuned for more details as they become available.
In summary, we believe we’re raising the bar for what League events can be. We want to continue to exceed expectations but know that the average event won’t be able to reach the same bar that we hit for Spirit Blossom.
Event Passes have become a bigger and bigger part of how players receive content over the past year, including many of League’s Prestige skins. We want Prestige skins to feel meaningfully difficult to earn, but not at the cost of making everything else in the shop impossible or trivial to get, especially if those are the rewards you care about. However, with the current token system, every choice shares a resource, which essentially means you grind for Prestige, then hope you can pick up a few things after.
It’s been difficult to tune the overall event experience with our current structure, and we are looking to make significant adjustments to the way you earn content from events next year. Our goals for this redesign are to reduce the complexity of the system and create a more guided and rewarding experience without completely removing your ability to make choices.
That’s about it for our State of Skins check-in today. Come the start of next year, we'll be sharing our evaluation of the rest of our 2020 content, reflecting on the feedback we've heard from you, and sharing our goals and plans for the new year.
Before we get there though, there’s still a ton in store for 2020. No matter how challenging this year might be, your excitement, passion, and feedback helps motivate our teams to continue to do better work tomorrow than we did today. Thank you.