Video games marketing is a tricky business. In a recent Twitter thread, League of Legends Communications Lead Ryan Rigney broke down Riot Games’ marketing strategy behind their plans to introduce new mobile and card games to a wildly passionate League fanbase, and there were a lot of very interesting takeaways.
In 2019, Riot announced a raft of new content for League of Legends, including card game Legends of Runeterra, Teamfight Tactics, a game strongly resembling Auto Chess and the long-anticipated League of Legends mobile port, Wild Rift.
A mobile port of League of Legends was first proposed by Riot owner Tencent in 2015, but fears of watering down the game held them back. As detailed in Rigney’s thread, potential fan backlash may have also delayed the game.
5 WAYS TO ANNOUNCE RISKY/CONTROVERSIAL VIDEO GAMES
Early last year, there was some fear/concern at Riot about our plans to announce a number of mobile games and a card game.
All the announcements ended up going really well.
ITT I'm gonna share some strategies we used. >????1/22 pic.twitter.com/FrngQiBtb5
— Ryan Rigney (@RKRigney) January 4, 2020
Strategy One: Own Your Bullshit
The first strategy Rigney details for dealing with this backlash is simple: “Own your bullshit.” This is related to the release of Teamfight Tactics, which Riot feared fans would reject for being too similar to Dota Auto Chess. Rather than trying to claim complete originality and eating dirt in the process, the team at Riot chose to engage with fans on their level. They explained their love of Dota Auto Chess openly, despite the game technically being a competitor.
This helped their audience understand the inspirations and goals behind Teamfight Tactics, and allowed them to pre-emptively call themselves out on their own bullshit. They also reframed Dota Auto Chess as part of a new game genre, known as ‘autobattlers’, opening up the space for other developers to be inspired. This is similar to how games inspired by 1980 dungeon crawler Rogue became known as rouge-likes, a process that led to a whole new, very popular, genre.
Strategy Two: Lean Into The Memes
You can’t stop the memes. Whether it’s a new game release, a new TV show or someone falling down the stairs at the Golden Globes, memers are gonna meme. Using the case study of Blizzard’s disastrous Diablo: Immortal mobile game announcement, which received uproarious blacklash, Rigney details how Riot planned to lean into existing memes.
When one Blizzard dev responded to the Diablo dissension with the classic phrase, “Don’t you guys have phones?” it became an instant meme, and a way for fans to voice their dissatisfaction with mobile games. Riot twisted this phrase to help them announce Teamfight Tactics. Its tongue-in-cheek approach meant gamers laughed with them, not at them, and the familiarity of the phrase meant Riot’s audience responded more positively to their announcement. Rigney acknowledged in the thread that their joke was loosely misinterpreted as a shot at Blizzard, but in the grand scheme, leaning in worked wonderfully.
Strategy Three: Show The Love In The Product
It’s easy to think developers aren’t fans themselves, and gamers can be quick to leap to this conclusion in the case of ‘broken’ or disappointing games. But everyone who makes games pours their heart into them, and Rigney made clear in his thread that developers showing their passions was just as important as fans sharing their love.
In League of Legends mobile port, Wild Rift, developers were encouraged to include fun animations for champs and additional skins. Rigney said there was no real reason to include these details other than letting the animators have a bit of fun, and show how much they loved the franchise. The basic principle the team worked on was that, “people are more likely to respect the thing you’re making when it’s clear YOU respect it.” It’s an important principle, and one we should all take on.
Strategy Four: Surprise and Delight Your Core Audience
Everybody loves a nice surprise, and this was the approach Riot took with Legends of Runeterra. It was a risk because mobile games were still largely rejected by the gaming community, but by announcing it as a fun surprise at the end of League of Legends‘ 10 Year celebration alongside two other new games, fans were able to get excited by the very prospect of brand new adventures.
Rigney admits that not every game announced would appeal to every League of Legends fan, but by hedging the bet with multiple surprise games, Riot was able to capitalise on a variety of interests and provide excitement for a wider audience.
Strategy Five: Signal Tribal Membership
STRAT 5: SIGNAL TRIBAL MEMBERSHIP
After hitting players with the "surprise and delight" reveal, the @PlayRuneterra team sealed the deal with a video message that nailed all four of the strategies above, along with one other big one.
Here's the key part imo: pic.twitter.com/TTmHny4E66
— Ryan Rigney (@RKRigney) January 4, 2020
Video games are incredible things, and they have the power to bring people together. Riot knows this, and its community — so they chose to follow up their announcements with a video message sharing their passions and interests via humanising stories.
Sometimes, it can be easy to see games companies as faceless organisations, but having relatable stories to tell helped Riot reach their audience on a personal level.
Rigney’s thread was a fascinating glimpse into marketing strategy at Riot Games, and it’s likely other video games companies have employed similar tactics to build and satisfy their communities. It’s rare to see such a transparent view of marketing practices, making the thread a great learning tool for everyone – gamers and developers alike.