League Of Legends Designer Explains Why It Takes So Long To Fix Stuff

League Of Legends Designer Explains Why It Takes So Long To Fix Stuff

Despite being a very fun game, there are many, many things in League of Legends that desperately need to be fixed, improved upon, or added in the first place. A key figure at League's development studio Riot wants the game's tens of millions of fans to know that such delays aren't the result of misguided priorities.

Jeffrey Lin, better known inside the League of Legends community by his handle "Riot Lyte" (or just Lyte) gave an explanation for Riot's workflow last night on his ask.fm page in response to a fan question that many players have been wondering about: Why hasn't the game gotten a new (and hopefully better) replacement for its outdated client yet? Developers at Riot have spoken about releasing a revamped client for more than a year now, but players haven't seen any hints of the thing show up in the game yet.

The concern from fans is both a popular and real one. It's easy to look at things like League's archaic in-game client, or its awesome-sounding-but-never-fully-functioning "team builder" matchmaking mode, or Riot's many attempts at a streamlined system to combat player toxicity, and see little more than a bunch of exciting but unfulfilled promises. And the situation only looks worse for fans when Riot keeps making bigger and crazier promises before actually seeing the ones it's already made through, like the company did at the beginning of 2015 by announcing its crazy lag-killing network it's working on. That, and the fact that Riot excuses delays for things like a new client by saying they take time...while simultaneously pumping out stuff like priced character skins and new champions.

Add all that up, and you can understand why many reasonable League of Legends players like myself sometimes feel that Riot has got its priorities wrong: taking its sweet time with much-needed fixes that they can't really charge people money for, while continuing to put out premium content that will deliver them short-term returns. In his response, Lin counters this line of thinking by pointing out that producing stuff like characters or skins doesn't mean Riot is not prioritising important things like the new client. It just looks like that's the case because, unsurprisingly, releasing an individual character skin is a hell of a lot easier than making a whole new client for 67 million-odd people:

It [a new client] is a priority. However, to explain a little bit about development, we have many different teams with different expertise. For example, a Champion Team has team members who specialize in game engineering, art, game mechanics design, and although they can make excellent champions, they aren't well-suited to make new skins or systems like Leagues or Tribunal or a client. So, different teams have different priorities and every project is a different size and timeline. So, Feature A might be a 3 month project, while Feature B might be a 6 month project and Feature C might be a 9 month project. But, Feature C might be the highest priority at the studio, even though it would ship "last" in this example. You really can't determine a studio's priority based on what "launches," because all of these features launch on very different cadences because of their scope, not because of the size of their teams necessarily or their priority in the studio.

As a studio, you tend to have a few "big bets" at a time which are big projects that take quite a long time, but we believe are worthwhile. The client and Team Builder Draft are considered mid- to larger sized projects so it takes longer to launch these than say, one new skin. So, when you see a bunch of smaller features and projects "finish" before the big projects, it does NOT mean we only prioritise smaller features and projects — it just means smaller projects tend to have shorter timelines and therefore ship earlier and more often.

These sorts of "why is it taking so damn long?" questions have been on Lin's mind a lot this month. Earlier in July, he sounded aggravated responding to a similar question about why Riot "takes so long to implement stuff." He suggested that concerns like this are "naive and ignorant" about the realities of game development:

I'm going to be honest, every time someone asks about why Company A or B is moving so slow developing new software whether it's a game or app, developers are crushed inside. It's such an unfair question, and people need to stop. Many years ago when I was just a gamer, I used to think the same things. I thought, "Why does it take so long to implement this feature, it seems so easy." I was an idiot.   I started visiting studios, whether it was EA, Ubisoft, Blizzard, Valve and Riot, and companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon. We can all agree that these are respectable companies, and guess what? All of them have their pros and cons and you can't even imagine the challenges that face these companies everyday. How long do you think it took Google to develop Gmail? How many projects lasted years at these companies and had to be cancelled before you ever heard about them? How long did it take Facebook to re-design their Thumbs Up icon? Developers do what they do because they are passionate about building stuff. They put all of their heart, sweat and tears into these games and products. There are nightmares in the games industry about "crunch" where teams work excessive hours every single week just to get a game out the door a few months early and guess what? These developers burn out and quit and never make another game. How many amazing games will never be made because of the non-stop harassment and stress that gamers put on them? Developers are never going to be fast enough in some eyes because the outside person doesn't know how difficult it is to build industry-changing, high quality software that can scale to the global masses.   Could we be faster at Riot? Of course. Every company could be faster, and there are always things to improve. But, when you're making stuff for over 67 million players around the globe, even the simplest designs become quite complicated.

