League of Legends devs talk depth and player engagement at PAX Prime

Ian Birnbaum

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Members of Riot , the dev team behind the popular MOBA League of Legends , gathered at PAX Prime 2014 to talk about their design philosophy and how they carefully balance the game's dozens of playable characters. With over 27 million players logging into LoL per day, they cite player feedback as one of their key guides.

“Player feedback is really important to our design changes,” lead designer Greg Street said. “We gather a lot of data from players, about champions being played and wins and losses. If we hear from a lot of players that a champion is problematic, that will cause a discussion in the office. Do we need to step in and change something, or will players invent a strategy that will compensate for this, or is it time to admit that there's a balance problem?”

Attacks being slightly overpowered or a champion walking a bit too fast are just the beginning. According to Street, the team works on three discrete levels: mechanical, tactical, and strategic. The mechanical level is about where champions stand and how they aim their attacks. Tactical depth is about their coordination with other champions fighting nearby, and the strategic level looks at the team's approach to winning the match as a whole.

“We define depth as, 'having lots of interesting decisions to make,'” Street says. He relates it to tic tac toe, where your move is dictated by your opponent's move or Monopoly where your decisions matter less than your luck. Those games have very little depth. LoL champions, on the other hand, are balanced in part by being different. Some champions, like Kog'Maw, have limited mechanical depth but serve as a locus for team strategy. Other champions are more mechanically diverse, requiring players to maneuver effectively and take accurate skill shots.

After a short talk, the team spent most of their hour fielding questions from fans, many of whom claim to have played thousands of games of LoL. These hardcore fans grilled the team on how they make balance decisions, and several were concerned about the long-term fate of their favorite champions.

“Every champion should feel overpowered--sometimes,” developer Jordan Anton said. “You should have a moment where you play the champion and think, 'I feel like a god.'”

For more from the team at PAX Prime this weekend, head to this page .

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