Lin makes a lot of good points that are supported by League of Legends' recent history. When the developer finally got around to putting out an frequently-asked-for update to its in-game HUD recently, the game's forums and subreddit exploded with hyperbolic exclamations about how it's the worst thing ever. And when they redesigned a woman champion recently to make her slightly less of a "sexy MOBA lady," fans recoiled in disgust in an almost identical way. Having an audience the size of League's can make the developer seem risk averse and conservative by any number of people's individual standards.

At the same time, Lin's points are ones that game developers always seem to rush to whenever they're faced with criticism from fans and players. The "you don't understand how hard it is!" line can be legitimate, but it can also be an easy way to duck out of an argument. Lin can't really account for the ways that League of Legends' neverending parade of new premium content makes Riot Games tons of money that a) its publicly-traded parent company Tencent Holdings undoubtedly demands that it makes and b) pressures them to keep making new pricey stuff rather than diverting more resources to something essential that they couldn't charge people for, like a new client. But calling out gamers for harassment is a much simpler solution than taking a hard look at the business models that've been applied to League of Legends as a free-to-play game and Riot Games as its publisher.


Comments

    Time for the gaming community to make a spin-off of a spin-off of a spin-off (etc) and make League of Legends II ! Because we all need more MOBAS!

    Seriously though, the game launcher for LoL is terrible.

      We can go deeper. Make it in the Dota 2 - Reborn client and it will be a spin-off of a spin-off built in the reboot of a spin-off's sequel!

        People already are.

        http://defenseofthelegends.tumblr.com/

    Tbh more large game companies should be following Blizzards thinking in this sense and have a PTR Build (IE D3) where they can experiment and tinker and get the community to do the play testing for them seems to get consistent updates rolling out much more effectively.

    I understand theres costs involved with that (essentially additional virtuals that support the PTR Build) hence why I make the suggestion for larger multiplayer games. This dude has very much so side-balled the question and seems about as toxic as the community he has bred though.

    Not a fan of MOBA's though - the whole thing was fun when it was a mod of WC3 - but WC3 had so much more then just DotA and the other game modes/maps were all equally just as fun. my2c

      - the whole thing was fun when it was a mod of WC3 - but WC3 had so much more then just DotA and the other game modes/maps were all equally just as fun. my2c

      You might want to look into Dota 2, their new client (called Reborn) has custom map support like wc, complete with people making wc3 maps like Uther party, elemental td, pudge wars...

    This is going to be a long winded post so bear with me but, one of the biggest drawbacks to Riot Games is that it was never ready for just how successful the game would be. Riot being a new company when LoL blew up meant that they've been unable to have the benefit of experience in developing their game.

    The biggest point to take away about why things take so long to fix, basically boils down to the fact that they lacked the vision to rebuild the foundations of their game while they were still able to do so. They've constricted themselves to the initial platform which they built the game on, which unfortunately has proved to be dated. Instead of looking of long term solutions even at a cost to themselves, they've instead just been patching up the metaphorical leaking boat, hoping that the rust bucket will hold with every rivet you put in.

    This client will be a big turning point for Riot if it can manage to deliver. While at the moment Dota 2 is still an ominous competitive echo, Valve has made all the right moves to ensure it's esports scene is flourishing, delivering a far less greedy business model and have already put in a solid groundwork for their upgraded client. In many ways, Valve's experience really shows. I can attest, since they stole me away from LoL a year or two ago.

    While I do agree with the points Lyte make. He is also wrong, Yes it takes less time to output champions, skins etc. But what it all boils down to is cost.

    Riot Choose to have multiple teams working on premium content which is resource (READ: MONEY) they choose not to deploy on a new client, or any other project.

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